Despair is growing among middle-aged white Americans, and researchers aren’t sure why.
The rate of deaths by drugs, alcohol, and suicide for that demographic group has been rising since the mid-1990s, according to a new paper published by the Brookings Institution. Since then, that rate has overtaken and far surpassed the numbers in other developed countries. (Authors Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who have been researching the white mortality issue for some time, did not include the overall drug, alcohol, and suicide rate for the whole of the US in their comparison.)
The rate of mortality due to drugs, alcohol, and suicide is rising faster among middle-age white Americans than other races and ethnicities. The problem is also much more severe for those with a high-school education or less.
Case and Deaton did not investigate the causes of white despair in depth. But they have ruled out declining incomes as an explanation.”The income profiles for blacks and Hispanics, whose mortality has fallen, are no better than those for whites,” they wrote.
Instead, the authors suggest a more complicated picture: poor job opportunities at the time less educated whites enter the job market are triggering a “cumulative disadvantage” spreading over all life arenas, including family and health. In other words, the problem has been years in the making and it won’t be easily reversed. Any policies passed now will probably won’t help its current sufferers.
One immediate measure authorities could take is reduce the availability of opioids, which the authors say has fueled the crisis.