Monday, December 21, 2015

American Middle-Aged Whites are Dying in Increasing Numbers

In many places around the world, we've seen mortality rates continue to decline. However, one of the exceptions is among middle-aged white Americans. These findings, announced today by two Princeton professors, Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton and Dr. Anne Case, are shocking and may account for the support of Donald Trump.

These Americans whose education stopped at high school are dying by suicide; substance abuse; alcoholic liver disease; and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids. The mortality rates for whites, age 45 to 54 years old, with no more than a high school education, has increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 between 1999 and 2014. At the same time mortality rates for African Americans and Latinos have been decreasing.

The increase in mortality among this subgroup is enough to raise the mortality rate of all whites in this age cohort.

It used to be you could get a job on an auto assembly line and be middle-class in America. Those hard-working union members in many industries did well enough to send their kids to college, and retire comfortably. That's no longer the case and the people who've been left behind are extremely angry, ready to blame people of color or national origin for their problems.

As the son of a man who never finished high school I find it hard to judge them. Their country changed around them and they were left with little hope. However, finding easy targets like immigrants or Muslims will not improve their situation. All I can say is "there, but for the grace of God, go l."

As I reflect on my latest blog, I'm struck by how much my home county fits in with the world in which white middle-aged Americans are dying in greater numbers every year. Both my brothers live within 15 miles of my great-grandfather's grave. They live in Oswego County, which has seen the brewery boarded up; the Nestlé plant close; and where now one of the two nuclear plants is shutting down. It's hard to find good work in this county, which lies below the Canadian border and faces Lake Ontario.

The image I believe that sums up the county is of a basement where they never completed the house that was supposed to sit on top of it. So they still live in the basement, but the last time I was there I noticed they added a satellite dish.

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