White Americans without college degrees are now nearly twice as likely to commit suicide as they were 30 years ago, as expensive health care and “bleak” job prospects fuel drug addiction and higher rates of illness.
The suicide rate for whites rose from 17.6 per 100,000 people in 1992 to 31.1 in 2019, according to research by Princeton economists Ann Case and Angus Deaton.
So-called “deaths of despair,” a term coined by Case and Deaton, also increased among black and Hispanic uneducated people in the 2010s.
The opioid epidemic and synthetics like fentanyl are not the main cause of the rise in white deaths, Case and Deaton stress, because there was no increase in the suicide rate of highly educated whites, they say.
“For many low-skilled Americans, the economy and society are no longer the basis for a good life,” the husband-and-wife study wrote in a statement. paper published this month.
The suicide rate among whites without college degrees nearly 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 wrote the study
The top blue line shows how ‘deaths of despair’ has increased among people who completed their education before obtaining a bachelor’s degree between 1990 and 2020, while the increase has been much less pronounced among those with a college degree
The economists cite the rise of automation, which has replaced some workers with robots and computers, and globalization, which has made employers look abroad for cheaper workers.
They argue that historically low union participation rates — which can provide better wages and working conditions — are fueling growing despair among white people with no bachelor’s degree, contributing to drug addiction and suicide.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, which could advocate for the workers, has “slowly moved away from its traditional workers’ and union base to 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 Princeton University Press.
Black Americans still have higher death rates than white people, but white or black people with degrees do much better than their counterparts without degrees
While the opioid epidemic contributes to the deaths, the researchers caution it doesn’t fully explain them, as there was no increase in suicides among highly educated whites
In our book, we have developed an account of the emerging wave of despair, focusing on declining employment opportunities for those without BA, particularly the decline in ‘good jobs’, those with a sense of belonging, meaning, purpose and prospects for progress, compounded by an increasingly expensive health care system — more than twice as expensive as other rich countries — a fifth of which is funded by a roughly flat tax on workers in amounts often earning,” they wrote.
The decline in cardiovascular disease rates has “flattened out,” 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 declined as suicide rates continue to rise, according to the study, suggesting that lack of work is not the cause of the overwhelming increase in suicides among non-university graduates. educated whites.
“Even if the opioid epidemic is brought under control,” the researchers wrote, “the underlying desperation will likely remain. The prospects for low-skilled Americans will remain bleak unless there are fundamental changes in the way the US economy works.”
President Joe Biden, pictured above in California on Monday, has pushed for broadening to the social safety net and called on Congress to make fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, a Schedule I drug
Earlier this month, the Biden administration recommended that Congress permanently classify fentanyl-related substances as a Schedule 1 drug as drug overdoses rise in the nation.
In July, the White House released data showing a record 93,000 overdose deaths in 2020, with synthetic fentanyl being the fastest driving this trend.
The new policy would exclude the drugs from most cases of quantity-based mandatory minimum sentences, which civil rights groups had warned could widen racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.
The Biden administration has also been working to enact policies that broaden the social safety net, including sending a check for up to $300 per child to every family in the US.
The rise in desperation deaths among black and Hispanic populations was led by drug-related deaths, which more than doubled between 2013 and 2019, the Princeton researchers found.
The suicide rate rose by a third for both groups.
The suicide rate in the United States is at its highest level since 1938, according to the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress.