Just in case you haven’t received your daily dose of “something to be mad about,” a new report found that more millennials are living with chronic health conditions and it could make them poorer. But the report doesn’t frame the issue as one about better, more affordable access to health care; instead, it states that poor millennial health could impact the U.S. economy negatively a conclusion that fails to acknowledge the many, many reasons millennials don’t make as much money, can’t afford to access health care, and struggle with their health as a result.
The report, The Economic Consequences of Millennial Health, was created with data from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, a group of 36 insurance companies that provide coverage for one-third of Americans, according to Bloomberg. It looked at millennials who were between the ages of 34 and 36 in 2017 and Gen Xers who were 34 to 36 in 2014, according to a press release about the report. It found that millennials’ health is declining faster than previous generations, with millennials having higher rates of depression, hyperactivity, hypertension, and high cholesterol, among other conditions.
Worse health, the report states, could increase mortality rates for millennials and cost the oldest millennials more than $4,500 in annual income. As a result, they can’t contribute as much to the economy. “Millennials are the largest, most educated, and most connected generation ever,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, which created the report with data from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index, in a press release. “But they also have serious health issues that if not addressed will have serious long-term consequences for their well-being and the performance of the U.S. economy.”
At the end, the report encourages someone, though it’s unclear who, to delve deeper into the “relationship between millennial finances and behavioral health” which “could help better explain some of the root causes of changing millennial health patterns.” But millennials have been very clear about what is making their health worse.
Thanks to the combination of wage stagnation and “start-up culture,” millennials are working more hours for less pay. Add in the fact that they’re saddled with the highest student loan debt of any generation in history, and it’s safe to say that money is tight for a significant number of millennials. And the report does recognize that, to some extent. It states that several studies have found that one of the potential causes of increased depression and alcohol and substance use among millennials are worries about finances.
Worries about finances, then, can hurt millennials’ health, which makes it harder for them to make money and pay for health care. “This represents a potentially vicious cycle resulting in even higher prevalence of depression and other behavioral health conditions over time,” the report states.
But, the report doesn’t recognize that millennials are also dealing with stress about the climate crisis and their ability to have a future. One 2018 survey found that 72% of millennials 18-34 say that watching, hearing, and/or reading negative news stories about the environment sometimes has an impact on their emotional wellbeing (e.g., anxiety, racing thoughts, sleep problems, a feeling of uneasiness). And when you break down stress by demographic, things get even bleaker. Black millennials, for example, face all of the above problems, worse access to health care, and more often face violence from police.
The report, which only looked at people with insurance, obviously also omits the fact that studies have shown that the U.S. pays the most for health care while also having the worst health outcomes. This is part of the reason why some presidential candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders are advocating for a single-payer health care system and winning over a significant amount of millennial voters in the process.
The Moody’s Analytics report, though it identified an important and scary trend in millennial health, also omitted many of the factors that affect it. In doing so, it captured the crux of the trap millennials are caught in: they’re paid less, they can’t afford heath care or their student loan bills, and they feel like the world is burning up around them. Worrying about all those things is making them sick, and in the meantime, they’re being derided for their inability to contribute to the economy as if that’s the primary value of their health.
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