Free Trade Is Killing White American Men
The death rate of middle aged white American men without a college degree, men born between 1945 and 1965, has increased sharply over the last decade.
That's according to new research by a husband and wife team - including 2015 Nobel Laureate in Economics Angus Deaton.
The findings of the study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, surprised the authors.
According to the study abstract, previous studies had shown that suicides and drug poisonings generally increase in midlife.
But what was surprising was the fact that this upswing in drug poisonings and suicides has been big enough to cause the overall death rate to go up for middle-aged white Americans who only have a high school education.
As one figure from the study shows, since the late 1990s the number of deaths has started to climb among middle-aged white Americans with only a high school education.
That steady increase is remarkable when compared to the rates of middle aged Hispanic men in America, and in comparison to a number of other developed countries.
The researchers highlight three causes of death that are driving the overall increase in the deaths among this group of people.
Even though lung cancer deaths have markedly decreased over the last decade, this figure from the study shows that suicides, chronic liver diseases, and alcohol and drug overdoses are overwhelmingly driving the overall increase.
According to Deaton, this research says that "half a million people are dead who should not be dead."
But why are more middle aged white men in America committing suicide, and abusing drugs and alcohol?
The authors write that "although the epidemic of pain, suicide, and drug overdoses preceded the financial crisis, ties to economic insecurity are possible. After the productivity slowdown in the early 1970s, and with widening income inequality, many of the baby-boom generation are the first to find, in midlife, that they will not be better off than were their parents."
The authors are onto something here.
According to Robert Reich, back in 1965 a typical autoworker in America earned 35$ an hour in today's money, which for a standard year would be over $72,000 dollars.
And Reich also points out that, in the decades between 1947 and 1977, the American worker saw his wages increase from $25,000 a year in today's dollars to $55,000 a year in 2007.
But ever since Reagan started the disastrous experiment with Reaganomics, wages have stagnated, inequality has grown, and the decline of the American working class has happened.
And all of that was put on steroids when Clinton signed onto NAFTA and initiated permanent normal trade relations with China.
Take a look at this data compiled by Politifact from BLS data - which shows the manufacturing losses since NAFTA went into effect.
If you compare that to Deaton and Case's research, there's a clear correlation between manufacturing losses and the uptick in suicides and alcohol and drug overdoses among white men.
Which really just makes sense.
The pill and heroin epidemic has spread to every corner of the country, but it started in the rust belt in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Look at West Virginia, for example. In the last two months it's been reported that West Virginia not only has the highest unemployment rate of any state, but also the highest rate of drug overdoses.
As manufacturing and the coal industry have left West Virginia, laid off workers have been forced to claim disability that they wouldn't have claimed if they still had a job.
Under disability, workers are often prescribed prescription pain-killers, which then leads to eventual heroin use.
A study in the AMA's journal "Psychiatry" last year reported that 90% of first-time heroin users over the last decade were white, and three-quarters of them said they were introduced to heroin through prescription drugs.
Correlation doesn't imply causation, but the trends and the timelines line up.
But there's still a big question: why does this research only apply to the death rates of white middle aged Americans?
It's not as if white American men are disadvantaged in society, far from it.
But the tragic and shameful fact of American history, is that black Americans and other minorities in America were largely excluded from the programs, benefits, and social mobility that was afforded to white Americans in the middle of the 20th century.
Black Americans were systematically disadvantaged, they were blocked from joining unions for example, and were generally prevented from accessing programs and benefits that allowed a generation of white Americans to thrive.
So when we entered into these insane trade deals for the benefit of multinational corporations and at the expense of the American worker, it was the white American worker who was disproportionately impacted by the de-industrialization of America.
Because it was white workers who, in previous generations had disproportionately benefited from the initial industrialization of this nation.
Our insane trade deals have sent our manufacturing jobs abroad, and it's left the largely white middle-aged men who used to have those jobs desperate.
Which is why it's time to back out of the insane trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA, it's time to end Permanent Trade Relations with China, and it's time to say no to the TPP and the TTIP.
Based on a plan devised by Alexander Hamilton and implemented by George Washington, America's economy thrived on a manufacturing base for over 200 years.
And our middle class was never stronger than during the 20th century, when workers could afford to buy the products they were manufacturing.
It's time to rebuild our middle class by, as Bernie Sanders suggests, repudiating these trade deals, and this time we need to build an inclusive middle class, one that includes and uplifts American men and women of every race and creed.