The U.S Economy today, in this COVID-struck world, has taken a downturn that has not been witnessed since the Second World War. The pandemic has been a harsh reminder that public health and the U.S Economy are intricately tied together.
Lessons From the Past
We are encountering a threat of its kind today. However, it is still worth turning to the pages of history.
Leaders in the U.S and across the world have successfully tackled crises. Less severe ones, but crises nevertheless. It is, therefore, worthwhile to look at the patterns that emerge from reading the past.
Lesson #1: Understanding Existing Trends
Crises tend to amplify existing economic trends.
People who were economically vulnerable before the pandemic are expected to suffer losses significantly higher than the middle class. In recent studies, it was revealed that Black Americans are five percent more likely to lose their jobs.
Similarly, the policymakers must look at the existing trends and expectations and create flexible, long-term policies.
Lesson #2: The Importance of Public Health
Strengthening of Public Health and preservation of human capital are among the first things that leaders across the globe did. And it was revolutionary.
In the later sections of the article, we will focus on understanding why public health is the priority at hand to boost the U.S economy.
Lesson #3: Creating flexible, long-term policies
History suggests that recovery from a crisis of this magnitude can be very uneven and unpredictable. Our best shot at restoring functionality and thriving is by spacing out the policies over several years.
A recent example is that of the recession of 2008. During this time, the number of unemployed people rose to over twice the figures before the crisis. It is only by 2015 did the rates recover back to pre-recession figures.
Having looked at the three most important patterns, we now understand what it takes to restore an economy. Strengthening public health and human capital reveal themselves to be the pillars of these patterns.
The Cost of Poor Health
It is estimated that the U.S economy suffers a loss of $3.2 trillion to premature deaths. Indirect costs for preventable chronic diseases MAY exceed $1 trillion per year. Musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders, substance abuse, diabetes and neurological disorders are among the top five diseases with the biggest economic impact.
The American working class has a higher disease burden than other high-income countries. In the age group of 20-40, people are 46-50% more likely of being sick. These figures come down to 17-33% in the age bracket of 40-70.
Poor health can have the following consequences:
- Sick workers who show up in the workplace are found to cause more harm than they would if they took a day off.
- Illnesses cause caregivers and parents to be distracted and often force them to take leaves. Most of these situations arise from purely preventable diseases.
- Specific diseases like obesity in America, if attacked extensively, can cut per capita expenses by several billion dollars.
- Over $1 trillion are lost to indirect costs alone for preventable diseases.
These trends demonstrate that simply investing in public health is deemed to cut many expenses in the long run. The disparity in the spread of diseases across the U.S also points towards a potential solution: prevention.
Potentially preventable diseases can cost inpatient hospital stays upto 22.2 billion dollars. Here is where we introduce an age-old paradigm shift, “prevention is better than the cure.”
A case of investment in public health implies that a larger section of the population will be resistant to preventable diseases like measles, type-2 diabetes and mental health disorders. As a result, we will be able to cut expenses discussed in the previous section and lead to a healthy, more productive workforce.
So, How Do We Seize this Opportunity?
The instant the U.S policymakers start seeing prevention as an investment and not as a cost, things start changing for the better. The people start to lead healthier lives, higher immunities, more productivity, lesser expenses in healthcare and thus, the economy improves.
Here are four imperatives that are essential to seize this opportunity.
- Adopting healthier lifestyle choices
- Funding innovations that open doors for fighting and preventing diseases we can’t already
- Focus as much on health as on illnesses
- Governments, companies, investors, etc. start putting healthcare at the centre of their policies.
Assuming these measures are implemented, the U.S either will start saving 2 million more lives than today, siphoning out 5% greater productivity in the workplace and many more within 20 years.
It isn’t so much that the U.S may invest in public health, it is more so that it must. Statistics cited here are expected to double up in the next two decades.
Capturing this opportunity is no cakewalk but there aren’t many investments that have the potential to impact the economy in a way that public health can. Let’s seize it while we can.