First Time In History, Mortality Rate Among Middle-Aged Whites Outpaces Blacks

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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White middle-aged Americans are dying at faster rates than any time in recent memory, according to research by Princeton University Professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton.

Mortality rates for white non-Hispanic persons with a high school education or less now surpass those of blacks overall, the professors found. In fact, death rates are 30 percent higher for white Americans aged 50 to 54 than for blacks overall in that same age range.

The main causes of the spike in death rates among white Americans are what the authors call “deaths of despair,” stemming from drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and a slowdown in progress made against heart disease and cancer–two of the largest killers in the U.S.

Some of the so-called “deaths of despair” are already well reported, like the increasing number of deaths from drug abuse and suicides.

The opioid crisis hit white Americans far harder than any other racial or socioeconomic group, devastating small rural communities and white middle class neighborhoods. The rise in suicide rates is observable in towns like Butte, Montana, where growing economic inequality and lack of access to quality mental health care are leading citizens who feel left behind to commit suicide. The state of Montana’s suicide rate is almost twice the national average, growing 7.4 percent in 2014.

The trend began among white non-Hispanics aged 45 to 54 in 2000, and was relegated to the southwest. Within just five years, by the mid-2000s, it had spread throughout Appalachia, into Florida and even the West Coast. Researchers discovered the phenomenon was nationwide by 2017.

Non-Hispanic whites comprise some 62 percent of the U.S. population. The challenges facing the demographic in question might have helped fuel the rise of President Donald Trump, who promised to “Make America Great Again.”

The professors warn that the causes are so complex that it will likely take many years to reverse the course.

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Robert Donachie