Thank you to the Editorial Board for bringing attention to rising rates of “deaths of despair” – deaths from opioid overdose, suicide, alcohol and a range of diseases associated with obesity – in their Jan. 20 editorial. They cite two recent research studies and draw the conclusion that “the health of Americans is tied to their ability to find work that brings in a sufficient paycheck … and that failing to respond to a region’s economic distress can be deadly for its residents.”

Other studies show that the greatest contributor to measures of well-being, from life expectancy to mental illness, violence and illiteracy, is more equitable distribution of wealth.

In their 10-year-old book, “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger,” epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate why societies with declining life expediencies are those with economic inequity. Their massive statistical studies compare countries to countries as well as states within the United States to one another, and they find the patterns are consistent. When public policy exacerbates economic inequities, everyone, including the wealthy, have lower rates of well-being.

Our communities in Maine could benefit from a common read to find models for transforming our thinking about economics and well-being, heal our divides and build stronger communities in which we are all better off. The well-researched findings in these studies support Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message about economic justice that we find when we read his work beyond the sound bites that get promoted in ads and memes.

Flynn Ross


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