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Deaths of Despair: Working-Class White Americans Dying in Middle Age at Faster Rates than Minority Groups!

March 23, 2017 (EIRNS)—In 2015, Princeton Professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton documented a shocking rise in the number of white, non-Hispanic Americans dying in middle age.

On March 17, 2017 the two professors released the results of their followup study on the causes of the rise in death rates in this cohort. The new study shows that the the death rates of working class white Americans with a high school education or less, which were about 30% lower than the mortality rate of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30% higher than black mortality by 2015. This increase occurred across the U.S.demographic spectrum, among men and women alike, the Washington Post reports today.

Professors Case and Deaton point to despair as the cause, and argue that "education level" is a significant counter to despair, with college-educated people reporting better health and contentment than those with only some college, while those with some college, are doing much better than those with no college.

The Post reports that in a teleconference call with reporters this week, Prof. Case said the new research found a "sea of despair" across America, of which one striking feature was the rise in physical pain. The pattern does not follow short-term economic cycles, but reflects a long-term disintegration of job prospects.

"You used to be able to get a really good job with a high school diploma. A job with on-the-job training; a job with benefits. You could expect to move up."

The U.S. obesity epidemic may be another sign of stress and physical pain: "People may want to soothe the beast. They may do that with alcohol;, they may do that with drugs; they may do that with food," Case stated.

Professor Deaton said that the act of suicide could be triggered not by a single event, but by a cumulative series of disappointments:

"Your family life has fallen apart; you don’t know your kids any more; all the things you expected when you started out your life just haven’t happened at all."

UCLA Economics Prof. Adriana Lleras-Muney said that less-educated white Americans tend to be strikingly pessimistic when asked about their prospects:

"It’s just a background of continuous decline. You’re worse off than your parents. Whereas for Hispanics, or immigrants like myself, or blacks, yes, circumstances are bad, but they’ve been getting better."

Death rates for non-Hispanic middle-aged white men with a high school degree or less, increased by 130% from 1998 to 2015; yet for those with a four-year college degree by only 44%. For women with a high school degree or less, the death rate increased by 381 percent; for women with four years of college or more, the death rate increased by 70 percent. Case and Deaton suggest that white men today are about twice as likely as they were in 1999 to die from one of the "diseases of despair" as they were in 1999, while women are about four times as likely.

In 2000, the epicenter of the death increase was the Southwest. By the mid-2000s, it has spread to Appalahia, Florida and the West Coast, and today, it is country-wide.

The U.S. is far ahead of other rich countries, with "deaths of despair" (by drugs, alcohol, or suicide) over 80 per 100,000, twice as high as second-highest Sweden, in those aged 50-54, with such deaths rising at a similar rate for both American men and women.