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“Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies.”
I was stunned when I read this article and others describing a study that was conducted in 2015 by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, two celebrated economists, and then updated in a study just released. Our middle class is dying.
In a country that has celebrated its declining mortality rate, due to our success as a nation, we now have a large group of people whose mortality rates are climbing. Case and Deaton describe an increase in “deaths of despair”—people with high school education or less, between 25-54, who suffer from poor job prospects, little hope for the future, drug use and depression. The trends include a decline in marriage, children born out of wedlock and increased physical and mental problems.
At a time when we have seen the gap grow between the successful and the poor, resulting in a shrinking middle class, we may be seeing the manifestation of these social misfortunes.
‘For many Americans, America is starting to fail as a country,’ said James Smith, chair in labor markets and demographic research at the Rand Corp., who wasn’t involved in the paper and said he was struck that mortality rates are rising for young working-class adults. ‘The bad things that are going on in America do not appear to be going on in Western European countries, and that’s a big deal.’
The phenomenon is occurring all across the country, to men and women, both in urban and rural areas, Ms. Case and Mr. Deaton wrote.
Although blacks and Hispanics have had a higher death rate than whites, their rates are going down, while whites have increased, closing the mortality gap.
We’ve been hearing about the shrinking middle class for a long time. When we read these statistics, though, the reality that our fellow Americans are suffering to this degree is deeply disturbing to me. Stories appear that even more middle class Americans are going to lose their jobs through technology improvement, robotics and other types of progress and efficiencies that are sure to displace even more people. Even worse, where do they go for help? More government outlays? We have an enormous number of duplicative job training programs, but are they serving these folks? The medical community? Another group that will be in even more chaos if our health laws and services aren’t straightened out. The churches? Unless the people in need are selective, they may find liberal churches that assure them that their problems are society’s fault, rather than locating churches that empower and encourage them to find their way out of this downward spiral.
Case and Deaton tell us, “…the ills are so deep and complex that it could take many years and many changes in policy to reverse.”
Can we just stand by and watch this happen? Are there steps we can take as a concerned nation to change these dynamics? Do we have a responsibility to take action? What can we possibly do?Published in