White Americans without a college degree are almost twice as likely to kill themselves now than three decades ago as expensive healthcare and ‘bleak’ job prospects fuel drug addiction and higher rates of illness.
The suicide rate for white people rose from 17.6 per 100,000 people in 1992 to 31.1 in 2019, according to study by Princeton economists Ann Case and Angus Deaton.
So-called ‘deaths of despair,’ a term coined by Case and Deaton, also rose among black and Hispanic people without a degree in the 2010s.
The opioid epidemic and synthetics like fentanyl are not the root cause for the rise in white deaths, Case and Deaton stress, as there was no increase in the suicide rate of college-educated whites, they say.
‘For many less-educated Americans, the economy and society are no longer providing the basis for a good life,’ the husband-and-wife research due wrote in a paper published this month.
The suicide rate among whites without a college degree almost doubled between 1992 and 2019, fueled by what researchers say are ‘bleak’ economic prospects for the group
Economists and husband-and-wife team Angus Deaton and Anne Case authored the study
The top blue line shows how ‘deaths of despair’ have risen among people who completed their education before obtaining a bachelor’s degree between 1990 and 2020, while the rise has been much less pronounced among people with a college degree
The economists cite the rise of automation, which has replaced some blue-collar workers with robots and computers, and globalization, which has sent employers looking overseas for cheaper workers.
They argue that historically low levels of union participation – which can ensure better wages and working conditions – lead to rising despair among white people without bachelor’s degrees, contributing to drug addiction and suicide.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, which could advocate for the workers, has ‘slowly oriented itself away from its traditional working-class and union base towards what it is today, a coalition of minorities and educated professionals.’
Case and Deaton are the authors of ‘Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism,’ released in 2020 by the Princeton University Press.
Black Americans continue to have higher mortality rates than white people, but white or black people with a degree fare far better than their counterparts without one
While the opioid epidemic contributes to the deaths, the researchers warn that it doesn’t fully explain them given that there was no rise in suicides in college-educated whites
‘In our book, we developed an account of the rising tide of despair, focusing on declining employment opportunities for those without a BA, especially the fall in “good jobs,” those with a sense of belonging, meaning, purpose and prospects for advancement, aggravated by an ever more expensive healthcare system – more than twice as expensive as other rich countries – a fifth of which is financed by an approximately flat tax on workers in amounts that often make,’ they wrote.
The decline in rates of cardiovascular disease have ‘leveled off,’ they say, reversing an upward trend in the last quarter of the 20th century and pitting the poor against an inaccessible health care system.
Higher suicides are usually linked to higher unemployment, but since 2010, unemployment has steadily fallen while suicides continue to climb, according to the study, suggesting that a lack of employment is not what’s driving the jaw-dropping increase in suicides among non-college educated whites.
‘Even if the opioid epidemic is brought under control,’ the researchers wrote, ‘the underlying despair is likely to remain. The prospects for less-educated Americans remain bleak unless there are fundamental changes in the way that the American economy operates.’
President Joe Biden, pictured above in California on Monday, has pushed to widen to social safety net and called for Congress to make fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, a Schedule I drug
Earlier this month, the Biden administration that it had recommended to Congress that fentanyl-related substances be permanently classified as a Schedule 1 drug, as drug overdoses in the nation soar.
In July, the White House released data that showed a record 93,000 overdose deaths in 2020, with the fastest driver of this trend being synthetic fentanyl.
The new policy would exclude the drugs from most instances of quantity-based mandatory minimum penalties, which civil rights groups had warned could exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
The Biden administration has also worked to enact policies that widen the social safety net, including sending a check of up to $300 per child to every family in the US.
The rise in deaths of despair in black and Hispanic populations was led by drug-related mortality, which more than doubled between 2013 and 2019, the Princeton researchers found.
The suicide rate increased by a third for both groups.
The US suicide rate is at its highest level since 1938, according to the US Congress Joint Economic Committee.