August 19, 2017

The issue the Democrats ignored: the collapse of the white working class

To understand the rise of white nationalism, it helps, although Democrats show little interest in it, to understand what has been happening to the white working class. Beginning in the 70s, the Democrats lost interest in America's working class and have paid a considerable price for it. It's not an error too hard to correct. For example, Bernie Sanders' campaign revived economic issues and, according to a report last year, by June 2016 Sanders had gained more young people's votes than Trump and Clinton combined.  And in the end economic fairness supports ethnic and gender equality. The fairer the economic system the less anger and prejudice drive politics. 

Atlantic, March 2017 - A new study by the Brookings Institution finds that mortality rates are rising for those without a college degree.

Nearly 20 years ago, the mortality rate for high-school-educated white Americans ages 50 to 54 was 30 percent lower than the rate for all black Americans in the same age group. As of 2015, the rate was 30 percent higher. “This is a story of the collapse of the white working class,” Angus Deaton, the study’s co-author, told The New York Times. “The labor market has very much turned against them.” (Conversely, mortality rates are falling among middle-age white Americans with college degrees.)

It’s not just that lack of education has led to declining incomes, although that is certainly the case. The authors find that white men of all ages without a four-year college degree are less likely to participate in the labor force. But there seems to be a broader effect among white Americans in middle age: Not having a college degree often results in fewer economic opportunities, which in turn may trigger things like divorce, poor health, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, or raising children in unstable conditions.

The study’s authors say that working-class whites have faced “a long-term process of decline, or of cumulative deprivation.” This process, they argue, started with “those leaving high school and entering the labor force after the early 1970s—the peak of working-class wages, and the beginning of the end of the ‘blue-collar aristocracy.’”

As economic opportunities have dwindled for those without higher education, marriage rates have declined and divorce rates have risen, causing more men to lose regular contact with their children. These social trends promote distress—and in many cases, the effects are fatal. Since 1999, middle-age white Americans with only a high-school degree have seen a steep increase in “deaths of despair”—suicide, drug overdose, or alcohol abuse. Although opioids are not the primary cause of rising mortality rates, the authors say they are certainly adding “fuel to the flames.” Additional research finds that half of all working-age, unemployed men in America are taking pain medication—and two-thirds of them are taking prescription painkillers. Meanwhile, for middle-age white Americans of all educational backgrounds the average mortality rates from heart disease and cancer have slowed to just 1 percent per year.

Overall, rising mortality rates were most pronounced in states with large rural populations like Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, though the authors find this to be both a rural and urban phenomenon. It is also, for reasons uncertain, a racial phenomenon. The study finds a decline in mortality rates among black and Hispanic Americans, despite seeing little difference in their income profiles.

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