Most of my fellow Americans do not know this, but their average salaries are far higher than Europeans when comparing like-for-like jobs. I discovered this just before I moved to the UK in 1994. My supervisor at that time, who previously lived in the UK as an ex-pat, took me aside and told me to never discuss my compensation while I worked in London. As a rule, I don’t discuss my salary with my peers, but his statement caused me to ponder his reason for informing me. I asked him why and he grinned: “Your salary will be at least 40% higher than your British peers — before adding ex-pat cost-of-living differences.” His statement came as a shock as the UK was a modern western nation and highly educated. I had no idea of this fact.
During my first week of work in London, my British General Manager came over to our trading desks and stoically announced to my peers, “Do you know who is paid the highest in your team?” I could not believe that he said this in front of my new fellow employees! He pointed at me and said, “This American ex-pat makes more than any of you.” He then pivoted and walked away. My teammates stared at me, then went back to their trading screens. This was my first Great Awakening to European work.
When I returned to Europe for a second ex-pat assignment, I lived in The Hague (The Netherlands). I supervised a trading team composed of primarily European and North American ex-pats. As a supervisor, I had access to their personnel information which revealed the large salary differences between different nationalities; US employees were paid significantly more than other nationalities. American workers were also compensated for the higher European housing, food, and other expenses. My company paid for my children to attend private American schools, but the local employees had to pay for private schooling, if they desired it. To lure Americans to overseas assignments required much higher compensation than that of a local worker, something only justified by higher productivity and competency not obtainable with local staff.
Given that Americans, on average, earn more and their cost-of-living expenses are lower than Europeans, then one would conclude Americans have healthier living conditions and longer life expectancy (the number of years someone can be expected to live without a disability). Sadly, Americans have significantly lower life expectancy. For example, the average American lives the same number of years as Blackpool, England’s lowest life expectancy district. West Virginia averages three years less than Blackpool. The US average life expectancy is declining, not rising, while their higher salary gap is increasing.
An article written by John Burn-Murdoch (Why are Americans dying so young? US life expectancy is in freefall as the young and the poor bear the brunt of struggles for shared prosperity, Financial Times, March 30, 2023) illuminates the startling data. What is driving the trend? It is the growing deaths of young Americans: “one in 25 American five-year-olds today will not make it to their 40th birthday.”
Americans enjoy the most advanced medical and agricultural systems in the world. Yet, they experience earlier deaths caused by drug overdoses, gun violence, and car accidents. These social problems trickle down into the life expectancy statistics. Americans have the most Olympic medals of any country in the world yet live shorter lives than Europeans. The talented prosper while the US average performs poorly.
Last night, a 60 Minutes segment (Women in Louisiana struggle to get maternal health care) detailed how the lower social classes in rural areas have inadequate medical care resulting in higher maternal death rates. This also feeds into the lower life expectancy statistics.
I am fortunate to have access to premium health care. I received subsidized group health insurance from my employer until I turned 65. I transferred to Medicare and my company provides supplemental health insurance. All my doctors (primary care, ophthalmologist, dentist, and specialists) are located within 5 miles of my home. I receive annual physical exams and drive to Houston for my cancer prevention exams at a renowned cancer hospital. I have medical friends who answer my questions and refer me to specialists. My prescription costs are low and filled within 2 miles of my home. My premium health care is not the American norm; it is the exception. Most people struggle with medical bills, insurance, and terminology. Some have no health insurance and get treated only at public hospital emergency rooms. European public health care is open to all with the same benefits.
To be the wealthiest and most technically sophisticated superpower and have shorter average life expectancy is a sin. Americans, per capita, pay more for annual health care ($10,586 – 2018: Forbes/Statista) than any other nation in the world, almost double the next country (Germany at $5,986). I alone cannot fix the US medical system, but I grieve over it. Surely our great country can reverse this trend and build a more efficient medical and social system. A starting point is to admit our collective sin and pray Psalms 51:17: “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”