Albanians live longer than Oklahomans. That’s right. The residents of a Balkan state best known to Americans as staunch Soviet allies during the Cold War live longer than the average Oklahoman’s 75.6 years. Yet we spend at least 12 times more on health care than Albanians. We also live six years less than Hawaiians, who enjoy the longest life expectancy. If you are an American Indian in Oklahoma, your average life expectancy is 67.2 years — 14 years less than Indians who reside in California. Citizens in Vietnam, Syria and Tunisia live longer. Only South Dakotans of tribal descent have a lesser life span. There is much to find worrisome in the study, “The Measure of America, 2010-2011,” which was recently released by the American Human Development Project, and supported by the Social Science Research Foundation and private foundations. Generally overlooked by mainstream media, this study drills more deeply into health, education and income data as determinants of quality of life. Oklahoma ranks 46th among the states. One consolation is that of among our surrounding states, Arkansas ranks 50th. Those who reside in Oklahoma’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District east of Tulsa won’t be surprised that the authors determined they are in the 429th-worst congressional district out of 435 on the dashboard index. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, and a special adviser to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, wrote in the study’s foreword that in the wake of the Great Recession, “Persistent inequalities of opportunity scar a country in which yawning gaps in income, educational attainment and life expectancy far exceed those in any other high-income democracy, and insecurity is greater and more widespread.” Sachs notes that most Americans don’t appreciate the interconnectivity of social factors that keep some regions mired in low incomes, poor access to health care and fewer opportunities to advance. The study offers dozens of public policy suggestions that are simple in their clarity. Society should make the best choice also the easiest choice for people to adopt into their daily lives. Adults should minimize their exposure to the “fatal four” of poor diet, tobacco, physical inactivity and excessive drinking. Information campaigns are key to balancing marketing onslaughts that encourage risky behaviors. Solutions for youngsters are well known to Oklahomans: access to good teachers, stem the high school dropout rate and keep college affordable. A bright, shining light for us is that Oklahoma is one of three states with universal preschool — a condition crucial to long-term social change. On the economic front, foremost is the need to elevate children out of extreme poverty; create and retain jobs; improve financial literacy, and reform financial sector regulation while improving retirement security. The American Human Development study merits our review. The data are startling. Many of the authors’ suggestions are apparent. But there is always the persistent matter of leading to find common ground, to establish priorities and to pursue effective solutions that meet the needs of today’s Oklahoma citizens and future generations who will never know our names. Betz is president of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.Comments
If you are an American Indian in Oklahoma, your average life expectancy is 67.2 years — 14 years less than Indians who reside in California.