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We're Going the Wrong Way

We're Going the Wrong Way

June 22, 2023

The movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles was released in November 1987. It was written, produced, and directed by John Hughes. It starred Steve Martin as Neal Page, an uptight advertising executive, who is trying to get back from a New York business trip to his home in Chicago in time for Thanksgiving

Neal’s life is upended by Del Griffith, played by John Candy. Del is a shower curtain ring salesman who unwittingly steals Neal’s cab and ends up sitting next to him on a crowded airplane headed home. The flight gets diverted from Chicago to Wichita due to a snowstorm. The balance of the movie tells of their misadventures in trying to get home.


In one memorable scene, Del drives the wrong way on the freeway, and the two travelers are nearly killed as a result. You can see from the YouTube video clip link below, numerous people try to help them by shouting the obvious, “You’re going the wrong way!!”.,Scene%20%7C%20Movieclips%20%2D%20YouTube

In much the same way life expectancies and health outcomes for Americans are also going the wrong way. According to statistics from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the United States spent a combined $4.3 trillion on healthcare in 2021. This averages out to approximately $12,900 per person nationally. This also equates to 18.3% of our GDP, the highest among any developed country according to Statista.

What are we getting for all the money we are spending? If we look at the other G-7 countries, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, we can see that their life expectancies have been rising steadily for the last 20 years. This even includes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taking another look at the chart above, you can see that the United States started out two years behind our G-7 brethren, and the gap has only gotten wider. Our life expectancy numbers started flattening out around 2012 and then dipped dramatically during the pandemic.

Another disturbing chart from Nick Mark, MD, shows that there is nearly a 20-year life expectancy difference between the best and worst counties in the United States. The average life expectancy is significantly shorter throughout much of the South.

According to Dr. Mark, there are a number of economic and cultural factors that impact these numbers. However, one of the biggest is the availability of quality healthcare. The United States has some of the best hospital systems in the world. However, access to these resources varies significantly based on many factors. 

The last disturbing trend in life expectancy and mortality that I want to share with you focuses on our younger population. Our final chart shows that there is a large gap in the death rates from late teens through mid-life for people in the United States versus our peer countries. In fact, the chart shows that people in that age cohort living in the US have a 4X higher risk of death than people in other countries.

This is driven by a variety of factors including crime, drugs, highway accidents, as well as depression and suicide. All the numbers above have significant human and economic costs. We are already facing a labor shortage in the United States. This means that there are many more jobs available than there are workers to fill them. If we continue to lose our workers due to rising mortality risk, there could be significant negative economic and societal outcomes

This is not a fun subject to write about. However, much like our friends Neal and Del in the movie, the reality is that life expectancy among the US population is going the wrong way. Remember, these are averages that are made up of millions of individuals. We each have the opportunity to take positive steps to live healthy and productive lives. This is for the benefit of ourselves, our families, and society at large. It is important to remember this as we continue “Moving Life Forward”.

© 2023 Jesse Hurst

The views stated are not necessarily the opinion of Cetera and should not be construed directly or indirectly as an offer to buy or sell any securities mentioned herein. Due to volatility within the markets mentioned, opinions are subject to change without notice. Information is based on sources believed to be reliable; however, their accuracy or completeness cannot be guaranteed. Past performance does not guarantee future results.