Sunday, March 8, 2020
The United States is in the throes of a colossal health crisis. In 2015 life expectancy began falling for the first time since the height of the AIDS crisis in 1993. The causes—mainly suicides, alcohol-related deaths, and drug overdoses—claim roughly 190,000 lives each year.
The casualties are concentrated in the rusted-out factory towns and depressed rural areas left behind by globalization, automation, and downsizing, but as the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton demonstrate in their new book, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, they are also rampant in large cities. Those most vulnerable are distinguished not by where they live but by their race and level of education. Virtually the entire increase in mortality has been among white adults without bachelor’s degrees—some 70 percent of all whites. Blacks, Hispanics, college-educated whites, and Europeans also succumb to suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths, but at much lower rates that have risen little, if at all, over time.1