Death rates are rising for middle-aged non-Hispanic Whites with a high school diploma or less education, report Princeton economists Ann Case and Angus Deaton in a stunning analysis of this troubled segment of the American population. The rise in mortality rates is due to what Case and Deaton call "deaths of despair"—deaths due to drug use, alcohol abuse, and suicide.
Among non-Hispanic Whites with no more than a high school diploma, mortality rates in 2015 were higher than in 1999. During those years, mortality rates fell for other segments of the population—better educated non-Hispanic Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. The mortality rates of non-Hispanic Whites with a high school diploma or less education were 30 percent lower than the mortality rates of Blacks in 1999. By 2015, they were 30 percent higher.
Case and Deaton see globalization and automation as the possible deep underlying causes of what they call the collapse of the white working class. The long-run stagnation of the wages of this group has led to a decline in marriage, greater social isolation, withdrawal from the labor force, a sense of hopelessness, and more deaths of despair.
Source: Brookings Institution, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century