by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
During an era of headline-grabbing advances in medicine, the United States is experiencing a health cataclysm.
The latest straw in the wind is last week’s report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that life expectancy for white women declined slightly from 2013 to 2014.
Other studies indicate rising death rates for a white working class that is in a slow-motion economic and social meltdown. Self-destructive behaviors are outpacing medical advances against killers like heart disease and cancer. Hopelessness may not be a condition studied by epidemiologists, but it is cutting a swath through a segment of white America.
A paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences late last year highlighted the bleak American exceptionalism of this crisis. It focused on middle-aged whites. In the 20 years prior to 1998, their mortality rate fell about 2 percent a year, in keeping with the trend toward lower mortality in other advanced countries. Then the rates diverged. Rates kept declining in countries like France and Britain. They began increasing for middle-aged whites in the United States.
The slide in the wrong direction was driven by drug and alcohol poisoning, chronic liver diseases, and suicide. In 1999, middle-aged blacks had higher rates of poisoning than whites; by 2013, rates were higher for whites. Overall, mortality rates for middle-aged blacks and Hispanics have declined since 1999, as they have increased for whites.