The idea of “societal health” is a construct from the social sciences. And in the social sciences, we believe that nothing exists in a vacuum. In that, everything affects and builds on everything else.
For example, a child having a safe outdoor environment to play in leads to them being more active in their adult life.
The same is true when it comes to governmental economic policies. The legislation affects economic growth, which impacts things like the healthcare industry (and so on).
For more concrete examples of this big-picture chain reaction, read on.
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Public Health and The Social Determinants of Health
Public health isn’t just a reference to everyone’s well-being. It’s a complex field in and of itself that involves everything from toxicology to women’s reproductive health.
This is a very research-heavy field, and one of the farthest-reaching terms is “social determinants of health.” These can be anything from race, the prevalence of violence in a neighborhood, or the types of jobs available to citizens.
Research on social determinants of health has found that being born black takes an average of three years off your life expectancy. There are hundreds of examples in the research if you care to read them.
One Good Economic Policies Example: Teacher Loan Forgiveness
We’re at a crossroads right now with education. Four-year teaching degrees are too expensive for many young, aspiring teachers to afford without years of student debt to pay.
However, we need new teachers now more than ever. Veteran teachers are quitting at an alarming rate.
The Federal Perkins Loan Program or Teach for America are economic incentives for teachers. If the teacher agrees to work in low-income, high-needs schools for a certain number of years, then the sponsor will pay off their student loans.
This improves the teacher’s health over time (people with more income live longer). It also reduces their future reliance on government assistance. Not only that, but the school environments do better because of these enthusiastic young teachers, willing to invest in the children.
Children who feel supported at school become higher-earning adults. It’s all a win-win!
A Bad Policy Example: The Cost of Childcare
The US is the third most expensive country in the world when it comes to the cost of childcare. We are one of the only developed countries that don’t have some sort of state or government-sponsored childcare program for citizens.
The Biden administration has recently rolled out a child tax credit, but it’s nowhere near enough to cover costs.
This lack of economic legislation regarding the cost of childcare is keeping people at home with their kids as they’re not able to work and afford childcare at the same time. Often, this means they’re on unemployment or having to supplement a single-earner income with government assistance.
Communities that rely heavily on government assistance have bad “scores” for the social determinants of health.
Unfortunately, in the times of Covid, this is only getting worse. Robert Shiller has more to say about the matter.
Economic Growth Equals Social Health
The more we invest in the health of our communities, the healthier the people in them become. When those people are healthier, they can work better jobs, become more educated, and make a difference in the community.
These economic policies can start small. Incentivizing childcare for specific tax brackets, investing in safe green spaces for family neighborhoods, and making education cheaper are all good ways to start.
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