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Higher tax rates for the rich mean fewer Americans die each year, study suggests

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, accompanied by Sen. John Thune at left, speaking with reporters on Nov. 14.

Policies that raise taxes on the rich and redistribute that revenue to lower-income households would dramatically reduce the total number of Americans who die each year, according a study published this week in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Policies that lower taxes on the wealthy, on the other hand, would have the opposite effect and significantly increase the numbers of deaths in the U.S. each year, the study also found. 

With the U.S. Senate moving closer this week to voting on a tax proposal that would deliver massive tax cuts to the country’s wealthiest individuals and businesses, “it is critical that policymakers consider the potential public health implications of these tax reforms,” said Dr. Daniel Kim, the study’s author and an associate professor of health science at Northeastern University in Boston and the Paris Descartes University in France, in a released statement.

As Kim points out in his paper, the income gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. has risen to levels not seen since the Great Depression. One of the major impacts of this economic disparity has been its detrimental effect on the overall health of Americans, primarily by increasing the proportion of people living in poverty, but also by increasing psychological stress and by eroding social cohesion. 

In the U.S., people living on the lower end of the income scale also have less access to health care services, including those that help prevent disease.

Several scenarios

For his study, Kim compared current tax law with tax policies proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and President Donald Trump when they were candidates during the 2016 presidential election — proposals that represent both sides of the political spectrum. He also looked at two expanded versions of the Sanders proposal. One included a higher marginal tax rate of 75 percent for those with incomes above $500,000. (As Kim notes, that rate is “not without precedent.” The U.S. marginal tax rates were 70 percent or higher from 1964 to 1981 and 90 percent or higher from 1944 to 1963.) The other expanded version of the Sanders proposal combined the higher tax rate with a redistribution of tax revenue to lower-income households (those with after-tax annual incomes of $40,000 or less).

Using data from the Internal Revenue Service and research on how income (and income disparity) affects death rates, Kim projected that the Trump plan would increase inequality and lead to 29,689 more deaths per year from all causes, while the Sanders plan would decrease inequality and result in 31,302 fewer deaths per year.

The two modified Sanders plans would lead to even greater benefits. Kim estimated that under the expanded Sanders plan with the 75 percent top tax rate, 68,929 fewer Americans would die each year. That number jumps multifold, however, when the plan also includes a redistribution of resources. Kim projected that it would lead to a stunning 333,504 fewer deaths per year.

A critical time

“The take-home message from this study is that policies that both substantially raise federal income tax rates and redistribute tax revenue appear needed if we want to see big reductions in the total numbers of Americans that die each year,” said Kim. “Current tax proposals through the House and Senate fall well short of these top rates and do not include redistribution.” 

“At this critical time of tax reform, widening gaps between the rich and poor and growing public support for higher taxes and redistribution to combat inequality, policymakers should consider joint federal tax and redistributive policies to reduce the burden of mortality among Americans,” he added.

Here’s one final piece of background information from the study: In 2015, the top marginal tax rates in two Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Norway, were 59.7 percent and 47.2 percent, respectively, compared to 39.6 percent in the U.S. In 2015, Sweden was ranked ninth and Norway was ranked 13th globally for life expectancy. The United States was ranked 31st.

FMI: You can read the study in full on Preventive Medicine’s website.

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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Daniel Hunt on 11/30/2017 - 09:21 am.

    Non Sequitur

    Ms. Perry,

    “As Kim points out in his paper, the income gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. has risen to levels not seen since the Great Depression. One of the major impacts of this economic disparity has been its detrimental effect on the overall health of Americans, primarily by increasing the proportion of people living in poverty, but also by increasing psychological stress and by eroding social cohesion.”

    The fact that one person’s income increases is a reflection of the value created for others.

    It does not increase the proportion of people living in poverty. It decreases the proportion of people living in poverty.

    The assertion is utter nonsense…

    “In the U.S., people living on the lower end of the income scale also have less access to health care services, including those that help prevent disease.”

    That may be so, but you would be hard pressed to explain how someone earning more income is causing less access!

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/30/2017 - 12:49 pm.


      Your assertion is utter nonsense. And a failure of reading comprehension.

      I wouldn’t be hard pressed at all – instead of spending money on access to health care, the money is going to the rich. And that’s only getting worse. Pretty simple.

  2. Submitted by Jon Lord on 11/30/2017 - 10:44 am.


    Who are you talking about? This is about raise taxes on the wealthiest people, not about a middle income person’s raise at work. You really have to read the whole thing. You have to delineate between the average person and the wealthy. If you raise the income of a poor person, someone in poverty, then it decreases poverty. That is done by raises the taxes of the wealthy, like it or not.

    It’s just simple logic that if someone who needs access begins to have more income they will then get more access. Not less. If the wealthy gain more income and not the poor, it doesn’t help the poor. That’s simple logic too. You simply are refusing to delineate between the different class structures in this country.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/30/2017 - 01:16 pm.


    Raise taxes on the wealthy and thereby improve (and lengthen) the lives of those who are not wealthy? Win-win!!

    I can hardly wait for Jason Lewis to introduce legislation to that effect in the upcoming Congressional session.

  4. Submitted by Tim Smith on 11/30/2017 - 02:22 pm.

    so if we had

    the alt lefts coveted 100% tax rate almost no one would die? Of course we would all continue to bust our butt and take risks for the good of the Mother ship.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 11/30/2017 - 02:45 pm.

    Good jobs for the poor is the best

    way to improve their lives. As I’ve stated before, many times, all you have to do is look at the “War on Poverty” started by Democrats in mid 1960’s. Over 20 TRILLION spent and no results to show for it. I’m sure if you tax the wealthy more and give it to our wasteful Govt the poor will live forever….. What a crock,!! History disproves this theory.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/30/2017 - 04:43 pm.


      The claim that the “war on poverty” did nothing is a right-wing myth that has nothing to do with reality. We have not eliminated poverty, and a lot of things have happened to make it worse since then, but it certainly mitigated the problem. If you actually take the time to understand those programs and what they accomplished, you would know that.

      As far as being a crock and disproving this theory, do you really think that there is any doubt that removing people’s access to healthcare hurts their health? Millions of people gained access to affordable healthcare under Obama, and will now lose it under Trump.

  6. Submitted by Jerilyn Jackson on 11/30/2017 - 07:56 pm.

    A strange reading of history

    Right, nothing at all to show for the War on Poverty except Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, college work-study, Title I, and I could go on. There are many, many millions of elderly, families, college students, etc., who have been kept from destitution in the decades since these programs were instituted.

  7. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/30/2017 - 09:39 pm.

    In the Soviet Union, they took all money from the wealthy and gave them to the poor (through the government, of course)… and people still died and life expectancy was very low.

    I am also tired of comparing the US to Norway and Sweden – it’s an apples to oranges one with no basis.

    On the other hand, whoever wants to pay more money in taxes so it gets to the poor is welcome to donate a lot to charities (after checking their efficiency, of course).

    • Submitted by Steve Roth on 12/06/2017 - 01:44 pm.

      So there were no wealthy people in the Soviet Union?

      None? I’m assuming that’s because wealth was spread to everyone, the entire population, that their system was that efficient.

      It’s perfectly apt to compare the U.S. to other developed nations. How do you affirm that there’s “no basis” to do so, I’m curious, sincerely.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/06/2017 - 10:10 pm.

        “their system was that efficient.” I beg your pardon?

        “It’s perfectly apt to compare the U.S. to other developed nations. How do you affirm that there’s “no basis” to do so, I’m curious, sincerely.” They do not spend money on their defense and they have homogenous population.

  8. Submitted by joe smith on 12/01/2017 - 10:01 am.

    The “War on Poverty “ was

    Set up to move folks from poverty to middle class, history shows that has not happened. None of the programs set up to move poor folks up to getting a good job have worked, just look at the numbers of folks on assistance. The fact we spend $20,000 plus (per student) on inner city education with no results is just another boondoggle on the tax payers. Rural education has failed the poor, without the fanfare of inner city schools, but have failed the poor none the less. Somehow it has become noble to give the poor just enough to survive and liberals feel good about it. As I’ve stated before, with 20 TRILLION spent on the “War on Poverty” if the Govt could help the poor, it would have happened in the past 40 years. Giving a poor person food stamps is not giving a poor person a good paying job. The poor need jobs and hope not food stamps and minimal handouts by Big Brother Government!

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 12/01/2017 - 01:46 pm.

      Um . . .

      I think this article has something to do with, what was it? Let’s see . . . Oh yeah. Here it is: “Higher tax rates for the rich mean fewer Americans die each year.”

      Not sure what anything you’re talking about has to do with that, but what the heck . . . I’ll play along.

      I don’t know if the kind of things they do at the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development grew out of the war on poverty or not, but I’m pretty sure there’s more than one person who works there — and plenty of people who run companies in the private sector — who might disagree with you when you say, “None of the programs set up to move poor folks up to getting a good job have worked.”

      And I’m sure there are more than a few people who work, or have worked (hard) in public education who might have a thing or two they’d love to let you in on that you must not be aware of.

      You make it sound like no present or past school kid in America can read or write or, pretty much, function at all. I don’t suppose you went to a public school because, obviously, you can do those things and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out you can add, subtract, multiply and divide too. You MUST have gotten your education at a private school because, otherwise, how could this be happening? How could you have ever learned to type?

      Failed, failed, failed . . . To hear you tell it, it seems amazing anyone in America can even read road signs or figure out what the speedometer is trying to tell them. Amazing anyone make sense of a menu, fill out a job application, use a computer or do anything but play (graphics-only) games on their smart phones.

      But that aside, if you think the government has done such a bad job with its boondoggle scam called public education that is, by law, open to all comers, regardless of anything (including things like disabilities or rough economic circumstances), what do you suggest as the alternative? What is the shining example of what works better in the educational Utopia you’ve experienced or are envisioning?

      And where are America’s corporations? Why isn’t the private sector stepping up and showing everyone how it’s done?

      I mean, just LOOK at the size of the market?

      “In fall 2017, about 50.7 million students will attend public elementary and secondary schools. Of these, 35.6 million will be in prekindergarten through grade 8 and 15.1 million will be in grades 9 through 12. An additional 5.2 million students are expected to attend private elementary and secondary schools.”

      50 MILLION potential — not to mention perpetual — customers! 50 million potential sources of, as you put it, $20,000 PER YEAR for at least 12 years each! Do the arithmetic. That would be HUGE! A person would think the (mostly privately educated?) better mouse trap opportunity hounds of free enterprise would be all OVER that with their fantastic set of educational products and services that are SO superior and SO much more affordable that the boondoggled parents of all those mostly illiterate kids would be lined up around the new schools, checkbooks, debit and credit cards in hand.

      As far as poor people needing jobs instead of handouts goes, as I think we’ve discussed before, it’s important to remember it isn’t government’s job to create jobs. That’s the job of businesses, corporations, the job creators in the private sector who desperately need all those tax breaks so they can DO that which, no matter how many tax breaks they get, they never really seem to do . . . At least not the way you’re telling the story.

      It sounds like you’re saying that all the “war on poverty” did was create a few generations of free-loading couch potatoes who can’t read or write who never worked a day in their ungrateful lives who are living in much higher cotton than they ever could by just getting their lazy butts up off that couch and taking one of those good-paying jobs that are being offered on every street corner and crossroad in America.

      But, in case you haven’t noticed, that doesn’t actually seem to have been the case for the last 40 years or so . . . As far as that goes, if what you’re saying about that is true, all it means is the private sector hasn’t been able to come up with jobs that pay enough to compete with the lavish lifestyle food stamp recipients enjoy.

      How weak is THAT? How unable to compete can the private sector get? They can’t come up with jobs that are more attractive than food stamps? Hello?

      And, as far as that goes, in a lot of cases the pay rates for the jobs they actually DO come up with — those jobs you say poor people need (and many of them actually have) — are so feeble that the poor people doing them STILL need food stamps to get enough to eat to be able to make it back to work without passing out on the way.

      Why is that, do you suppose? Is that Big Brother Government’s fault too?

      As far as that goes, in your opinion, is there anything wrong with America that ISN’T BBG’s fault?

      • Submitted by joe smith on 12/01/2017 - 05:06 pm.

        Bill, pretty simple math.

        In the 50’s,60’s and 70’s without Education Dept America was number 1 in educating our children, we are now 35th. My point was the poor get screwed in public education shown by 50% of 10th grade student are deficient in either math, writing or reading at inner city schools. Just as pathetic for Rural poor. My other point was that liberals feel that giving the poor food stamps, a housing voucher and some other table scraps is helping them. I disagree, giving them a good job is what they need. They don’t need table scraps they need vouchers to decide what school their child should attend, not you knowing what is best for their child. They need trouble makers in their community put in jail. They need the trades being taught in public schools again. They need jobs in and around the Twin Cities but what they get is the State and Cities taxing/regulating the jobs out of their community. They need local banks, credit unions and small banks loaning money for start ups, what they got was Dodd/Frank and a crushing of the small local lenders.
        All of the things they need do not have anything to do with taxing the rich and longer life for the poor!

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/04/2017 - 12:23 am.


          That the modern Republican party, nor the modern conservative movement proposes, supports, or even considers, does anything you suggest. Nor could it. What you appear to desire is some ethereal notion that capitalism is supposed to care about individuals. That corporate America is suddenly going to develop a conscience that its never possessed. The folks you carry water for Mr. Smith, they don’t want the poor to have work either, they need them as an example to the working class, to keep them scared, desperate. If they could make actual slaves of us, they would. Unfortunately, they need our credit, lest the whole ponzi scheme collapse on itself. I suspect you know this, of course, but in the offhand chance you are as trusting as you attempt to portray, WAKE UP!

  9. Submitted by Bill Willy on 12/01/2017 - 10:32 am.

    Simple easy decision

    If lower taxes for people making $1,000,000 per year (people who make $20,000 per week), people making a billion per year ($20 million per week), corporations (that make who knows HOW much?) and their shareholders (a mixed income bag) contributes to more illness and premature death for people who work hard but barely (or don’t quite) make enough to pay the mortgage, the rent, the bills and, maybe, have $50 or $100 left over at the end of the month, the solution is obvious to each and every elected Republican official and Republican voter in America:

    Cut taxes for millionaires, billionaires and corporations.

    And, of course, if you can’t get it done in one fell swoop, keep hacking away at middle and lower income people’s access to health care by eliminating as much of their government support as possible while providing maximum government support to ensure the profits of the corporations running and involved in the American health care system are kept extra-robust so their shareholder’s passive income continues to flow in so they will remain satisfied enough to continue investing in health care corporations enjoying 15%, 20%, 25% profit margins via their (most incompetent in the civilized world) work addressing middle and lower-income people’s chronic diseases and premature deaths (being experienced at the highest rates in the civilized world).

    Simple. Easy. American. Christian as can be.

  10. Submitted by Jon Lord on 12/03/2017 - 08:29 am.

    It’s amazing that poor people on the right believe the corporations and wealthy will keep their money here and not in off shore and overseas banks where they don’t get taxed at all. And where no one but them will ever know how much money they have! Or where and how they got it.

    It’s amazing to think corporations won’t also invest the money they’ll save by the cut in their taxes in the automation that will replace workers. Just because automation doesn’t need lunch breaks, health insurance, vacations, raises, family leave, etc, that’s no reason to replace workers, right? Corporations, the Wealthy, Wall Street, and the Banks aren’t the American Scrooges are they?

    Or will they, if they get the chance, prove they are! I wonder if they realize they are slowly getting rid of the consumer? It’s doubtful most likely.

  11. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/06/2017 - 09:20 am.

    Death and destitution

    of the majority of Americans is not a side effect or disadvantage of the GOP tax plan. It’s a feature. A promise. I have long ago stopped believing that the GOP actually wants what’s best for America and differ from Democrats only in the approach. I have long suspected that the goal IS, in fact, to sacrifice the poor and much of the middle class to improve the lives of the rich. My suspicions have been nothing but confirmed. Think about it–where do the rich have the most power? Where there is the biggest gap between the rich and the poor, and where there is no middle class.It even works best when the general population is poorly educated–hence putting grad students in the poor house by taxing their tuition waivers, hence making sure the Bible is taught in schools rather than evolution, hence pulling money out of public schools in favor of vouchers (for schools that can deny access).

  12. Submitted by Steve Roth on 12/06/2017 - 01:48 pm.

    Another example on healthier people = higher taxes

    Just look at how healthy people in red states are, from longevity, to obesity, overall health, outcomes, etc., vs. blue states…

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