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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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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