From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations

I came across recent data on the increasing mortality rates for middle-aged Americans (as pointed out in a comment from a post on Social Darwinism). It’s been written about in a number of places: David Cay Johnston at Al Jazeera America, Ian Sample at The Guardian, and elsewhere. The Atlantic article by Olga Khazan included two telling graphs:

The first thing I noted was that this is precisely about my generation, the first wave hitting their 50s these past few years. The infamous Generation X was known for its social problems in youth and now here we are again, carrying our problems into middle age. It is interesting that I have yet to see anyone else observe that this is a generational phenomenon, besides a rare comment.

This trend actually began during the Boomers, as the shift for 45-54 year olds followed 1998, but it has been worsening with Generation X. Before that, there had been a steady decline for the mortality rates of the middle-aged of the GI Generation and Silent Generation, bottoming out with the first wave of the Boomer Generation. As the chart shows, it was only over this past decade, when the GenX vanguard came into this age demographic, that the rates climbed back above where it was in 1990.

With Generation X, following the post-WWII baby boom, there was obviously a decline of the birth rate which also began as a shift with the late 1950s Boomer birth cohort, although the baby bust didn’t hit a low point until the middle of GenX. This nadir was in 1975, the year I was born. My generation was the first highly aborted generation, but its a bit odd that the birth rate began its decline about a decade in advance of abortion rate increase.

This also was a time of increasing childhood poverty, even as elderly poverty was decreasing. Funding and welfare directed toward children went on the decline during this era, although it did shift back up some with the following Millennial Generation, even as childhood poverty rates remained high:

Poverty by age

I see that child poverty hit one peak in 1983, when I turned 8 years old. The last time it had been at that level was decades before. It is strange, however, that the elderly poverty rate kept on its continuing decline. This decline of poverty has been mostly focused on the GI and Silent generations, having dropped from a high level with the Lost Generation. It dropped again in the 1990s, with another low point for the first wave of Millennials, and then rose again with the Recession back to where it was when I was a kid.

At the same time, GenXers had parents with high rates of being divorced or otherwise single. This corresponded with high rates of working mothers and kids being left alone at home after school. Mine was a generation of latchkey kids, not seen since the Lost Generation. Also, the rates for childhood and youth paid labor hadn’t been this high since early 1900s when Lost Generation kids worked as newsboys and in factories and mines.

Writing about Generation X in the early 1990s, Neil Howe and William Strauss put out a book, 13th Gen, that was published in 1993 (they designated this the 13th Generation, since that is what it is in the order of Anglo-American generations). The year 1993 was around the time the last wave of GenXers were either exiting elementary school or entering high school (I graduated in 1994), depending on the endpoint given for this cohort. These authors place the last year of GenX as 1981, although some place it as late as 1984. The first wave was sometime in the early-to-mid 1960s, with an approximate two decades in between.

From that view of the early 1990s, Strauss and Howe wrote that,

“Every day, over 2,5000 American children witness the divorce or separation of their parents. Every day, 90 kids are taken from their parents’ custody and committed to foster homes. Every day, thirteen Americans age 15 to 24 commit suicide, and another sixteen are murdered. Every day, the typical 14-year-old watches 3 hours of TV and does 1 hour of homework. Every day, over 2,200 kids drop out of school. Every day, 3,610 teenagers are assaulted, 630 are robbed, and 80 are raped. Every day, over 100,000 high-school students bring guns to  school. Every day, 500 adolescents begin using illegal drugs and 1,000 begin drinking alcohol. Every day, 1,000 unwed teenage girls become mothers.

“Assessing the harsh living environment of today’s rising generation, once national commission recently concluded: “Never before has one generation of American teenagers been less healthy, less cared for, or less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age.” In the 13er cult film Heathers, one teenager put it more bluntly: “You don’t get it, do you? Society nods its head at any horror the American teenager can bring upon himself.”

“Thirteeners may or may not be a “bad” generation, but what is not debatable is that their condition is bad. Even their worst critics have to admit that whatever badness they are is a reflection of how they were raised—of what other people did to them, thought of them, and expected from them—and of what happened in the adult world throughout their childhood years.”

Strauss and Howe point out that all of this is worse for minorities (p.120):

“The young male residents of Harlem are less likely to live to age 40 than the young male residents of Bangladesh—and face a higher risk of being killed by age 25 than the risk faced by U.S. troops during a full combat tour in Vietnam.”

At Alternet, Dan Hoyle made a similar observation (The Jail Generation):

“Although juvenile poverty rates have steadily declined, the percentage of children raised in single parent homes has risen from 12% in 1970 to 28% in 1998. Although it is unclear how large a role increased prison populations play in this phenomenon, the increase has been most marked among those populations that have high incarceration rates. In 2000, only 38% of black children were being raised in two-parent homes.”

There are studies that have analyzed this. Mass incarceration has played a major role in the breakdown of families and communities. GenX was the first generation to be targeted by the drug wars and mass incarceration, and this has left some communities with most of the men either in prison or caught up in the legal system. It has been devastating, especially for poor minorities, but it has harmed the entire generation to varying degrees.

Some of the articles about the middle age mortality have blamed it on increasing drug use. There might be some truth to that. If one really wants to understand that problem, the best analysis available is Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream (see here). Still, it isn’t clear that drug use has changed all that much, even ignoring abuse of prescription drugs by earlier generations. Though drug addiction rates do vary a bit over time, they remain surprisingly stable this past half century—for anything earlier than that we don’t have accurate data.

Sure, the drug wars make everything about drugs more dangerous. Yet that is no different than how Prohibition made every aspect of alcohol riskier and more harmful. Hari, for example, explains how black markets end up making illegal substances more potent and hence more addictive. So, it is government policies that have this biggest impact on changing public behaviors across generations. Different conditions lead to different results, unsurprisingly.

Some of it is a change in attitudes, which is behind the change in government policies. Strauss and Howe make clear how the earth shifted under the feet of GenXers, just as they were learning to walk (pp. 59-61):

“Circa-1970 polls and social statistics showed a negative shift in public attitudes toward (and treatment of) children. As millions of mothers flocked into the work force, the proportion of preschoolers cared for in their own homes fell by half. For the first time, adults ranked autos ahead of children as necessary for “the good life.” The cost of raising a child, never much of an issue when Boomers were little, suddenly became a hot topic. Adults of fertile age doubled their rate of surgical sterilization. The legal abortion rate grew from next to nothing to the point where one of every three fetuses was terminated. In 1962, half of all adults believed that parents in bad marriages should stay together for the sake of the children. By 1980, less than one fifth of all adults felt that way. America’s great divorce epidemic was underway.

“Divorce. The fact of it, the calculations influencing it, the openness about it, the child’s anxiety about it, the harms from it, the guilt after it: Here lay the core symptom of Silent nurture of the 13th. America’s divorce rate doubled between 1965 and 1975, just as Atari-wave 13ers passed through middle childhood. at every age, a 13er child born in 1968 faced three times the risk of parental break-up faced by a Boomer child born in 1948. Silent parents, authors, and screenwriters addressed divorce as though it were an episodic childhood disease like the chicken pox: something you catch, get sick from, and then get over. […] provoking children of secure families on the fragility of their world. […]

“But if parents liked to stress the “positive” side of divorce, children were left staring at the dark side. according to one major survey of 1970s-era marital disruptions, only one-fifth of the children of divorce professed being happier afterward—versus four-fifths of the divorced parents. […] Of all child generations in U.S. history, 13er kids are the “onliest,” their families the smallest, their houses the emptiest after school, and their parents the most divorced. Three of five 13ers have zero or one sibling, versus less than two in five Boomers at like age. Over the span of this one generation, the proportion of children living with less than two parents increased by half, and the proportion of working mothers of preschool children doubled. fewer than half of all 13ers are now reaching age 16 in households with two once-married biological parents. One 13er in five has half-siblings. If the proliferation of half-thises and step-thats was a challenge for the greeting-card industry, it was devastating to the kids themselves.”

To continue (p. 66):

“Academic journals suddenly abounded with articles about a brand new topic: family violence. Over the 13er child era, the homicide rate for infants and children under four rose by half, the number of reported cases of child abuse jumped fourfold, and the number of vulnerable “latchkey” children fending for themselves after school more than doubled.”

This was a messed up generation, in so many ways. The data makes this clear. I recently showed, for example, how ‘slutty’ was my generation as teens. But the pivotal issue is this was the world into which GenXers were born, and it was all that my peers knew. We were told that we were a bad generation and we came to believe it, a bad generation for a bad era (pp. 87-89):

“When something goes badly wrong, a 13er’s first instinct is to blame himself. That makes some sense, given the world he inhabits. Consider how the public health risks of American teens have changed since the 1950s: Compared to teenagers a third of a century ago, 13ers face a sharply lower risk of dying from accidents or conventional diseases, but this advantage has been almost entirely offset by what elders look upon as “self-inflicted” risks. In the ’50s, the worst threats to youth were random diseases like influenza and polio that attacked good and bad kids with equal cruelty—afflictions that have been mostly conquered. Now, the worst dangers are behavioral. AIDS. Drug and alcohol abuse. Eating disorders. Homicide. And, of course, suicide. Almost by definition, “good” kids are the ones who avoid these dangers, and “bad” kids are the ones who get plastered. […] By almost any measure, the first Atari-wave 13ers, born from 1961 through 1964, mark an extreme for the sociopathology of American youth. They set the all-time U.S. youth records for drunk driving, illicit drug consumption, and suicide. They have been among the most violent, criminal, and heavily-incarcerated youth cohorts in U.S. history. Among later-born 13ers, the picture is brightening some—but not much. Many more kids than a quarter century ago continue to inflict upon themselves (and others) the most violent forms of adolescent trauma.”

Indeed, my generation was violent. After dropping mid-century, violence shot up both toward self and others. Suicides are more common among whites for some reason. But during the spike, blacks almost caught up with the white suicide rate.

Most of that increase was among the younger demographics. Why is that? Many have pointed out the rise and fall of heavy metal toxicity from pollution, especially lead additives in gasoline, although an earlier spike was related to lead in paint and farm chemicals (see here, here, here, and here):

Graph showing correlation between lead exposure and violent crime in USA


I’m always surprised this kind of data isn’t brought up more often. It is clearly related.

One might expect children who had higher rates of pollution exposure and hence toxicity, which is to say poisoning, would as adults show health and behavioral problems and that this would then extend into continuing health and behavioral problems as they aged. That an increase in middle age mortality would be seen among this population is the opposite of shocking. Heavy metal toxicity really messes up the body, not just the brain, and the negative effects are lifelong.

Throw on top of this a generally worsening economy and prospects for this generation. What would one expect? Certainly not improvement in the rates of social and physical health.

I’ll end with one last passage from Strauss and Howe (pp. 98-101):

“It’s a well-known complaint that American living standards, on average, have flattened out ever since American productivity began stagnating in early 1970s. What’s less well known is how this leveling of the national average has concealed vastly unequal changes in living standards by phase-of-life, and how the interests of older Americans have been protected at the expense of young people. Consider the following core indicators of economic well-being: worker pay, total household income, household wealth, home ownership, and the likelihood of poverty. From the late 1930s to the early 1970s, all these indicators improved briskly for every age group. Since then, they have diverged markedly across different age brackets. For households headed by persons over age 65, these indicators have continued to improve as though nothing had gone wrong. For age 35 to 65, most of them have just held steady. But for households headed by persons under age 35—the age bracket 13ers have been entering ever since the 1970s—every one of these indicators has gotten worse. Some have fallen off a cliff. […]

“13ers came to realize that they bore most of the burden for the Reagan-era prosperity that so enriched their elders. They watched the drawbridge slam shut on most of the lucrative professional monopolies dominated by older age groups. They watched U.S. manufacturers respond to efficient global rivals by downsizing through attrition, letting their high-wage older work force age in place. They watched the total number of Fortune 500 jobs (cushy benefits and all) reach its historic peak in 1979—just when they first came to the job market—and then head south ever afterwards Those paths blocked, millions of 13ers wedded their future to the one economic sector in which real pay declined, fringe benefits evaporated, and investment and output per worker showed literally no growth at all: the unskilled service sector. Ronald McDonaldland

“During the Bush years, most of today’s 40 million 13ers living on their own hit their first recession. And behold: This was the only cyclical downturn ever recorded in which all the net job loss landed on the under-30 age bracket. Not on Boomer post-yuppies, not on Silent prime-of-lifers, certainly not on G.I. retirees. Subtract 13ers from the employment tally, and presto: No recession! […]

“[13ers] are beginning to ask harder questions about the policy gridlock over most of the issues vital to their economic future. Like why the college class of ’92 faces the most difficult job search of any class since the Great Depression, with nearly a third of entry-level jobs disappearing and average pay falling for those who remain. Or why the proportion of college grads taking jobs that don’t require college degree has doubled over the last decade. Or why the federal deficit keeps growing on their tab. Or why the income tax rates on billion-dollar investments are held down while FICA tax rates on the first dollar of wage income keep rising. Or why unemployment benefits are extended for households already receiving checks, but nothing is done for the most younger households can’t qualify. or why senior citizens get to clamor for yet a third layer of health insurance when one-fourth of all 13ers have no insurance at all. or why a skimpy urban youth bill, drafted in the wake of the L.A. riots, is allowed to grow into a giant Christmas tree of goodies for affluent older people. […]

“Since the early 1970s, say many economists, America has been undergoing a “quiet depression” in living standards. A bit more pointedly, columnist Robert Kuttner describes 13er as suffering from a remarkable generational disease . . . a depression of the young” which makes them feel “uniquely thirsty in a sea of affluence.” From 1929 to 1933, the bust years we call the “Great Depression,” real household income fell by 25 percent all across America. Now once again: what was the dip in age-bracket income that 13er have suffered since replacing Boomers? Twenty percent for young men? Thirty percent for young parents with children? Thirteeners get the message, even if others don’t, about a “quiet” trauma today’s older people would regard as a history-shattering catastrophe if it fell mostly on their heads.”

99 thoughts on “From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations

  1. Personally, I consider it a sign of America’s decline. People are now totally expendable in the eyes of the prevailing authority.

    Perhaps this was always the case, but this has become more pronounced in the past few decades as the greed of the very wealthy has become more and more visible. I suspect that things will only get worse unless the very wealthy are brought under control.

    • Some of it has improved, though. Poverty rates for children were on the decline, but of course the Recession eliminated the gains made in recent decades. More importantly, kids these days aren’t experiencing the high rates of heavy metal toxicity that were seen with my generation.

      The generations following mine do seem less homicidal and suicidal, along with seemingly being less prone to at least some kinds of risky behavior, from teen sexuality to drug use. One of the negative effects of lead toxicity is impairment of impulse control, which creates all kinds of secondary problems.

      Also, the recent generations of kids are being more well parented than was my generation. If anything, they are being over-parented, which is an interesting change. They aren’t latchkey kids left to fend for themselves. Whatever problems they will still face, their parents will be a lot more concerned and involved in dealing with those problems. That shouldn’t be discounted, even though there is only so much parents can do.

      Things are changing, in both bad and less bad ways. It is up for grabs whether this will overall end up with improvements in the coming decades. I’m curious to see where these trends are leading. I somehow doubt, for example, that the younger generations in time will have quite the same high rates of middle age mortality rates. I bet it will shift down at least somewhat, in correlation with lead toxicity rates, but I could be wrong.

      Still, I do feel things are likely to get worst before they get better, especially for my generation. I wish the best of luck to the American generations following mine.

  2. The liberal narrative of progress is obviously a lie to the working middle class who are white, and has always obviously been a lie to blacks of almost all classes. Is it at all surprising that as the liberal left has becoming increasingly whiggish in its claims about white privileged increasing that they are running to decadence narratives by conservatives that lead to hate the wrong people? How does this not make that obvious?

    • There is a lot changing with many moving parts. it is hard to disentangle what is going on and where it is heading. The notion of ‘progress’ is subjective and relative. It is comparing something (or an indicator/measure of something) across time. It’s how we perceive and how we judge what we perceive.

      There are some improvements in some areas. But there are obviously many things that are clearly not improvements or else are simply uncertain. What stands out to me, though, is that even the periods of worsening problems often are temporary. There is no linear progression of societal self-destruction. For example, even with poverty rates having gone back up again since the Recession, they are still lower than they were earlier last century.

      The tougher thing to figure out is what something like poverty rates or mortality rates is measuring. What causal and contributing factors are behind them?

      On the positive side, middle age mortality rates are continuing to go down in many other countries. So, that does show that improvements in the world can and are happening, even there is something else going on in the case of the US. That suggests that nothing happening is inevitable. Maybe enough Americans with problems will one day start to think why can’t we also have nice things like the people do in other highly developed countries.

      About hating the wrong people, that is a good point. What is being discussed here isn’t understood by most people. When I saw the first article about middle age mortality rates, I immediately thought of generational influences and the historical conditions for the specific demographic populations in question. That is the connection that jumped out as obvious to me, but few people think that way. Instead, most articles blame middle aged people as being old druggies who never learned to take responsibility or whatever. At best, there is some slight mention of economic issues.

      I do think people are becoming more aware. People are beginning to connect the dots. Info like this is filtering into public discussion. Many more people are at least trying to understand. It’s a good first step.

    • I was perusing other discussions of this data. What struck me is how specific is the effected demographic.

      The middle aged, not the young or old. Americans, not other Westerners. Non-Hispanic whites, not minorites.

      It is effecting primarily the less wealthy and well educated. But only within this thin slice of the population. Most Americans still have declining mortality rates, apparently including most whites and most minorities. Just not middle aged non-Hispanic whites.

      That is strange. The data here does not fit the standard pattern we’ve come to expect. Now that I’ve given this further thought, I’m not sure what to make of it.

  3. Good, helpful overview, thanks- makes a mystery commonsensical. Krugman slushed about on this topic today in the Times with much less efficacy.

    The loss of faith threads its way underneath the divorce and family statistics. Ever the mystery to be unlocked by the left- how dumb dogma and traditions cohere and preserve us, how some (partial) accuracies harm us. And the implication that it might’ve been better for society and children that unhappy marriages were preserved- a disturbing recasting of free will and individual actualization.

    • I do have a conservative side of my personality. Many GenXers do as well, even if it doesn’t inevitably express as conservative politics.

      I didn’t share another side of the data. Polls show that GenXers put great value on family. The data also shows that they spend more time with their children than their own parents spent with them. GenXers, if anything, are too protective and have too high of expectations. Like the Lost Generation, GenXers go to great lengths to ensure their own children have better childhoods than they had. I’ve observed this personally watching my brothers raise their children.

      Lost Generation supported and helped fund all kinds of programs for the following generations, even though they rarely benefited from any of it on a personal level. The Lost Generation died as they were born still with high rates of poverty, but they left the world a better place with the ending of child labor, the guarantee of universal public education, and a stronger social safety net.

      It’s important, however, to recognize how many problems today are so much larger and more complex. Simple changes in public policies might not be enough. Our present economic system is simply not conducive to stable families and communities, even if we could end the destructiveness of mass incarceration. It’s quite the challenge we face, as individuals and as a society.

  4. I might note that the race issue is more significant than I let on. Problems are still severe for many minorities. But this particular change in mortality rates appears to be solely a non-Hispanic white phenomenon.

    In contrast, the death rate for middle-aged blacks and Hispanics continued to decline during the same period, as did death rates for younger and older people of all races and ethnic groups.

    Middle-aged blacks still have a higher mortality rate than whites — 581 per 100,000, compared with 415 for whites — but the gap is closing, and the rate for middle-aged Hispanics is far lower than for middle-aged whites at 262 per 100,000.

    The big mystery is why? Why would the death rate for middle-aged non-Hispanic whites be increasing after decades of decline while rates for middle-aged blacks and Hispanics continue to fall? And why didn’t other rich countries have the same mortality rate increase for people in midlife?

    The major causes of the excess deaths are suicides, drug abuse and alcoholism. (For once, obesity is not on the list as a major player.) But while deaths from these causes have increased among middle-aged whites, they actually decreased for blacks and Hispanics. In the past, drug abuse deaths were more common in middle-aged blacks than in middle-aged whites. Now they are more common in whites. The same pattern holds for deaths from alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. The suicide rate for whites was four times that of blacks. […]

    Dr. Deaton noted that blacks and Hispanics may have been protected to an extent. Some pharmacies in neighborhoods where blacks and Hispanics live do not even stock those drugs, and doctors have been less likely to prescribe them for these groups. Dr. Deaton said.

    “A black person has to be in a lot more pain to get a prescription,” Dr. Case said. “That was thought to be horrible, but now it turns out to maybe have a silver lining.”

    Yet here, too, Deaton and Case’s data is somewhat confounding, because if economic stress were all, you would expect the mortality crisis to manifest itself more sharply among black and Hispanic Americans — who have consistently higher unemployment rates than their white neighbors, and lag whites in wealth by far.

    But in fact the mortality rate for minorities in the U.S. continued to fall between 1999 and 2013, mirroring the trend in Europe, and the African-American death rate in particular fell hugely. Amid the stresses of the dot-com bust and the Great Recession, it was only white Americans who turned increasingly to drugs, liquor and quietus.

    Why only them? One possible solution is suggested by a paper from 2012, whose co-authors include Andrew Cherlin and Brad Wilcox, leading left and right-leaning scholars, respectively, of marriage and family.

    Noting that religious practice has fallen faster recently among less-educated whites than among less-educated blacks and Hispanics, their paper argues that white social institutions, blue-collar as well as white-collar, have long reflected a “bourgeois moral logic” that binds employment, churchgoing, the nuclear family and upward mobility.

    But in an era of stagnating wages, family breakdown, and social dislocation, this logic no longer seems to make as much sense. The result is a mounting feeling of what the American Conservative’s Rod Dreher calls white “dispossession” — a sense of promises broken, a feeling that what you were supposed to have has been denied to you. (The Donald Trump phenomenon, Dreher notes, feeds off precisely this anxiety.)

    For obvious historical reasons, though, Hispanic and (especially) black communities have cultivated a different set of expectations, a different model of community and family (more extended and matriarchal), a different view of success and the American story writ large.

    These distinctives come with their own set of problems, particularly where family structure and fatherhood are concerned. But they may create a kind of resilience, a capacity for dealing with stagnation and disappointment (and elite indifference or hostility), which many working-class white Americans did not necessarily expect to ever need.

    If this possibility has policy implications, it suggests that liberals are right to emphasize the economic component to the working class’s crisis. But it cautions against the idea that transfer payments can substitute for the sense of meaning and purpose that blue-collar white Americans derived from the nexus of work, faith and family until very recently.

    Maybe sustained growth, full employment and a welfare state that’s friendlier to work and family can help revive that nexus. Or maybe working-class white America needs to adapt culturally, in various ways, to this era of relative stagnation, and learn from the resilience of communities that are used to struggling in the shadow of elite neglect.

    Or maybe it will take a little bit of both, more money and new paths to resilience alike, to make some of the unhappiest white lives feel like they matter once again.

    My grandmother grew up under the wicked regime of Jim and Jane Crow. Like many other black Americans she escaped to a northern American city during the Great Migration that occurred after World War II. I remember her telling me that the average white person wouldn’t survive being black for even a day. They would die from stress and anxiety.

    I believe that she may have been exaggerating. But her observation does get to something real about the way white privilege manifests. Research suggests that the average white American has no basic idea about how white racism and white supremacy impact the day-to-day lives and life chances of non-whites. In fact, social psychology experiments have shown that white folks believe that not having access to television is a far greater hardship than being black. This absurdity is compounded by the belief, demonstrated in recent surveys, that in the Age of Obama, “discrimination” against white people is now a bigger problem in the United States than racism against people of color.

    In all, white privilege is a system that gives unearned advantages to white people because of their perceived racial group membership. Those unearned advantages in turn nurture and cultivate a deficit in coping skills. (This is not a function of race, but rather of power. Men likely have worse life coping skills relative to women, and straight people less so than those in the LGBT community.) This should not be a surprise. White America was built upon stolen land, income, labor and wealth, taken from First Nations, African-Americans and other people of color. More recently, the modern white American middle class was created through transfer payments and government subsidies such as the G.I. Bill and VA/FHA housing programs, opportunities that were systematically denied to black and brown Americans. Racism (and sexism) in the American labor force meant that jobs which earned a living wage were deemed the near exclusive province of white men.

    And now white people — and white working class men in particular — are suffering an identity crisis, as their perceived birthright is being taken away from them.

    Of course, the facts undermine any claims of relative disadvantage compared to people of color. Poor and working class white people possess much more wealth and assets than do black and Latinos who are nominally “middle” or “upper class.” By implication, poor and working class whites have greater financial security than people of color in the same economic cohort. Nevertheless, it is the perception of white insecurity and suffering that matters, not empirical reality. Those who have historically been privileged will feel like equality is oppression.

    White America — its poor and working classes in the throes of depression and hopelessness about the future, and killing themselves, intentionally or otherwise — must now summon up in itself the very same “personal responsibility” that the right so often uses to disparage the suffering of the black and brown poor. While globalization is most certainly pushing the white poor and working classes even further into a category of expendables, this same group of people must acknowledge their own complicity with such an outcome.

    • It may be that white America was always wealthier to begin with so it just has further to fall. It is like a moderately well off person falling into poverty. They just have further to fall having enjoyed a decent living before hand, even if they were not wealthy.

      Even the poorest whites had a better chance than the poorest blacks.

      The other may be that they simply do not understand the world that is going on around them and who they should be angry at.

    • For some demographics of whites, there has been further to fall. There was always a larger white middle class that from one generation to the next has been constantly threatened with falling back out of the middle class. More minorities have always been in the lower classes and maybe they are more used to it.

      However, even if poverty isn’t as severe and concentrated among whites, there always has been more absolute numbers of poor whites than poor blacks. Also, there have always been more whites than blacks on welfare.

      I’m not sure who these specific whites are that have seen increasing mortality rates. It would be useful to have more details about the precise demographics involved. Southerners? Rural? Isolated? Poor communities? Poor families? Underfunded schools? Food deserts? High lead toxicity rates?

      The demographic of middle aged non-Hispanic whites is narrow in one sense. But it still contains quite a bit of diversity. This would include many populations in different places and likely living under different conditions all across the country. What is the commonality among them all? What is hitting this one demographic so hard?

      At the same time, why are mortality rates apparently still going down for everyone else?

  5. If I remember correctly, things have not been improving for African Americans across the board.

    For women, I do know that some cancers are rising:

    Apparently childbirth is a problem too:

    Net though some progress is being made:

    A far more interesting question I have is why Canada is doing comparatively better. We have had a recession, the loss of manufacturing, and similar trends.

    • Mortality rates are about overall health. Any single health problem could be getting worse, even as overall health was improving.

      African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans apparently do have improving overall health, in terms of mortality rates. Hispanic-Americans of the middle age demographic at least have lower mortality rates than even middle age non-Hispanic white Americans. As for African-Americans, their mortality rates still are higher, but it is important to note that they apparently are coming down in all age brackets.

      On the other hand, I somehow doubt that middle age non-Hispanic whites (primarily the least wealth and well-educated) are the only demographic grouping that is doing worse on this or similar measures. If we were to break the data down differently, I bet we’d find all kinds of specific demographics that are being hit hard in various ways. As anyone knows who has been paying attention, the drug wars, mass incarceration, unemployment, and recessions have been serious problems for poor minorities for a very long time.

      It is still interesting, though, that many demographics are improving on this one basic measure of mortality rates. That is what makes the middle age non-Hispanic whites stand out so much. Plus, the symbolic value of that particular demographic captures the American imagination, because those people are part of a group of Americans who are supposed to be privileged. Indeed, they are privileged in many ways compared to other groups (their mortality rates even if not declining are still lower than that of African-Americans), but racial privilege only goes so far in a society built on a rigid class hierarchy.

      I would add that I still stand by my generational analysis. Even though this isn’t simply generational, there seems to be a large component of that going on. Those being hit the worst in this demographic are basically isolated to a single generation, as in those born at a specific moment in time under some shared set of conditions. Even so, it really is strange that it is only one demographic sub-population within the generation. African-Americans may be having it bad in all kinds of ways, and yet at least their mortality rates are still going down. That isn’t the case for middle age non-Hispanic whites. Why is that?

    • I want to look at some of the mortality data in greater depth.

      I have a hard time believing that all demographics but one have continuing declines of mortality rates. I know that the most poor and uneducated blacks experience the worst problems in almost every category.

      But maybe there really is a lot of improvement happening on the lowest end for minorities. It might make sense, as that is what is seen with average IQ rising the quickest at the lowest end of the spectrum while slowing down at the highest end.

  6. Perhaps i should take those words back “far more interesting” and add “far more interesting to me”.

    Universal healthcare might explain some it. Another possibility is that there are better mental health services here than in the US (although not as good as in Sweden I must note).

    Hmm… it’d be really difficult to come to conclusions without more research. Correlation is easy to find, but the true cause is not so easy to determine.

    • I agree. Correlation is easy to find. This data seems to be pointing to something significant. It has grabbed a fair amount of attention, because many people see it as indicative of something. But indicative of exactly what? What does this particular demographic represent, both in real world terms and as a symbol in American society?

    • I would make two points.

      The first thing is what I’ve already said a number of times. This isn’t the normal demographic that we associate with oppression. From what I understand, declining mortality rates are still happening among the vast majority of Americans, which is to say among all other non-Hispanic white people who aren’t middle age and all minorities.

      Related to that, what stands out is that this demographic is showing self-destructive behavior. There is always a context to such things as drug-taking and suicide. In some ways, high rates of self-destructive behavior is more indicative of major social problems than destructive behavior turned toward others, because it means that life is so bad that these people aren’t overly concerned about their own mortality.

      However, it is strange, as oppressed minorities have always had lower suicide rates than whites. Maybe having an explicit oppressor (racial-profiling cops, white ruling elite, etc) to fight against gives one a basic will to live. Maybe white people feel they have no choice but to internalize problems, even when they aren’t to blame for systemic failures within society.

      Homicide rates have been going down for all demographics in the US. It has been going down the fastest for minorities, probably for the same reason that average IQ has been going up the fastest for minorities, the most probable reason being improved environmental conditions (better nutrition, less heavy metal toxicity, etc). It’s different for suicide, though. White suicide rates have been going up and, if trends continue, there will be more white suicides than black homicides.

      The second point goes back to comments I’ve made to you previously in other posts. I don’t think the US really is all that unique and exceptional.

      For one, the US is just the headquarters for a global ruling elite. Quite a few so-called American corporations are really international corporations with their main offices, factories, and bank accounts elsewhere.

      Much of the American elite either weren’t born in the US (e.g., Rupert Murdoch) or have spent much of their lives in other countries. And many of America’s wealthiest have mansions and such in other countries. Some of the most influential Americans, besides those like Murdoch, have mixed backgrounds. Ted Cruz was born in Canada to a mother from the US and a father from Cuba. Others are married to people from other countries or have close family crony ties to other countries (e.g., the Bush family’s relationship to the Saudi royal family). Still other American ruling elites, including politicians, have dual citizenships, especially with Israel.

      The US is just a symbolic nexus of a global ruling elite. I doubt the US ruling elite ever does anything without first conferring with cronies and allies around the world. The US is ultimately just a continuation of the near global British Empire. All of the former British colonies have inherited a set of imperial traditions and alliances, including Canada (look at the health disparities between white Canadians and First Nations). Also, consider a country like Australia that in some ways has a worse civil rights record with its own native population.

      There is nothing particularly unique about any of this. It’s just how the powerful have always acted all over the world. It is horrific what is done through power, but it isn’t unique or surprising, sadly.

    • Guns can be problematic. But there are countries with high rates of guns in households and yet have low gun mortality rates. The US has a lot of guns owned, and yet the number of gun owners has gone down. Countries like Canada and Switzerland have lots of guns without the high gun death rate. It isn’t just about guns for more importantly it is about a particular kind of gun culture. For example, Southern states with high gun ownership have higher gun death rates while Midwestern states with high gun ownership have lower gun death rates.

      As for religion, that also isn’t straightforward. Minorities have higher rates of religiosity than whites. But minorities have decreasing mortality rates. Middle age Hispanics have lower mortality rates than middle age non-Hispanic whites. Also, there is the phenomenon of wealthy Americans having higher religiosity rates than poor Americans, even though at the same time many of the poorest Americans live in areas that are heavily dominated by religion (or rather dominated by a highly religious oligarchy).

      It is hard to disentangle it all.

  7. Left unchecked though I would imagine that America may find itself becoming the very failed state that it would have once argued justified “humanitarian intervention” (or whatever they call it these days).

    It does seem like things are in many ways getting worse for specific segments. I would like to see the data on African Americans, Asian Americans, and other minorities also included.

    We know that things are grim for women too in this category too, so it’s across the entire demographic..

    I would also like a comparison across the socioeconomic classes. I’d imagine the upper middle class (say top 20%) is doing ok and perhaps comparable to the rest of the world.

    • But is it really failed? I sometimes wonder if the seeming incidences of failure are really just an act, a way of hiding real motives and agendas. I suspect that the real successes are normally kept hidden.

      US politicians like to pretend that they can’t get anything done because of disagreements across the aisle. Yet when real power and profits are at stake they always find agreement, but the corporate media typically downplays those moments of agreement. I’d love to know what goes on in backroom deals.

      The thing is that the US is doing well by world standards. Even the poorest minority Americans are better off than most people in the world, and those Americans know it.

      I think this is why Americans don’t fight back harder, because they realize it could be so worse. Americans are always more worried about who is below them than who is above them. It’s the reason why the early generations of blacks were so willing to join the military to kill Native Americans and foreigners, in order to prove their patriotic loyalty to an oppressive social order, just in the faintest hope that they might be able to slightly move up the hierarchy.

      It’s the same reason poor whites have joined the US military. To become a soldier means automatic respect, to some basic extent, as long as one remains in the military, not that it usually translates back to civilian life. Poor people will do anything to escape their poverty, even if only temporarily, including killing other innocent poor people just because the government tells them to do so.

      Many immigrants follow the same path. If you join the US military and serve your time, you can become a citizen. It’s your willingness to kill poor minorities in countries just like the one you came from that proves you’ll make a good American citizen.

      It is a sick mindset. It isn’t just about rich white people. It’s an entire society of complicit populations.

      That doesn’t even to consider all the populations of allied governments. Why don’t more Canadians protest their government’s alliance with the US? They don’t because they know that being allied with the global superpower gives them great benefits and privileges.

      The US is in many ways just an old-style empire. It’s the same basic game of wealth and power. On the other hand, it is a game being played in an entirely new way. There has never been any empire in history that was this multicultural and this much of an international project of an international ruling elite. All of the old empires were ethno-nationalist projects, but not the US.

  8. I do believe that apathy has played a huge role in our current crisis as well.

    Everyone is apathetic to a degree – even you and I. It is just that people are apathetic when it comes to politics as well, which becomes a very serious crisis.

    • It’s not just that we are all apathetic to a degree. More importantly, we are all complicit to a degree.

      Here is another example. During Vietnam War, fragging (intentionally killing officers) partly increased from black soldiers because of MLK’s assassination. They decided why should they fight for a country where there own leaders are being killed.

      But apparently before that those black soldiers were perfectly fine killing innocent Vietnamese in a pointless war simply because the US government told them to do so. It’s not as if those black soldiers had any reason to think the country was less of an oppressive empire before MLK’s assassination.

      To my mind, that demonstrates everything that is wrong with this country and with the world in general.

      The US has dozens of military allies. If not for all of those allied governments and their compliant unprotesting citizens, if not for all the minorities, immigrants and poor whites willing to fight for the US military, the American empire wouldn’t have the power it has. The US gets away with what it does because others let it do so because they think it is to their advantage.

      Also, consider that a large number of blacks in the US are getting racially profiled, arrested, and shot by black police officers. The get tough on crime policies, drug wars, and mass incarceration were supported by many blacks and other minorities, because people were afraid of the soaring crime rates. It was all based on ignorance, since no one understood the real reasons and it was just easier to scapegoat those trapped in impoverished lead-polluted ghettoes.

      It’s not just white supremacists, racial bigots, plutocrats, and a ruling elite that creates this messed up society. Yet the general public is kept to ignorant and misinformed to understand what is going on. People should know better, but they don’t. Most people are simply trying to get by in life and they have no comprehension of the massive dysfunction and oppression that goes on all around them. It’s too large and incomprehensible.

      So, the very people who are most oppressed do such things as join the military that oppresses others. It’s nothing new. The same thing has happened in every empire and oppressive state throughout history. It’s just sad that it still is happening, especially in a country that likes to think it is free and democratic, a beacon to the world, a shining city on the hill, and all that bullshit.

  9. Also interesting is the rapid rise of deaths from poisonings.

    It looks like poisonings and not say, illegal drugs, are the fastest rising cause of death. That and it shows what a failure the War on Drugs is. It is more meant to be a Jim Crow 2 than anything else. Drug demand is a function of the level of despair, which in turn is worsened by right wing economic policies.

  10. At least the liver disease we can explain – there has been a rise in obesity, which in turn must mean that there will be a rise in liver failure deaths.

    Similarly, I expect to see a rise in obesity related cancer, heart disease, and stroke. These are all consequences of the rising obesity rates.

  11. Actually it could be worse than that. It could be as long as 5 generations before the problem is entirely fixed, if Pottenger’s cat experiments are correct.

    So not only their kids, but grandkids, and 3 more generations. That’s assuming that the kids have a good lifestyle to begin with.

    • You make a good point. I was being ‘conservative’ in my statement about epigenetics. No one actually knows how many generations epigenetic effects may last, specifically in humans. To figure that out would require a study that followed particular family lines for at least a century or, better yet, centuries.

      The negative environmental conditions were in many cases enforced for centuries, as in the case of slavery. Some family lines would have been enslaved in America for more than ten generations by the time the Civil War came around. Then throw another 5 generations on top of that for Jim Crow. And then add a couple generations that experienced impoverished ghettoization, mass incarceration, and high rates of lead toxicity. Taken together, some family lines have had continuous racialized consequences for upwards of 20 generations. We aren’t talking about just a single epigenetic effect, but possibly involving the altered expression of hundreds of genes.

      To undo epigenetic effects might require centuries more, unless we discover a way to easily, reliably, and inexpensively reverse gene expression in large populations.

  12. I’d say that many are still arguably enslaved today.

    There are very real economic and social barriers that prevent African Americans from entering the middle class. Other minorities likewise also do suffer.

    Even middle class and upper middle class whites are now under siege. Actually, in the case of real wealth, even the upper middle class may be on its way down.

    That could take generations to fix the full impacts.

    • I find it strange that in this basic sense I’m more ‘conservative’ than what goes for conservatism in the US. I’m a supporter of the precautionary principle. It is easier to create problems than to solve them.

      This is true in so many ways. It relates to every kind of problem that we face: racial prejudice and social oppression, growing poverty and inequality, shrinking middle class and economic mobility, crony capitalist erosion of social capital and culture of trust, materialistic consumerism undermining of citizenship and the public good, mass incarceration destruction of families, environmental destruction and lead toxicity poisoning of children. And every other issue that so-called conservatives dismiss.

      If conservatism is supposed to be about responsibility, why do so few conservatives want to take responsibility for these problems they are part of? Who is supposed to take responsibility for generations and centuries of harm to entire communities and populations? Shouldn’t the people who benefited from that harm take responsibility, which means the rest of society?

      Why is modern conservatism so radically anti-conservative? Why does it take a pansy liberal like me to make a genuine defense of conserving what good is left and rebuilding what yet hasn’t entirely been destroyed?

    • It is not so much conservative as much as it is regressive, authoritarian, and determined to create a plutocracy.

      If you think about it, the only real battles that the wealthiest people care about is making their slice of the pie bigger. All of the other issues, like pushing religion, anti intellectual sentiment, xenophobia, sexism, racism, homophobia, and guns is about distracting the population to vote for a plutocracy.

      Conservatives are not about responsible actions or anything they claim. If they were, you would not be seeing them deny global warming, dismantle education, or anything like that.

  13. I had a rough day today.

    Moving my website to https proved really difficult.

    Apparently images don’t copy very well and

  14. Was forced to change everything to svg. That was quite inconvenient. I am planning to blog about this experience in the coming days. Although I have more work to do on the website.

    Also apparently blogs have “spam subscribers”. I have over 200 of these to deal with. They mostly try to sell things or use your blog for commercial purposes. I had to takemy website down for several hours after work.

    Since it is my own separate domain I had to maintain everything myself, including security. It is not quite like,which does most of the back end for you.

    Oops move to open thread please.

  15. Extrapolation, so a huge grain of salt here.

    But this data suggests to me that by the time I reach 45, Canada’s rate could be 150,and Sweden could be be under 100,perhaps even under 75.

    Actually, the US could be as high as 500+.

    Extrapolations are always under the assumption of existing trends, but it isn’t unreasonable, especially in the case of the US.

    I suppose if someone like Bernie Sanders comes along, we could see a reversal. Otherwise, we will see the existing trends. Actually if you think about it, if a Republican Party nutter wins, the trend of middle aged deaths may even accelerate.

    • As you know, we already know the basic trends under the two US parties.

      Homicides and suicides increase under Republican administrations, along with a ton of other measures of social problems. This probably has a lot to do with conservatives unwillingness to even admit problems exist.

      I was reminded of this other post:

      “About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution, concludes a Cornell researcher. Such environmental degradation, coupled with the growth in world population, are major causes behind the rapid increase in human diseases, which the World Health Organization has recently reported. Both factors contribute to the malnourishment and disease susceptibility of 3.7 billion people, he says.”

      But pollution, of course, mostly has a negative impact on the poor and minorities. The two groups conservatives care about least. It gladdens a conservative’s heart to think they these inferior people are getting what they deserve, in the divinely ordained Social Darwinian order.

      Christian moral concern is to be limited to the winners. That’s what Jesus taught, right?

    • There was another aspect that I wondered about. Mortality rates are a limited focus.

      Even if mortality rates are improving for minorities, it doesn’t necessarily mean health overall is improving for minorities. Maybe we’re just getting better at keeping people alive, which doesn’t have to mean we’ve improved the quality of life for those people.

      Seat belts and emergency rooms have decreased all kinds of mortality rates, from car accidents to gun shots. We’re so good at saving people’s lives that it takes on average 7 attempts before someone successfully commits suicide. Yet simply having one’s life saved is an extremely minimal level of moral good. Living a longer life of bad health, poverty, despair, etc in some ways sucks even more than dying younger.

      We need a better way of measuring public good than merely not dying.

  16. In this case though, note that the middle age death rate began its rise under the Clinton administration, continued under Bush (no surprise), and Obama.

    Clinton’s decision to pass NAFTA likely had an impact on middle aged mortality
    Bush .. no explanation needed
    Obama – largely continued the policies of Bush and inherited the 2008 Financial Crisis.

    That is a sign of our time.

    • I’m not a fan of Bill Clinton in particular or the Democrats in general. But I find myself fascinated by the data from those previous posts, the data came across in James Gilligan’s book. Gilligan, however, was looking at larger population data, not specific demographics. It might be interesting to see how different demographics do under different party administrations.

      As for mortality rates under Clinton’s administration, there was both a decrease and an increase. But of course this was only for middle age whites. Total mortality rates have still been continuously going down, no matter who is president. This decline, however, did slow down during Clinton’s and Bush’s administrations. And then it sped up again with Obama.

      It’s the suicide and homicide rates that are most interesting. Mortality rates are maybe too general. It’s the specifics that get one thinking, as you pointed out with poisonings.

      Total homicide rates have been falling for decades. The last homicide spike happened during the Republican administrations prior to Clinton and precipitiously fell during Clinton’s administration. There was a slight spike with Bush and then back downward with Obama. The violent crime rate is around where it was about a half century ago.

      Suicide is even more odd when you look at the data. I’d note that Japan is unusual in having rising suicide rates, which isn’t something I would have expected. The US, on the other hand, is like most countries with a trending decrease (even though a slight uptick some years back with the recession). Only US whites have a clear and continuing increasing suicide rate (actually, increasing rates in the military as well), but it still isn’t enough to negate the larger decades-long trend. The US suicide rate is lower now than it was in 1960. I don’t know if there is good data from earlier.

      The data from this post catches one’s attention because it is such a specific demographic: mostly poor under-educated middle age non-Hispanic whites. Earlier last century, this very demographic was doing well with increasing education, opportunities, and wealth. The American middle class was built on these poor whites, such as my grandfather’s family who rose out of poverty with good railroad and factory jobs.

      Recent history hasn’t been so kind to these very same people, and they now feel cheated and as if they are losing their country, especially as they are being threatened with becoming just another minority. White privilege used to mean something, back when even a poor white had all kinds of advantages over non-whites, from employment to housing to government funding.

      I would point out that the middle age demographic is likely an echo from past events. What shaped these middle aged whites weren’t the politics of the last few political administrations, but the politics when these people were younger. GenXers, in particular, grew up in a post-JFK world—which includes the following presidencies during their childhoods: Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush Sr. All GenXers were reaching adulthood by the time Clinton was elected.

      Look at the suicide rates of those of the younger demographic. That was decreasing during Clinton’s administration. But back when GenXers were growing up, there was a high and increasing rate of young suicides, along with mortality rates in general… and interestingly it was mostly among teenagers:

      The 1950s was the historical lowest point for suicide and homicide, before and after which almost everything was worst, but we are slowly moving back toward that low point:

      The mortality rates of middle aged whites at present seem to correspond very closely to the suicide and homicide rates from their childhoods. That seems significant to me. Their mortality rates probably always have been higher compared to other generations, but for whatever reason the mainstream decided to pay attention when they hit middle age. It just so happened that they hit middle age during the last years of Clinton’s presidency and throughout Bush’s presidency, but those mortality rates had been developing for decades.

      I’m not saying Clinton’s NAFTA was a good thing. It probably didn’t help. I just doubt it was a central cause of these particular issues. It will be interesting to see the adult data for the generation that grew up under Clinton and following presidents. We are beginning to see those Clinton-era children hitting adulthood and beginning careers. How did NAFTA impact the children at that time and possibly lead to lifelong effects?

    • I wanted to add that I’m sure NAFTA has made things worse. But I don’t see it as likely the original and primary cause.

      This particular demographic has had problems since childhood. That indicates some larger factor or set of factors going on for quite a while now. I’d argue this demographic would just be a canary in the coal mine. There have been changes afoot, but most of them have been hard for most people to see, as the impact has been isolated to particular populations.

      For example, a recession happened some decades ago and it only impacted GenXers when they were reaching adulthood. This recession never was reported on in the MSM and never given a name. It was as if it never happened, but it left a permanent mark on an entire generation.

      NAFTA was just one more thing in a long line of bad happenings.

    • I agree with that. NAFTA has harmed Mexicans even more. I’d like to see the demographic breakdown of this kind of data for the Mexican population. And for the Canadian population as well.

      Many have noted that the mid-1990s was a point of change. It followed the end of the Cold War and so there was a loss of narrative. The political right became even more vicious, with the great Soviet boogeyman no longer around to distract them. The culture wars were exaggerated because all of a sudden there was no big issue of concern for most Americans.

      It was also when the conservative Democrats fully took control of the party. Clinton simply became an extension of the conservative takeover of mainstream politics. The sense of optimism behind the American Dream and the New Deal had fully dissipated at that point. There was a moral laziness about the 1990s. It became increasingly clear that corporatism had won. Without the Soviets around, it became harder to imagine any kind of realistic alternative. It was the beginning of the era of capitalist realism, a Social Darwinian fatalism.

    • I think I’ve seen that study before. Or else I’ve seen a similar study.

      There does seem to be a connection between inequality and disconnection, lack of sympathy, and maybe even sociopathy. Certainly, there is a relationship to all kinds of social problems, breakdown of social trust and social capital.

      This insight isn’t new. Even Adam Smith warned about inequality destroying a free society and hence undermining free markets. So, inequality isn’t just bad for society but also bad for capitalism, assuming by capitalism we mean a system of economics based on freedom, a rather large assumption to make it could be argued.

      Some would state that capitalism and corporatism are two separate things. That might be true in theory. And that might even be true in some societies. But in the US it sure is hard to tell the two apart.

    • I’d argue capitalism has become an unrealistic “ideal state” that will never be.

      There will always be people who will try to take advantage of the system for their benefit. Ironically Smith actually warned about such people in his book.

      The political conservatives today pick the parts they like and ignore what they don’t like. It is like how Christians ignore the parts their religion teaches them about greed.

  17. I think that the other question becomes whether or not this trend will change in the future or if other nations will suffer a reversal of fortune.

    I suspect that the UK might have done poorly in Northern England. Canada and Australia too have suffered from the decline of manufacturing.

    It is nothing nearly as bad as the US though and the safety nets remain stronger by comparison.

    • It’s hard to discern the future, as always. There might be all kinds of disruptions that will stop, reverse, or shift the direction of trends. Or trends might hit tipping points or go over cliffs. I doubt the present state of things can continue for much longer, although it probably will last longer than I’d prefer.

    • Yet so many people see no problems with economic inequality. They argue that some people being super rich has no effect on anything else. They see it as a mere mathematics question of numbers, rather than considering the effects of disparities (political, social, and psychological).

      It’s never just about economic inequality, for it always goes hand in hand with inequalities of power and representation, rights and freedom. A social democratic society and a culture of trust can’t operate under conditions of high inequality.

      I’m amazed that even well intentioned conservatives like my parents don’t understand this. At this point, this should be common sense. There is no example in history of a country with high inequality that didn’t also have high rates of social problems. American conservatism is the most radical utopianism ever envisioned.

    • I sort of understand why the the super rich and powerful want inequality. It is true that it’s even bad for them in the big picture. But I realize that there position blinds them to seeing beyond their narrow interests.

      Power and position disconnects people from reality. They become isolated in their own constrained world and surrounded by sycophants and yes-men. I first learned of that insight from reading Robert Anton Wilson a couple decades ago. Hierarchies act as filtration systems. Very little actual knowledge makes it to the top.

      Psychological studies have come to show what this means on a personal level, as the poor are better at understanding the rich than vice versa. But it goes beyond mere psychology. The ruling elite are disconnected in every way, and the greater their position in the hierarchy the greater their disconnection.

      As I’ve suggested before, the ruling elite probably aren’t as smart as they think they are. They aren’t just emotionally stunted but also cognitively blind. It relates to the con man having to con himself first. In their own way, these plutocrats are true believers.

      Reality tunnels are powerful and they should never be underestimated. But those with great power tend to underestimate this because they think they are above it all. The disconnected rarely know they are disconnected any more than the ignorant know they are ignorant. Dogmatic belief is dependent on this. Success in a hierarchical society is inseparable from an attitude of self-righteousness and self-confidence.

      “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. ”
      ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

  18. The welfare state serves one main purpose, to prevent revolution. If the poor don’t have enough to eat, they will eat the rich.

    State action meant the passing of acts forcing local authorities to raise taxes to tackle poverty. This was mainly through paying the poor “weekly cash doles” but also the provision of “housing, medical care, clothing, fuel,

    “apprenticeships… education and burial expenses” if needed. Beier’s argues then, that by 1650 there was
    a powerful weapon for checking poverty on a national scale, funded by statutory taxes and administered by state officials. In the Europe of 1650 that was no mean achievement and undoubtedly contributed to England’s long-term social stability compared with other states.”

    While I’m sceptical of his conclusion, its is no doubt true that the state had put in place mechanisms for dealing with poverty, though this was mostly of the form of supporting those in poverty, rather than raising them out of it. Alongside this action were laws to restrict movement and changing of employment and to control “dangerous trades” particularly those who travelled about, like peddlers, who could spread discontent. This helps to underline the main reason for state driven assistance for the poor. It was not to end poverty, indeed its doubtful that many in the Tudor or Stuart ruling class believed this possible, or even desirable. Instead it was to protect their own position. As Beier’s concludes in this useful, if short study,

    “it is unlikely that the position of the poor was transformed by weekly doles and the rest, any more than that of today’s is by social security payments. But for the ruling elites who instituted and administered the legislation, the poor-laws had positive results. They protected them from a host of disorders that might otherwise have threatened their social supremacy.”

    Those ruling elites didn’t survive the next half century. And, as the British government is currently eroding the welfare state, it is worth remembering that the origins of the poor laws and welfare lie in ruling class fear of those at the bottom of society.


    “Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.

    “The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the study on Friday.

    “The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.

    ““It’s really stunning to see such a large increase in suicide rates affecting virtually every age group,” said Katherine Hempstead, senior adviser for health care at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who has identified a link between suicides in middle age and rising rates of distress about jobs and personal finances.

    “Researchers also found an alarming increase among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate, while still very low, had tripled. The number of girls who killed themselves rose to 150 in 2014 from 50 in 1999. “This one certainly jumped out,” said Sally Curtin, a statistician at the center and an author of the report.

    “American Indians had the sharpest rise of all racial and ethnic groups, with rates rising by 89 percent for women and 38 percent for men. White middle-aged women had an increase of 80 percent.

    “The rate declined for just one racial group: black men. And it declined for only one age group: men and women over 75.”


    “Rural adolescents commit suicide at roughly twice the rate of their urban peers, according to a study published in the May issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Although imbalances between city and country have long persisted, “we weren’t expecting that the disparities would be increasing over time,” said the study’s lead author, Cynthia Fontanella, a psychologist at Ohio State University.

    ““The rates are higher, and the gap is getting wider.”

    “Suicide is a threat not just to the young. Rates over all rose 7 percent in metropolitan counties from 2004 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In rural counties, the increase was 20 percent.

    “The problem reaches across demographic boundaries, encompassing such groups as older men, Native Americans and veterans. The sons and daughters of small towns are more likely to serve in the military, and nearly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans live in rural communities.

    “The C.D.C. reported last year that Wyoming has the highest suicide rate in the nation, almost 30 deaths per 100,000 people in 2012, far above the national average of 12.6 per 100,000. Not far behind were Alaska, Montana, New Mexico and Utah, all states where isolation can be common. The village of Hooper Bay, Alaska, recently recorded four suicides in two weeks.

    “In one telephone survey of 1,000 Wyoming residents, half of those who responded said someone close to them had attempted or died by suicide.”


    “The suicide rate among black children has nearly doubled since the early 1990s, while the rate for white children has declined, a new study has found, an unusual pattern that seemed to suggest something troubling was happening among some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

    “Suicide among children ages 5 to 11, the age range the study measured, is rare, and researchers had to blend several years of data to get reliable results. The findings, which measured the period from 1993 to 2012, were so surprising that researchers waited for an additional year of data to check them. The trend did not change.

    “Suicide rates are almost always lower among blacks than among whites of any age. But the study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, found that the rate had risen so steeply among black children — to 2.54 from 1.36 per one million children — that it was substantially above the rate among white children by the end of the period. The rate for white children fell to 0.77 per million from 1.14.

    “It was the first time a national study found a higher suicide rate for blacks than for whites of any age group, researchers noted. […]

    “Sean Joe, a professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, who has studied suicide among black youth and did not take part in the new research, pointed out that suicide had long been one of the few negative health outcomes that have affected blacks less than whites.

    “A departure from that trend happened from the mid-1980s to the 1990s, when rising suicide rates among black teenagers narrowed the gap with white teenagers. One hypothesis was that the rate was driven up by easier access to guns; another was that there had been a cultural shift, in which young blacks were not as religiously observant as older blacks. In that thinking, religious faith had conferred a protective quality that had made older blacks less vulnerable to suicide.

    ““What it means to grow up young and black has changed,” Professor Joe said. “Something happened that put black teens at risk.”

    “He added, “I find the rates for children even more troubling, because they are the most vulnerable.”

    “The finding seemed to buck other trends by race. Among adolescents of both races, for example, the rate declined over the same period, falling for blacks more than for whites, according to figures Dr. Bridge provided. The rate for black boys rose sharply. The rate for black girls also rose, but the change was not statistically significant, he said.

    “The way the children were dying seemed to provide some clues. Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, who read the study, pointed out that gun deaths among white boys had gone down by about half while staying about the same for black boys, signaling that gun safety education may not be reaching black communities as effectively as white ones.

    “Suicides by hanging, on the other hand, roughly tripled among black boys, while remaining virtually unchanged for whites.

    ““He uncovered something very significant in the data,” she said, referring to Dr. Bridge. “Viewed over all, that age group looked like it was flat.””

  22. The data I just shared indicates that these worsening trends are broader. As one article pointed out, “The rate declined for just one racial group: black men. And it declined for only one age group: men and women over 75.”

    It’s not just middle class whites who are seeing higher rates of suicide. It is nearly across the board, including a sharp increase for Native Americans and young blacks.

    There is something complex going on. It’s likely related to how mental health problems have been shown to increase with growth of inequality and the spread of neoliberalism. These changes in society and the economy have been destructive of social fabric and social capital, undermining of family and community.

  23. A decent article with useful info. But I disagree with won part. I’m not sure it’s fair to call the demographic of mostly rural, lower income white women as “traditionally privileged.” The combination of all the other factors undermines what little privilege they get from being white. Still, it would be fair to say they are “traditionally privileged” in making a narrow comparison with other specific demographics, such as mostly rural, lower income black women.

    “The mortality rate of “rural white women in their late 40s” has risen dramatically with an increase of 30 percent, while the rate among other ethnic demographics have dropped. Much like how the disappearance of bees as evidence of an overall negative trend in the Earth’s environmental trajectory, I think the same could be said about an uptick in the premature deaths of white women in America. When looking at life expectancy in this country from a gender perspective, women usually live longer than men regardless of ethnicity. The general advantage in terms of life expectancy attributed to women is certainly cause for further examination of data illustrating a near doubling of the death rate since 1990 among a traditionally privileged demographic.

    “Smaller cities and rural areas do not benefit from the amount of societal infrastructure put in place in larger metropolitan areas that would mitigate certain public-health failings. However, areas and demographics that are more susceptible can often foreshadow issues that could affect the larger population, because these growing disparities are more visible on smaller scales.

    “Often, the condition of the most afflicted demographic presents the most accurate reflection of that present society as a whole, and for that reason, the results of studies and research such as this is invaluable.”

  24. The problem with the US is that it does not care about the wellbeing of its people. Only the rich matter.

    That seems to be deep in the culture at this point..

    • It certainly feels that way the further a US citizen is down the socioeconomic ladder. The middle class can sort of pretend they matter. But even they don’t really matter. And the middle class learn that quickly if anything in their life ever goes bad.

    • Thanks for the data!

      It seems to demonstrate a pattern I’ve noted before. The trend mostly begins with GenXers, although also the youngest Boomers—so around the cusp, the transition between those two generations, with GenXers being the first full generation to be hit by it. That trend then has continued ever since.

      Even when you look back at decades of data it was already clear something was different with the younger generation(s). But the older generations weren’t being directly and personally effected and so they weren’t paying much attention to what was happening or why.

      That is how a recession happened that impacted only GenXers and, as far as I know, was never noted by the older generations in politics and the mainstream media. Old people simply wondered what was wrong with the young people these days, as if they lacked moral fiber. They couldn’t see how the world had changed, making it so much harder being young and trying to get started in life.

      Older people are still rather clueless, even now. People have such difficulty in grasping that which is outside their own experience. This kind of disconnect can sadly lead to a lack of sympathy and compassion, even by family members.

      I have a good friend who is really struggling. Her daughter has Aspergers, she got a brain concussion when her care was rear ended, and she ended up divorcing her husband because besides not being supportive he was abusive and manipulative. She sacrificed her career for her husband’s career and now is struggling to get her life back to normal. Her middle class parents living in comfortable retirement can’t comprehend that she really is struggling, as there life always simply worked out without any major problems.

      The young generation at present has one thing going for them. There are a significant part of the older population, youngest Boomers to GenXers who are in middle age, who also have been experiencing these same kinds of problems. Maybe the disconnect in our society will begin to fade, as the oldest increasingly retire and die.

      The racial difference is what really stands out, though. We are used to seeing the data of the problems that have harmed minorities. It has always been how our society has dismissed all problems. It’s just minorities being minorities, inferior as they supposedly are according to mainstream beliefs of white society.

      This was never true, as there was always a large segment of whites who were bad off, such as higher number and rates of welfare. Part of the problems of whites were hidden by racial bias. We’ve known for a long time that whites are more likely to carry and sell drugs, even as blacks are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for carrying and selling drugs. The drug problem has been hidden behind that systemic, structural racism.

      What is interesting is that it isn’t just a difference in how people are treated and how data is kept. This data shows that an actual difference is emerging between the races or maybe it’s the exact opposite—as many problems among blacks improve or are stabilized and many problems among whites worsen, the two populations will meet somewhere in the middle. It might relate to the shrinking racial gap in average IQ, since white IQ increases have slowed down and black IQ increases continue.

      I still wonder about one aspect. Maybe black populations in the US are have better coping mechanisms for dealing with social problems. They’ve been living in injustice and oppression for centuries. Struggling against the odds is something they are used to. These problems for whites, however, are only recently growing worse and those effected aren’t as prepared to deal with them.

      There is another element going on here. I see it related to the rat park research.

      The worsening conditions among whites isn’t just among the lower income demographic. It’s actually the middle-to-upper class whites who have the worse drinking problems. Our entire society has become stressful and the pressure for many is overbearing. In some ways, not having a high pressure career is a benefit, as long as one manages to avoid the opposite extreme of severe poverty.

      Similarly, there is the data about economic inequality. Even the wealthy are worse off in high inequality societies. That doesn’t change the fact that it massively sucks to be poor. As the data shows, wealthier people are more likely to drink, while among the less well off who do drink they are more likely to binge drink. That seems to be the real problem, not the percentage of people drinking which has remained mostly unchanged but the percentage of people who heavily consume alcohol. That problem apparently is worse than that for drugs, legal and illicit.

      It is strange why many problems are particularly worsening for women. That is at the same time that other things are improving for women, such as rapidly growing rates of college degrees that is outpacing that of men. Maybe both increased drinking and college degrees are different aspects of pressure women are feeling.

      Anyway, just because more women are getting college degrees, it doesn’t mean more women are doing better economically. Having a college degree doesn’t guarantee employment, much less equal pay. And it still leaves out the majority of women, like the majority of men, who have no college degree. It might be harder for poor women to escape poverty than for poor men, as women often are the primary caregivers for children, disabled relatives, and elderly parents.

      There is obviously a lot going on. It’s hard to disentangle it all.

      Below are some of the relevant parts from the articles you linked. I’ll add one other article at the end, about the correlation of rising mortality and Trump support.

      “Drug overdoses are driving up the death rate of young white adults in the United States to levels not seen since the end of the AIDS epidemic more than two decades ago — a turn of fortune that stands in sharp contrast to falling death rates for young blacks, a New York Times analysis of death certificates has found.

      “The rising death rates for those young white adults, ages 25 to 34, make them the first generation since the Vietnam War years of the mid-1960s to experience higher death rates in early adulthood than the generation that preceded it. […]

      “The Times analyzed nearly 60 million death certificates collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1990 to 2014. It found death rates for non-Hispanic whites either rising or flattening for all the adult age groups under 65 — a trend that was particularly pronounced in women — even as medical advances sharply reduce deaths from traditional killers like heart disease. Death rates for blacks and most Hispanic groups continued to fall.

      “The analysis shows that the rise in white mortality extends well beyond the 45- to 54-year-old age group documented by a pair of Princeton economists in a research paper that startled policy makers and politicians two months ago.

      “While the death rate among young whites rose for every age group over the five years before 2014, it rose faster by any measure for the less educated, by 23 percent for those without a high school education, compared with only 4 percent for those with a college degree or more.

      “The drug overdose numbers were stark. In 2014, the overdose death rate for whites ages 25 to 34 was five times its level in 1999, and the rate for 35- to 44-year-old whites tripled during that period. The numbers cover both illegal and prescription drugs. […]

      “Researchers are struggling to come up with an answer to the question of why whites in particular are doing so poorly. No one has a clear answer, but researchers repeatedly speculate that the nation is seeing a cohort of whites who are isolated and left out of the economy and society and who have gotten ready access to cheap heroin and to prescription narcotic drugs.”

      “Alcohol is killing Americans at a rate not seen in at least 35 years, according to new federal data. Last year, more than 30,700 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes, including alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis, which is primarily caused by alcohol use.

      “In 2014, there were 9.6 deaths from these alcohol-induced causes per 100,000 people, an increase of 37 percent since 2002.

      “This tally of alcohol-induced fatalities excludes deaths from drunk driving, other accidents, and homicides committed under the influence of alcohol. If those numbers were included the annual toll of deaths directly or indirectly caused by alcohol would be closer to 90,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

      “In recent years, public health experts have focused extensively on overdose deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers, which have risen rapidly since the early 2000s. But in 2014, more people died from alcohol-induced causes (30,722) than from overdoses of prescription painkillers and heroin combined (28,647), according to the CDC.”

      “Drinking is on the rise in the U.S. Precipitously. A study released this year from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation finds that heavy drinking among Americans rose 17.2 percent between 2005 and 2012. Not only are Americans drinking more, but in an increasing number of cases, they’re consuming those drinks in rapid succession. The same study found that binge drinking increased 8.9 percent nationally during the same time frame. In 2012, 8.2 percent of Americans were heavy drinkers, meaning they had one drink per day on average over the course of a month. An additional 18.3 percent of Americans that year fit the description of binge drinkers, defined by the CDC as men who have five or more drinks and women who have four or more drinks in a single drinking session.

      “It’s women, by the way, who have largely driven these increases. In the years between 2005 and 2012, binge drinking increased just 4.9 percent among men, but jumped 17.5 percent among women. The reason for such a significant rise is likely due to changing social mores, according to Tom Greenfield, scientific director at the Alcohol Research Group, who spoke with Kaiser Health News. Men still drink more than women do, but women have narrowed the gap in recent years.

      “Binge drinking, always a favorite sport on college campuses, has also become more prevalent. A 2013 study from the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital found that women in college binge-drink more often than male students. “It’s not that the percentage of young people is increasing alcohol use,” George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol, told NBC News. “It’s that bingeing is more intense.”

      “Even with so many Americans drinking more, the actual proportion of Americans drinking is the same as it’s long been. Per the HME study, “56 percent of people in the U.S. consumed…alcohol in 2005 [through] 2012.” Ali Mokdad, the lead researcher on the HME study, told USA Today, “The percentage of people who drink is not changing much, but among drinkers, we are seeing more heavy drinking and more binge drinking. We’re going in the wrong direction.”

      “In big picture terms, the wealthiest and most educated people are most likely to drink. A Gallup poll released earlier this year confirmed that more affluent Americans drank more often than their poorer peers. “Whereas eight in 10 adults in these socio-economic status groups say they drink, only about half of lower-income Americans and those with a high school diploma or less say they drink.” (There was a racial component as well: 69 percent of non-Hispanic whites say they drink alcohol, compared with just 52 percent of nonwhites.) The reasons for the class discrepancy are likely varied; Gallup theorizes that greater means leads to more frequent involvement in activities that involve drinking, such as going on vacation, dining out and socializing with coworkers.”

      “Other officials see a number of interconnected forces at work and the rising rate of middle-aged deaths as indicative of crisis wider than those who kill themselves.

      “Growing economic inequality and increasing financial struggles are intertwined with other issues such as health and addiction. Some people living on low incomes hesitate to go to the doctor even if they have medical insurance because of the cost of out-of-pocket expenses. Chronic conditions can go untreated and become debilitating.

      “Pain is a driver of alcohol abuse and addiction to opioid painkillers, which in turn is feeding a growing heroin epidemic in the US. Stress and mental health issues are sometimes driven by constant worries about money and fear for the future as growing numbers of Americans look into a financial abyss at retirement. […]

      ““Probably the biggest reason is socio-economic. We have about 150,000 people in our state that don’t have access to any type of healthcare, which is a major issue. We have a lot of people living in poverty. Wages are not going up at the same pace as rising health costs, rising cost of living and inflation,” Rosston said.

      ““Definitely you see a lot of people that all of a sudden they hit 45 or 50 and they don’t see retirement as a bonus. They see something that they’re going to have struggle with and they’re not going to be able to retire.”

      “Sullivan sees that as tied up with “the expectation that as a middle-aged white person you would outdo your parents economically and socially, and that didn’t occur”.[…]

      “According to the Butte-Silver Bow Community Health Needs Assessment for 2014 23% of people in Montana have no health insurance.

      “But the report said that even among those with insurance, nearly 40% faced obstacles to receiving needed healthcare. About one-third said they could not afford the cost of the doctor or prescription. Nearly 8% said they lacked transport to get to a clinic. More than 11% said they skipped or reduced prescription doses in order to save money. […]

      “Sullivan also thinks there may be something else unusually American at work.

      ““I’ve watched white males rule this country from the beginning. The power that this traditional white male used to have is decreasing. We’ve evolved and white males aren’t necessarily at the root of power anymore. Everything from the Oregon military takeover to the abuse people have hurled at our president, I think a lot of that is at play,” she said.

      “African Americans on the other hand have long struggled against inequality and have generally held fewer assumptions about social advancement, which may explain why the same increases in suicides and drug and alcohol deaths have not been seen among middle aged black people.”

      “In modern times, rising death rates are extremely rare and typically involve countries in upheaval, such as Russia immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In affluent countries, people generally enjoy increasingly long lives, thanks to better cancer treatments; drugs that lower cholesterol and the risk of heart attacks; fewer fatal car accidents; and less violent crime. […]

      “This reversal may be fueling anger among white voters: The Post last month found a correlation between places with high white death rates and support for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

      “Public health experts say the rising white death rate reflects a broader health crisis, one that has made the United States the least healthy affluent nation in the world over the past 20 years. The reason these early deaths are so conspicuous among white women, these experts say, is that in the past the members of this comparatively privileged group have been unlikely to die prematurely.

      “Laudy Aron, a researcher with the Urban Institute, said rising white death rates show that the United States’ slide in overall health is not being driven simply by poor health in historically impoverished communities.

      ““You can’t explain it away as, ‘It’s those people over there who are pulling us down,’ ” Aron said. “We’re all going down.” […]

      “Researchers point out that this generation of white women has experienced a revolutionary change in gender roles over the past half-century, surging into the workforce while typically retaining traditional duties as domestic caregivers — a dual role to which many women of color have long been accustomed. White women often find themselves harried in ways their grandmothers could never have imagined.

      ““I think we are undergoing a change that’s comparable to the Industrial Revolution,” Aron said. “Those of us who are lucky enough to have jobs are sort of clinging to them for dear life.”

      “Amid these social changes, American women collectively became more likely to engage in risky behaviors, health experts say. There is a declining difference, for example, between men and women in the consumption of alcohol, said George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

      “Men are still more likely to abuse alcohol, Koob said, but women tend to experience a “telescoping” of the negative outcomes and more quickly develop alcohol-related diseases. Koob noted that alcohol abuse can be particularly deadly in combination with obesity, which is rampant in rural America. […]

      “Compared with a scenario in which mortality rates for whites continued to fall steadily after 1998, roughly 650,000 people have died prematurely since 1999 — around 450,000 men and nearly 200,000 women.

      “That number nearly equals the death toll of the American Civil War. […]

      “…eerie correlation in the voting data. It seems that Donald Trump performed the best in places where middle-aged whites are dying the fastest. […] In every state except Massachusetts, the counties with high rates of white mortality were the same counties that turned out to vote for Trump. […]

      “Three other characteristics stood out as highly statistically significant:

      “1) The fraction of people with bachelor’s degrees. All else held equal — including the death rates — places where people were more educated were less likely to vote for Trump. This effect was large. About a seven percentage-point increase in the fraction of people with BAs (the difference between the 75th and 25th percentiles) predicts about a four to five percentage point decrease in Trump’s vote share. In other words, more educated counties don’t vote Trump. (They tend to vote Rubio, polls show.)

      “2) The fraction of people in the county who are working. After controlling for other factors, the percentage of people with jobs was a significant predictor of the Trump vote share. If an additional 12 percent of adults had jobs (which is roughly the gap between the 75th and 25th percentiles), Trump would have lost about two percentage points of the vote in the primaries.

      “3) The decline in manufacturing. In the early 2000s, increased trade with China delivered another whammy to American manufacturers. The data show that the places that lost a lot of manufacturing jobs since 1999 were also more likely to vote for Trump on Super Tuesday.

      “The data deliver a clear message: Economic distress in many parts of the country is driving voters toward Donald Trump. But there remains this mystery about white death rates.

      “One factor that stood out as not being predictive of the Trump vote is the rate at which Hispanic and nonwhite people die. There only seems to be a relationship between Trump support and the middle-aged white death rate. And economic factors don’t fully explain it.

      “We still don’t know what exactly is causing middle-aged white death rates to rise, but it seems that Donald Trump has adeptly channeled this white suffering into political support.

      “Understanding why this part of America is so unhappy — why some white people are literally dying faster — may help explain how Trump became such a powerful force in this election.”

  25. Basically this is all saying that the American people are getting screwed badly.

    As bad as the economy is here in Canada, it is definitely better save for maybe the extremely well off to be north of the US border. Actually if inequality is bad for the rich, perhaps not even that.

    • To put it simply, life is getting real shitty for many Americans. And maybe it isn’t getting better for anyone. Being rich can’t buy you a functioning society and all the good things that go with it. Rich or poor, no American can entirely escape the worsening problems.

  26. Oh and the problem seems to be a uniquely American problem. Other nations see declining death rates, at least for now.

    • It’s maybe comparable to life in the Roman Empire. It was a great empire that had achieved and built great things. Bread and circus kept the masses from revolting while the wealthy led comfortable lives supported by slave labor. It was all built on immense suffering, violence, and oppression. Despite all the great wealth and infrastructure, the health and lifespan of the average person actually improved with the fall of the Roman Empire.

  27. At least the death rates seem to be dropping in the rest of the world. That is not the case in the US.

    Actually, now it’s not just whites without high school education. The death toll across the board rose for the first time in the US:

    So in other words the average death toll for everyone is going up.

    One thing the article neglected, I think was the damaging role of feeling hopeless.

    • For everyone, except the upper classes.

      “…men born in 1920, there was a six-year difference in life expectancy between the top 10 percent of earners and the bottom 10 percent. For men born in 1950, that difference had more than doubled, to 14 years.

      “For women, the gap grew to 13 years, from 4.7 years. […]

      “Poor health outcomes for low-income Americans have dragged the United States down to some of the lowest rankings of life expectancy among rich countries. The Social Security Administration found, for example, that life expectancy for the wealthiest American men at age 60 was just below the rates in Iceland and Japan, two countries where people live the longest. Americans in the bottom quarter of the wage scale, however, ranked much further down — one notch above Poland and the Czech Republic. […]

      “Many researchers believe the gap in life spans from lower- to upper-income Americans started widening about 40 years ago, when income inequality began to grow. Earlier in the 20th century, trends in life spans were of declining disparities, some experts say, because improvements in public health, such as the invention of the polio vaccine and improved sanitation, benefited rich and poor alike. The broad adoption of medication for high blood pressure in the 1950s led to a major improvement for black men, erasing a big part of the gap with whites, said Dana P. Goldman, the director of the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California. But medical improvements can also drive disparity when they disproportionately benefit affluent Americans; for example, cutting-edge cancer treatments.

      The experience of other countries suggests that disparities do not necessarily get worse in contemporary times. Consider Canada, where men in the poorest urban neighborhoods experienced the biggest declines in mortality from heart disease from 1971 to 1996, according to a 2002 study. Over all, the gap in life expectancy at birth between income groups declined in Canada during that period. And a study comparing cancer survival rates found that low-income residents of Toronto had greater survival rates than their counterparts in Detroit. There was no difference for middle- and high-income residents in the two cities.”

    • A depressing article:

      About the author’s book, one reviewer wrote, “And that’s where I am at – to believe this demands either completely giving up, or doing something. And let’s be honest – what the heck are we going to do anyway? If this is true then we are too far gone.”

  28. Part of it is universal healthcare, which levels the playing field, but there still is a rich poor life expectancy gap here in Canada.

    The big difference is that I guess, overall, things appear to be getting better still, at least where life expectancy is concerned. Generation X in Canada judging by the trends is likely to outlive the early Boomers.

    • That second part is the biggest factor. No matter how bad things are, as long as conditions are improving for most, there is a sense of hope and optimism about the future, in terms of a future for both individuals and for society. If we are to take the idea of a social contract seriously in the modern world, that sense of shared betterment is a key feature of it. It contributes to a culture of trust and so a willingness to sacrifice for future gains, as there is a genuine sense of the entire citizenry being part of a shared society. When that is lost, the most basic elements of the social order are weakened.

  29. I’d say overall though Canada is heading in the wrong direction – in the same as the US.

    I’d be worried about how long these trends of things improving will last.

    • It always seems strange to me that these kinds of things could be worsening now. We have all the resources we need to continue the progress that was seen in the early-to-mid 20th century. It is incomprehensible to me that the ruling elite are so ignorant and clueless that they believe they will suffer no consequences when the shit finally hits the fan.

    • That is probably true for the plutocrats. Wealth means power, privilege, property, pleasure, etc. Everything, to their minds, can be bought. And if it can’t be bought, it’s not worth having.

      Still, this doesn’t explain why so many voters who aren’t wealthy support the two parties. It is literally insane for anyone but a plutocrat to vote for Hillary Clinton. She will only ever serve her own interests, along with the interests of her fellow plutocrats—her family, friends, and cronies.

      Plutocrats only have the power that is given them by others. They can declare wars, make laws, pass bills, enact policies, etc. But it is regular people who implement and enforce these. Without voters who support them and without soldiers, policemen, government agents, and other functionaries, plutocrats would have no power.

      I understand what motivates plutocrats. But what motivates all those who serve and support them, all those who make their power and lifestyle possible?

  30. I think that we are seeing the limits of propaganda being tested. At some point, it becomes harder and harder to fool people, especially younger people who have access to information much more so thanks to the Internet.

    You can fool people to vote against their interests, but only for so long.

  31. I don’t think that anyone knows. The rich are gambling that there won’t be one and that they can take the US all the way back to the Third World status, while they loot all of the wealth. History may or may not prove them wrong I’m afraid.

  32. The real question is, will we reach a breaking point? At the very least, the two party system is starting to show signs of strain

    • I sometimes wonder that. Our social order, dysfunctional as it is, could maintain itself for longer than some might suspect. If nothing at all goes majorly wrong for the foreseeable future, it might take a while for it to collapse from within or eventually overshoot its limits. I just wouldn’t bet on a best case scenario.

      It seems to me there are too many external factors and possible events that will likely hasten its demise or else transformation: demographic shifts, overpopulation, refugee crises, plagues, climate change, world war, global economic collapse, shifting political power, technological advancements (including weaponry and bio-terrorism), etc. The problems of the two party system are the least of our worries.

      The US is so tied up in the entire global system of politics, economics, and world policing. It is beyond overextended. The US government could handle maybe one or two major problems, but might not even be able to handle major war on two fronts. The most probable scenario is there will be a cascade of worsening conditions and catastrophic events.

      Here is the question that is on my mind. Are we simply facing a potential reordering of society as happened during the world war era? Or will it be more like the late Bronze Age collapse of highly interconnected civilizations that fell like dominoes? Considering the latter example involved climate change as we are now dealing with, that might be the more probable outcome.

      In either case, if it were to happen during this next administration, I don’t think I want either Trump or Clinton leading the greatest superpower on earth.

  33. I’ve pointed out that GenXers and young Boomers were the demographics hit hardest by certain factors, from loss of good jobs to lead toxicity rates. Unsurprisingly, as GenX hit middle age, the health problems of the middle age demographic shot up. Now as GenXers along with young Boomers enter older age, we see drug addiction increasing in the 55 and above age bracket.

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