Sunday, January 17, 2016

They’re Angry and Dying Younger

The angriest folks in America just might not be those black citizens fighting police brutality, fighting their “Black Lives Matter” cause. You see, the United States has become a country in which the majority are now minorities. Global competition has marginalized workers with lower levels of skills and education. The rust belt is filled with unemployed and underemployed white males. Women are beginning to be the majority of college and graduate profession enrollees.  For women without those new skills, life isn’t particularly good either. The “participation rate” (those working or seeking jobs in the U.S. labor market) for white males 25 to 54 is the lowest since such statistics have been kept.
So social scientists are beginning to look at the statistical realities surrounding white males (plus under-skilled white females) and their plight in a changing world. For those without in-demand skills or higher education, prospects are increasingly bleak, their anger is growing by the day. Angry whites, particularly males, are the backbone behind anger-driven Donald Trump’s rapid rise in the polls. “In each of the three sur­veys [Quin­nipi­ac, NBC/Marist and CNN.ORC], Trump runs best among White men without a col­lege de­gree, the blue-col­lar core of the mod­ern Re­pub­lic­an co­ali­tion. These work­ing-class White men give Trump 38 per­cent of their sup­port both na­tion­ally and in New Hamp­shire, and 37 per­cent in Iowa. Those are stun­ning num­bers in a field with 16 can­did­ates di­vid­ing the vote. No one comes close to Trump among these men in any of the three polls. In the na­tion­al sur­vey, sur­geon Ben Car­son ranks second with these men at just 11 per­cent. No oth­er can­did­ate at­tracts more than 17 per­cent of these men in Iowa or 13 per­cent in New Hamp­shire.” National Journal (September 2015)
Finding yourself marginalized in the new American economy produces more than a change in your voting proclivities. For that cadre of white American workers, life expectancy rates are yet another casualty. But these statistics also expand to include all middle aged white people in general, male or female. “While non-whites, younger people and people in other countries are seeing falling death rates, a new study shows the reverse is happening for white men and women in the US aged 45-54… Covering the period from 1999 to 2013, the study by Princeton University researchers says it is particularly acute for those without a college education… ‘This change reversed decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States; no other rich country saw a similar turnaround,’ the authors wrote of their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” in an article entitled Why is death rate rising for white, middle-aged Americans? (November 4th). What did the BBC report find? The above chart gives the numbers, but the facts behind those numbers provide the sad underlying reasons.
Suicide: “National data sets from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used in the study show that middle-aged whites are committing suicide at an unrivalled rate…. Suicide rates were reported to be higher in the Southern and Western regions of the US than in the Midwest or the Northeast, where people around them tend to be more highly educated and employed.” Females in this demographic killed themselves more frequently than males, a fact that the BBC traces to the vast increase of opioids available from increased prescriptions for painkillers plus that fact that 90% of those who tried heroin in the last ten years were white.
Declining mental and physical health: Obesity is skyrocketing in this white segment, just as the level of physical activity has declined for too many. “Middle-aged whites reported problems with walking a quarter of a mile, climbing 10 steps, standing or sitting for two hours, shopping and socialising - some of which are risk factors for suicide.
“People may be working blue-collar jobs which keep them inactive, working odd hours or doing hard physical labour which is taking a toll… [Pat Remington, a professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin] said that for much of the study's time period, people were uninsured… ‘Forty-five to 54 is an age range where people can struggle. They may be in mid-life, they may not have the means, or health insurance or access to primary care,’ said Mr. Remington.” The CDC also tells us that the obesity rate for Americans aged 40 to 60 has climbed to 40% (48% for African-Americans) according to a recent survey of 5,000 people.
Financial Stress: This is a category that blends hopelessness, fear with a need to find scapegoats to explain a life in which times are likely to be very hard until the “end.” “This particular group, without university degrees, is struggling with economic insecurity and lack of sufficient retirement funds, contributing to anxiety and overall loss of well-being.
Growth in earnings has been slow, the researchers note, and unlike Europe, where defined-benefit pensions are common, US pension plans carry stock market risk. Many have not contributed enough to their retirement plans… As the researchers point out, economic productivity slowdown happens in many European countries, but they are not seeing the same drastically increasing mortality rates.
“‘With the culture in rural communities, when economic conditions [worsen] during recessions, we see almost like clockwork, rates of suicide and self-destructive behaviours going up,’ said Mr Remington.” Things are not likely to improve anytime soon, but these factors weigh heavily on both sides of the aisle in the upcoming presidential election. With the rich getting much richer, particularly at the top, the middle class falling increasingly into the lower class and a continued decline, decade after decade, among 70% of working Americans, you can expect anger and frustration among this white demographic to increase no matter who gets elected. And those mortality rates will probably continue reflect that unhappiness.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I just wonder where that anger will go when the political system fails to stem the tide of falling economic realities for those unprepared for a rapidly-changing future.

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