It is now generally accepted that Donald Trump was elected President because of his strong support amongst white blue-collar workers, especially in the battle ground states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Mr. Trump was able to persuade these voters that he would be able to raise their stagnant incomes and even bring back the millions of manufacturing jobs which have been lost to automation and globalization.
Now the two economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, have shown that mortality rates for white, U.S. non-Hispanics, aged 45 – 54, with a high school degree or less, have doubled since 1990.
Here is the general situation:
- Overall, U.S. life expectancy at birth has increased from 63 years in 1940 to 79 years in 2010.
- Life expectancy is still increasing for the college educated as well for U.S. Blacks and U.S. Hispanics. It is also still rising in many other developed countries.
- The main cause for the rising death rates of the vulnerable group is “deaths of despair” – suicides, drug overdoses and the consequences of heavy drinking.
The authors point out that:
- It is precisely working class whites whose economic prospects have deteriorated the most in recent years, especially since the financial crisis.
- The U.S. has moved largely to defined-contribution pension plans with stock market risk in recent years whereas in Europe defined-benefit pensions are still the norm.
- The current mortality crisis bears a resemblance to the AIDS epidemic which took the lives of 650,000 Americans from 1981 – 2015. However, public awareness of the AIDS crisis was far greater than for the current mortality epidemic.
Conclusion. The basic American dream of home ownership, modest financial and job security and a bright outlook for one’s children has faded for a large class of middle-aged workers. The crisis is manifested in an increase in mortality rates for this vulnerable class. Donald Trump’s election mandate is to fix this problem but it is a tall order indeed.