White Americans Without a College Degree Are Seriously Depressed These Days

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A new paper by Angus Deaton and Anne Case has gotten a lot of attention for showing that mortality among middle-aged whites has increased over the past two decades in the United States, driven primarily by an increase in suicides, alcohol abuse, and drug overdoses. Everywhere else it’s continued to go down. The chart on the right tells the story. I’ve helpfully annotated it to suggest that perhaps the crisis is over for the time being.

But the paper is being misreported. It’s not just middle-aged whites. It’s all whites. The chart below tells the real story: every age group from 30 to 65 has shown a steep increase in mortality. So why focus just on middle-aged whites? “The midlife group is different only in that the sum of these deaths is large enough that the common growth rate changes the direction of all-cause mortality.” In other words, the midlife group makes for a more dramatic chart. But every age group has shown a similar trend.

The increase is dominated by whites with a high-school education or less. They’re reporting more pain, taking more opioid painkillers, abusing alcohol more, and killing themselves more. Why? So far, we don’t really know.

UPDATE: The chart below was originally titled “White Male Mortality by Age Group.” In fact, it applies to all whites, both men and women. I’ve corrected the title.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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