According to a recent study, America’s white working class is suffering from rising mortality rates, likely due to family struggles, social isolation, addiction, obesity and numerous other situations. These “cumulative disadvantages” often lead to personal problems that contribute to the high death rate.
Anne Case and Angus Deaton, Princeton University professors and the authors of the study, reported that the death rate of midlife non-Hispanic white Americans is on the rise, in contrast with death rates of other groups.
The rate has been increasing since 1999 and the researchers noted that education level seems to play a significant role with middle-aged people who have a college degree reporting better health and happiness than those with some college, and those with some college seem to be doing better than those who have no college experience.
Case and Deaton attribute the trend to the loss of job prospects for those with only a high school diploma and the ensuing struggles that often lead to drug overdoses, alcohol-related disease and suicide. The once thriving, white, high-school-educated working class is no longer as strong as it used to be.
“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,” said Case. This loss of stability has driven many to alcohol, food, drugs and even suicide.
The study suggests that the rising rates are a signal to a larger problem: that white working-class Americans are pessimistic about their future because of years of steadily decreasing opportunities to move up without an education.
Other researchers have commented that the findings may cause many to question Republican plans to replace the Affordable Care Act, which serves many from this economic background.
Countless factors come into play when studying mortality rates and the Case and Deaton point to rising obesity, suicide and overdose rates as symptoms of the pain felt by those who, in a matter of a few decades, have seen their lives dramatically changed. The rapidly changing tide of American society often has unforeseen consequences that must be studied in order to help those affected.
Top photo by Saad Akhtar CC BY 2.0
Lauren Leising is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.