December 20, 2015

Death of the white working class

Barbara Ehrenreich, Tom Dispatch - The white working class, which usually inspires liberal concern only for its paradoxical, Republican-leaning voting habits, has recently become newsworthy for something else: according to economist Anne Case and Angus Deaton, the winner of the latest Nobel Prize in economics, its members in the 45- to 54-year-old age group are dying at an immoderate rate. While the lifespan of affluent whites continues to lengthen, the lifespan of poor whites has been shrinking. As a result, in just the last four years, the gap between poor white men and wealthier ones has widened by up to four years. The New York Times summed up the Deaton and Case study with this headline: “Income Gap, Meet the Longevity Gap.”

This was not supposed to happen. For almost a century, the comforting American narrative was that better nutrition and medical care would guarantee longer lives for all. So the great blue-collar die-off has come out of the blue and is, as the Wall Street Journal says, “startling.” It was especially not supposed to happen to whites who, in relation to people of color, have long had the advantage of higher earnings, better access to health care, safer neighborhoods, and of course freedom from the daily insults and harms inflicted on the darker-skinned. There has also been a major racial gap in longevity — 5.3 years between white and black men and 3.8 years between white and black women — though, hardly noticed, it has been narrowing for the last two decades. Only whites, however, are now dying off in unexpectedly large numbers in middle age, their excess deaths accounted for by suicide, alcoholism, and drug (usually opiate) addiction.

There are some practical reasons why whites are likely to be more efficient than blacks at killing themselves. For one thing, they are more likely to be gun-owners, and white men favor gunshots as a means of suicide. For another, doctors, undoubtedly acting in part on stereotypes of non-whites as drug addicts, are more likely to prescribe powerful opiate painkillers to whites than to people of color. (I’ve been offered enough oxycodone prescriptions over the years to stock a small illegal business.)

Manual labor — from waitressing to construction work — tends to wear the body down quickly, from knees to back and rotator cuffs, and when Tylenol fails, the doctor may opt for an opiate just to get you through the day.

But something more profound is going on here, too. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman puts it, the “diseases” leading to excess white working class deaths are those of “despair,” and some of the obvious causes are economic. In the last few decades, things have not been going well for working class people of any color.



wellbasically said...

If you set up policies to favor black people at the expense of whites they will take from the most vulnerable whites. Progressives should have focused on growth but instead place a roadblock along every avenue. Well you are getting what you asked for.

She says that poor white racists are under pressure because they are losing ground to black people. In absolute terms black people are still in worse shape. The basic failure has been to not raise working class through growth. It's not a psychological problem. It's a real economic problem.

Anonymous said...

All ethnic, cultural, racial groups are put against each other in elite media for divide rule. The old socialism of the union era has been replaced by the new socialism, the evil white man verses mostly every one else. The peons fighting each other for bread crumbs on TV, the evil unions and the poor minorities by elite run universities and media for the most part.

The sober working class of all kinds is what supports the country without it you have a third world hell hole in chaos.

It is pretty simple, first world worker means a first world wage and that means a first world consumer, that also means a first world level tax payer. You can't have that first world worker/consumer unless that person as a population has enough political power to have a balance of political economy. When the cold war ended, that to a large extent ended the balance of political economy for the western republics.

As the western republics slowly devolve to third world conditions, chaos will ensue and continue for FOREVER until that day a balance of political economy comes back in some fashion.

History shows fairly clearly the elites, and their intellectual lackeys have no method to create a balance of political economy, so expect a long harsh ride for the human race for awhile. Luckily, cell phones and internet has been a strong enough positive political force for the good to slow down the decay somewhat.