The disturbing evidence about the health of white middle-aged American working class, discovered and publicized this week by Nobel prize winner Angus Deaton and his wife Anne Case, is not tied to just one trend in the culture, policies, or economic factors at work within the United States. It is not the fault of one party or movement, but has multiple root causes. But it is something we all ought to be concerned about, both for the future fiscal and policy burden it represents, and for the broader lesson it tells us about how America is changing.
The numbers clearly indicate that these Americans are increasingly likely to kill themselves – whether on purpose or through the slow gradual death of addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. The rate of mortality increased most dramatically for white Americans lacking any more than a high school education.
Deaton and Case connect the problem to several factors, including the obvious levels of stress and financial concerns within this population. But they also draw in the prospect that America’s dramatic increase in the portion of the working age population considered disabled has had a negative effect for the life prospects of these Americans.