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.


sandlewould's picture
sandlewould 7 years 30 weeks ago

On the subject of today's show; Excellent expose on Democracy Now w/ Wendell Potter re. the collapse of 10 out of 23 of the National State Health Coops and sky rocketing health insurance costs under the ACA :

Luis_L.'s picture
Luis_L. 7 years 30 weeks ago

Now that we've made the connection that Free Trade is harmful to white people maybe we'll now have our politicians follow-up with meaningful legislation to correct or at least address the problem. It is like President Obama speaking out about the "heroin epidemic" in rural America now that it is affecting all these young white kids. I guess nothing happens unless it affects white people. I just hope that it leads to meaningful legislation and not more drug war policing and enforcement or more free trade deals disguised as job creation.

Old_Curmudgeon 7 years 30 weeks ago

Thom's is yet anOther really-worthy blog, ...but kindly let me here change-the-subject to yesterday's elections:

Low-turnout Distorts Elections

…a rhyme…

Low-turnout elections

tend to go to selections

made by “intense {minorities} mi-nor-i-tees”

{who’re often nitwits with {insanities} in-san-i-tees},

for whom such winning’s a breeze.

This happens oft in a off-year.

Not much could be much {more awful} awf’leer

for democ-ra-cee.

{Well, there’s PLUtoc-ra-cee.}


Shawno Buzzello's picture
Shawno Buzzello 7 years 30 weeks ago

Lets face it, the super rich and republican politicians aren't concerned about the well-being of those of us who suffer. They'd prefer that we do struggle and then die off because we're no good to them.

truher's picture
truher 7 years 30 weeks ago

Your atricle most educational. However, I would offer that the solution really requires interntional cooperation, so that rather than pulling back from all interntional agreements, we mofify all of them. Using international agreements, we should assure that all changes will result in equal impacts on each nation involved. I don't think corporate America can be solely trusted with this responsibility.

RLTOWNSLEY's picture
RLTOWNSLEY 7 years 30 weeks ago

West Virginia was probably the last state to enjoy real representation in Washington for many years via their long serving Congressman Sen. Robert Byrd who died in 2010. Sen. Byrd was the last of a generation who viewed representative government as a means to bettering the lives of his constituents. By the time his career in Washington had come to an end, his fellow members of Congress had long ago abandoned that cause to pursue a career in government based solely on self-aggrandizement and selling out to the highest private bidder. I seriously doubt that many working class citizens in this country can look at their current elected representatives in state and national elected offices and list anything that has been accomplished that has improved their and their families lives over the long run ! Byrd was no saint but he never forgot those who consistently returned him to Washington over a fifty year period (1959 - 2009). We know that over the past five years the citizens of West Virginia have experienced a precipitous down turn in their standard of living that has likely only reinforced their respect for this man and what he accomplished on their behalf !

delster's picture
delster 7 years 30 weeks ago

I do not have confidence that any polotician can change things. I DON'T ! We can all see what happened to Sadam Hussain when he tried to sell oil outside the world economic channel. He was waned and punished once in the 90's with a war. When econimic Hit men like Rumsfeld could not sway Sadam he was hit again and then killed. I am not endorsing Sadam as any sort of a hero, I'm just merely suggesting that anyone businessman, politician, or world leader tries to upset the world econmic organization they will be crushed. Remember Obama's campaign promises ? What happened ? His intentions, If he was sincere< were thwarted by world economic power. I like Bernie Sanders for what he is saying, but I do not wish to see him assasinated for truth and ethics. I believe Bernie will be publicly disgraced if he tries. Anyone who tries to buck the system will be somehow subverted, or worse. The adversary is too great, who ever the adversary is. This world is in trouble and I believe we are headed for war, poverty, and misery and if so I hope the desparity is distributed equally among the rich power brokers as it is among the poorest of the world.

Shawno Buzzello's picture
Shawno Buzzello 7 years 30 weeks ago

Excellent points!

Thwarted off and assasitnated like JFK, MLK and Senator Paul Wellstone to name a few.

w1ders's picture
w1ders 7 years 30 weeks ago

Thom, you are correct and I don't know who could better do it and get Americans to follow and help but Senator Sanders. That is if we can keep big money and wallstreet Clinton from stopping him. I am one of the exact white men Thom speaks of. I served an apprenticeship and was paid union wages. My spine gave out and put me on dissability. After four spine surgeries, rods and pins in my lumbar and cervical spine I did end up on pain medication. That is where the comparison ends. I haven't had any desire to try heroine, don't plan to and am not suicidal. I am embarrased and ashamed of my country though, for what has happened to our middle class, jobs, health care, wages, and all the many low down things that have happened to all of us regardless of race, religion, or beliefs. I do know many in my position and they also are not addicts or suicidal. That may be true for some and one can't blame them for being depressed over what our politicians have let happen to our once thriving economy. I'd like to see it back. Get rid of the ass-hat Roberts that is to blame for the sale of our democracy and gutting of voting rights. Get rid of the dysfunctional gop and sold out politicians that take bribes against the common good. Where to start, they infest like rats in our politics. I hope we can come together and make the changes needed, one way or another, peacefully or not. America is worth fighting for.

agelbert's picture
agelbert 7 years 30 weeks ago

Fascism is killing Americans! "Free Trade" is just a small segment of a giant corrupt, corporate, empathy defict disordered monstrocity.

When people realize that everything they have been taught about our "democracy", the reason for our wars and our government's "concern" for their health and welfare is propaganda on behalf of an oligachy, they tend to get depressed.

When a large segment of the population is chronically depressed because they have lost all hope of living under just laws and avoiding fascist cruelty, ALONG with the global warming the fossil fuel OWNED government REFUSES to address beyond token measures, it is expected that suicides will rise.

But nature is not going to bend to the will of these oligarchs or negotiate with their insanity. And people realize what THAT means for future generations.

Hank Roberts says:

2 Nov 2015 at 7:58 PM


just published research suggesting that destabilization of the Amundsen sea’s glaciers would indeed undermine the entirety of West Antarctica, as has long been feared.

In a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Johannes Feldmann and Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research use a sophisticated climate model to study what will happen if these glaciers are, indeed, fully destabilized.

And in essence, they find that the process of retreat doesn’t end with the region currently up against the ocean.

“We showed that there is actually nothing that stops it,” said Levermann. “There are troughs and channels and all this stuff, there’s a lot of topography that actually has the potential to slow down or stop the instability, but it doesn’t.”

Or as the paper puts it: “The result of this study is an if–then statement, saying that if the Amundsen Sea Sector is destabilized, then the entire marine part of West Antarctica will be discharged into the ocean.”
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