Why the working “backbone of America” is in crisis

During last year’s national election, Donald Trump spoke about how the U.S. government ignores and even punishes the white, working-class population. And one shocking medical finding would certainly support that argument.

As I reported last year, two Princeton economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton (who just won the Nobel Prize in Economics), stumbled across this finding literally by accident. They were analyzing mortality data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other sources when something jumped out at them…

They observed that mortality increased by 33 percent in white, working-class Americans over the past generation — an increase of historic proportions. In fact, it marks the only time anywhere we’ve seen any increase in mortality rates among any population group in modern recorded history.

By stark contrast, every other age group…every other ethnic and racial group…and every other advanced nation worldwide for the last century has been experiencing drops in mortality rates.

To put it more simply, everyone else around the world is living longer — except middle-aged, white, working-class Americans.
In fact, between 1999 and 2014, the death rate for high-school educated white Americans ages 45 to 54 increased suddenly by 22 percent, to 134 deaths per 100,000 people.

Truthfully, this tragic outcome has been building for a long time…

Women didn’t always live longer than men in the U.S.

In another recent study, researchers looked at historical data from 1,763 birth cohorts going all the way back to 1800 up until 1935 in 13 developed countries. The researchers say it is now seen as “normal” that there is a “large excess of female life expectancy in adulthood.” In other words, we now think it’s normal that women live longer than men.

But their research showed otherwise. They found that excess death rates, and reduced longevity, among men only emerged in birth cohorts born after 1880, when male-to-female death ratios increased by as much as 50 percent. In other words, men used to live just as long, on average, as women. But that fact changed after 1880.

For those born after 1900, heart disease was the main condition associated with increased mortality among men. The researchers say that about 30 percent of excess male mortality is related to smoking, but only for men born between 1900 and 1935, and only at ages 50 to 70 years. However, smoking can’t account for 70 percent of excess male mortality, particularly from heart disease.

They say these changes emerged with reductions of infectious diseases and changes in health-related behavior and lifestyle. Of course, child-bearing ceased to be such a dangerous undertaking for women after 1900 as well.

One of the major changes among men during the 20th century was an increase in sedentary lifestyles. Fewer men performed farming or other active jobs that required physical labor. Rather, more men began to spend more time at “desk jobs,” even within the military.

Yes, the world is a vastly different place in the 21st century for white, working-class men.

The “backbone of the nation” is dying off

This recent analysis offers rigorous evidence behind the causes and consequences of the declining health and welfare of the average, white, working-class American citizen. Many once considered this group of Americans the “backbone of the nation.” But today, average, white, working-class Americans are dying at such a high rate, they are increasing the death rate for the entire generation of middle-aged white Americans.

In a commentary published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, two Dartmouth economists wrote, “It is difficult to find modern settings with survival losses of this magnitude.”

A professor of sociology and expert on population mortality and health at my alma mater, University of Pennsylvania, responded, “Wow…this is a vivid indication that something is awry in these American households.”

The National Academy of Sciences previously reported the U.S. has fallen behind other advanced countries in overall longevity. We now know the reason, and the group most at risk, thanks to this new research.

A new era of “hope and change”?

Until this last presidential election, it appears the plight of middle-aged, middle-class, white Americans was the last thing on the national radar screen. One could argue the crony capitalist government purposefully stacked the deck against this generation of average, middle-class, white Americans.

Just consider the public school system with declining academic standards (and absent or inverted moral standards). And what about the double standards, employment policies, government assistance, and economic stagnation that hit this generation of Americans?

One has to wonder whether dying earlier is now part of the “white privilege” we heard so much about during the election. Perhaps with the results of the election, things may begin looking up for this backbone of America.

P.S. On Thursday, I’ll tell you about one key habit linked to higher disease and mortality rates.


  1. “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white

non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (www.pnas.org) 11/2/2015

  1. “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds,” The New York Times (www.nytimes.com) 11/2/2015