I grew up in a working class family in a vibrant neighborhood in northeast Detroit . I took it for granted that my parents would live long, healthy lives, since my grandparents on both sides—maternal and paternal– lived well into their 80s–and one grandfather lived to be 94. They were farmers and lived in the country, in upstate Michigan and Canada.
Yet a headline recently in the New York Times made me very sad. “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds”. The study’s results were were reported in early November by two Princeton economists who analyzed health and mortality data from the Centers for disease Control and Prevention and from other sources. According to the article, they concluded that rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse, alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids. The economists concluded that taken together, suicides, drugs and alcohol explained the overall increase in deaths. The effect was largely confined to people with a high school education or less. In that group, death rates rose by 22 percent while they actually fell for those with a college education.
I remember my parents again. My dad was forced to go to work after 8th grade but was a self-educated man who loved to read history books at night and took my brothers and I to see Shakespearean dramas. He not only made it to retirement from his trade job at Chrysler’s but got to enjoy several years of retirement in Florida before he died at 71. I was shocked – that was much too young – but at least it wasn’t middle age. My mother, who retired from the assembly line at GM, lived until 81. No, they didn’t live as long as their parents, but they also didn’t collapse at 45. Something is very wrong today in the working class and as a nation we should be very concerned about this group — as we expect America to hold opportunity for all. I grew up in a family that felt the working class life was a noble and healthy one, even as they encouraged us to get college educations. Clearly something is now wrong. And clearly the study shows it is only affecting white Americans so severely. Is this the legacy of the de-industrialization of America? Are there even more Americans than before who feel shut out of the economy and discouraged? The entire article can be read at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2www15/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html?_r=1