Working Class White America is ‘Dying of Despair’

By Maggie Gallagher Published on March 27, 2017

Donald Trump is right. The health care issue is not going away. The ongoing slow-collapse of Obamacare guarantees that.

Let’s add fuel to the fire: the latest bad news from health experts. White Americans are privileged, academics tell us. Yet millions of whites are experiencing a rise in mortality rates formerly associated with failing countries. They’re enduring health collapse, a massive social failure, like what happened to Russians in the 1990s.

For most of my life, I’ve been hearing the same trope from progressives. “If only this” — insert social problem here — “were happening to ‘straight white males,’ America would declare it a national crisis.” Plug in mass incarceration, AIDS, poverty, drug use, unwanted pregnancy, and you’ve got your progressive op-ed.

Now white people are the victims. But not many seem to care. The latest data from a study by Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton came at a March 23-24 Brookings Institution conference. Its findings are stunning: Since 1998, death rates for middle-aged white people without college degrees are skyrocketing.

Less-schooled whites face an epidemic of “deaths of despair.” This means accidents, suicides, drug and alcohol overdoses, plus related chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure that increase the risk of heart disease.

Thankfully, mortality rates for less educated blacks and Hispanics are flat or declining. Middle-aged white people without college degrees are now more likely to die than African-Americans.

Whites without a college degree are not only dying more often. They feel worse, much of the time.

What’s going on? To find out, let’s rule out two possible explanations.

  • Income. Nope. Less educated (and hence lower income) Hispanics and African-Americans don’t face the same collapse in health as whites.
  • Race. Again, no dice. White Americans with college diplomas continue to see their mortality rates fall. In Europe, health stats keep improving for the less educated, whites included.

As Case and Deaton summarize:

[W]hite non-Hispanic mortality rates for those aged 45-54 increased from 1998 through 2013. … [Mainly to blame were] marked increases in drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver mortality in this period. … Mortality increases for whites in midlife were paralleled by morbidity increases, including deteriorations in self-reported physical and mental health, and rising reports of chronic pain.

This epidemic hit us recently and suddenly. Just in 1999 mortality rates of non-Hispanic, non-college whites were about 30 percent lower than mortality rates of blacks. By 2015, they were 30 percent higher. A big improvement in black health was accompanied by a surge in white deaths.

In 2000, the increase in less educated white death rates was concentrated in the southwest. Today it has spread countrywide.

Whites without a college degree are not only dying more often. They feel worse, much of the time. Compare how 50-year-old white college grads describe their health compared to non-grads: In 2015, 73 percent of grads reported their health as “excellent” or “very good.” Only 43 percent of non-grads said that.

What does it mean that “deaths of despair” are epidemic among blue collar white folks? Are they facing a crisis of meaning?

Their income troubles are well known: working class white men have not had a pay raise for two generations. These stagnant wages lead many to retreat from the work force.

Marriage rates have plummeted. Out of wedlock childbearing has increased. By the 1990s a divorce gap was already emerging: More divorces among less educated Americans, and fewer among the college educated.

The unwed motherhood gap is also growing: Women with college degrees are between 400 percent and 600 percent less likely to have children out of wedlock than women without diplomas.

So marriage and family have become less reliable sources of meaning in the lives of less educated whites. Church is becoming less important too.

Read the study, “No Money, No Honey, No Church.” Back in the 1980s less educated white Americans were as likely to attend religious services at least once a month as the college educated. Just 20 years later, a “church gap” emerged, as less-schooled whites drifted away.

Take away fruitful work, marriage, family, church and love of country, and people don’t flourish.

Set aside concern for souls for a moment. Being involved with your church imparts “social and civic skills … and higher levels of physical and psychological health … both by providing social support and by furnishing people with a sense of meaning,” the authors report. Take these away, and don’t be shocked at a huge spike in death of despair.

A third source of connection and meaning — patriotism — is also being taken away. The American story has been redefined over the last generation. Now what’s taught in schools is the story of our success at overcoming the prejudices of our white Founders. White Americans successful at work, school and love can deal with accusations of white privilege. They’re doing just fine. But since the 1960s the white working class has been the whipping boy of cultural elites. The left’s arguments skip the humanism of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. They draw on a new theory that only white people can be racists because power is derived from race.

Take away fruitful work, marriage, family, church and love of country, and people don’t flourish. Many crawl inside a bottle of bourbon or opioid pain pills. Some die of despair. Who’d have thought it?

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  • If one were to craft a self-fulfilling genocide, what would one do differently than take over the education system from the cradle up? Indebt students so deeply that they will never think outside the prescribed narrative. Hell, they’ll never think. Then, make every job accessible only to a college degree, nevermind the worth of it. Next, assure that the State produces more jobs than the economy and insists that only the credentialed and indoctrinated apply. Now you have a Deep State that even the low-rung people cannot escape. Add to it the non-degree types relegated to jobs that are increasingly automated or menial, while you have tied health insurance to employers and skyrocketed the price tag to roughly a third of one’s meager income. Anyone working in the social services will tell you that Obamacare is a catastrophe for the poor. Stir well.

    • Timothy Horton

      If one were to craft a self-fulfilling genocide, what would one do differently than take over the education system from the cradle up? Indebt students so deeply that they will never think outside the prescribed narrative. Hell, they’ll never think. Then, make every job accessible only to a college degree, nevermind the worth of it

      Keep in mind Trump just appointed a Secretary of Education whose science “knowledge” says the world is only 6000 years old and all life on the planet came from pairs of “kinds” saved on a big wooden boat after the whole planet was under water. Don’t act surprised when U.S. students’ science literacy takes a dive straight down the porcelain swirly bowl.

      • llew jones

        We mathematicians are essentially logicians so that’s why we don’t take biologists, particularly of the evolutionary persuasion, very seriously at all. You know, they’re a bit stupid. The atheistic mathematician,
        David Berlinski, at least in his logical demolition of Neo Darwinism in so many ways, is one my favourites. As an atheist he can hardly be a creationist in the God sense but he chooses to belong to the Discovery Institute. Try this bit of appropriate Berlinski mockery for size.

        “And now? Both critics and defenders of Darwin’s theory have been humbled by the evidence. We are
        the beneficiaries of twenty years of brilliant and penetrating laboratory work in molecular biology and
        biochemistry. Living systems are more complex than ever before imagined. They are strange in their organization and nature. No theory is remotely adequate to the facts.

        There is some evidence that once again, the diapason of opinion is being changed. The claims of intelligent design are too insistent and too plausible to be frivolously dismissed and the inadequacies of any Darwinian theory too obvious to be tolerated frivolously. Time has confirmed what critics like Phil
        Johnson have always suspected. Darwin’s theory is far less a scientific theory than the default position for a view in which the universe and everything in it assembles itself from itself in a never-ending magical procession. The religious tradition and with it, a sense for the mystery, terror and grandeur of life, has always embodied insights that were never trivial. The land is rising even as it sinks.”

        From “The Majestic Ascent” (Nov 2011)

        • Timothy Horton

          We mathematicians are essentially logicians so that’s why we don’t take biologists, particularly of the evolutionary persuasion, very seriously at all. You know, they’re a bit stupid.

          Not as stupid as the mathematicians and engineers who think their training in an unrelated subject lets them pass judgment on sciences of which they’re completely ignorant.

          The atheistic mathematician, David Berlinski, at least in his logical demolition of Neo Darwinism in so many ways, is one my favourites.

          Berlinski isn’t an atheist. He’s also the moron who famously lied and said one night he though of and wrote down 50,000 changes required to evolve a cow into a whale. You’re the mathematician – if Berkinski recorded one change every 10 seconds how long would it take him to get to 50,000?

          • llew jones

            Hmmm young Timmy not a very convincing response. Will you please stop confirming my poor opinion of evolutionary biologists.

            Here’s a bit more Berlinski, after an introduction, to help you improve your thinking.

            Militant atheism is on the rise. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have dominated bestseller lists with books denigrating religious belief as dangerous
            foolishness. And these authors are merely the leading edge of a far larger movement–one that now includes much of the scientific community.

            “The attack on traditional religious thought,” writes David Berlinski in The Devil’s Delusion, “marks the consolidation in our time of science as the single system of belief in which rational men and women might place their faith, and if not their faith, then certainly their devotion.”

            A secular Jew, Berlinski nonetheless delivers a biting defense of religious thought. An acclaimed author who has spent his career writing about mathematics and the sciences, he turns the
            scientific community’s cherished skepticism back on itself, daring to ask and answer some rather embarrassing questions:

            Has anyone provided a proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close.

            Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close.

            Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close.

            Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough.

            Has rationalism in moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough.

            Has secularism in the terrible twentieth century been a force for good? Not even close to being close.

            Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy of thought and opinion within the sciences? Close enough.

            Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even ballpark.

            Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.

            (Berlinski does not dismiss the achievements of western science. The great physical theories, he observes, are among the treasures of the human race. But they do nothing to answer the questions that religion asks, and they fail to offer a coherent description of the cosmos or the methods by which it might be investigated).

          • Timothy Horton

            Hmmm young Timmy not a very convincing response

            LOL! I see the self-aggrandizing mathematician couldn’t even do a simple math problem. Yet this same guy thinks his untrained layman’s opinion somehow overturns the consilient findings for evolution from 150+ years of scientific evidence in dozens of different scientific disciplines.

            Sorry but Berlinski is still an idiot. Find another ID-Creationist to worship.

    • Pod0riji7

      Could you have picked more hilariously bad timing to trot out some stock ‘the poor, the salt of the earth families of America, Obamacare is destroying them’ lines. Has it even been a week? I think I’m just missing a beautifully subtle use of comedic sarcasm by you. apologies

  • the other factor has to be marriage, or lack thereof

  • Collapse of family => collapse of society.

    Doesn’t matter whether the skin is white, brown, or black.

  • Mo86

    “Now white people are the victims. But not many seem to care.”

    They not only don’t care, they’re happy about it. After all, whites are “privileged” and they are the cause of all the evil in the world!

  • DisgruntledGrunt

    It’s the worthless, fat, lazy, ugly, white American women.

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