One demographic has seen an unprecedented rise in mortality that has left experts bewildered and searching for answers: middle-aged white people.
Particularly working-class, middle-aged white people.
According to a new Princeton University study, whites between the ages of 45 and 54 with no more than a high school degree have experienced a dramatic surge in deaths since 1999 — going up by 134 per 100,000 people. Middle-aged white people in general now suffer 415 deaths per 100,000.
Every other demographic and age group has seen a drop in mortality rates since that year. Only middle-aged whites have seen this fatal uptick.
“Only HIV/AIDS in contemporary times has done anything like this,” said study researcher and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton.
The study found that deaths resulting from suicide, poisoning (often from alcohol and/or drugs) and alcohol-related diseases have skyrocketed within this group and are responsible for the rising mortality rate. The researchers attributed the growth of substance abuse and self-murder due to the declining economic fortunes of working-class whites, a rise in mental illness and more within this group reporting poor health.
But what are the chances that the news of this disturbing trend turns into a call for action? Not likely in this current climate.
While the rising death rate owing to drug abuse and suicide may be troubling, it’s happening to a demographic that isn’t designated as an oppressed group. In fact, all white people — regardless of class and age — are seen as the privileged majority in our society.
It’s the only group that is completely ineligible for affirmative action. Every white person has white privilege. Life is said to be on “easy mode” for those lucky folks with pasty skin.
If that were true, then what explains why so many of the supposedly privileged are addicted to drugs, take their own lives and have dismal economic prospects?
This Princeton survey is just another devastating piece of evidence against the notion that white privilege underlies our society. Large swaths of white people — who should be enjoying all the rich benefits of their skin color — are left behind in our society for reasons beyond their own control.
Jim Webb, the unorthodox Democrat who recently left his party’s presidential primary out of disgust, wrote about this very topic back in 2010 in a scathing column for The Wall Street Journal. In “Diversity and The Myth of White Privilege,” then-Senator Webb excoriated diversity for harming poor and working-class whites on behalf of minority groups who were not intended to receive the benefits of affirmative action. (RELATED: Of Course There’s No Place For Jim Webb In The Democratic Party)
While supporting affirmative action for African-Americans, the Virginian wrote, “present-day diversity programs work against that notion [of fairness], having expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white.”
Webb took issue with how affirmative action programs treated white America as a “fungible monolith,” and disproportionately left out poor Southern whites from the best colleges and the best economic opportunities.
For that article, the senator was called a pandering hack for merely mentioning the unmentioned consequences of diversity programs.
And Webb just covered the economic disparities that less well-off whites have to deal with. There’s the drug epidemic that’s swept through financially strapped, predominately white areas like rural West Virginia. There’s the dramatic rise in mental illness. There’s the heartbreaking breakdown of the working-class white family that Charles Murray documents in “Coming Apart.”
But, to reiterate, the woes of the middle-aged, blue collar white guy is not going to be a hot topic this election cycle. Instead, the interests of other groups get far more attention.
The alleged racism of the criminal justice system against African-Americans has suddenly become a bipartisan issue. The supposed cruelty of America’s immigration system against Hispanic migrants and Syrian refugees is a major focus of the Democratic Party. And, of course, the media has embraced the idea that university campuses harbor dangerous rapists who rape one in five young college women.
While all of those topics are still up for debate, what’s not doubted is that more working class whites are pushing themselves into an early grave. This is a serious problem, but the Princeton researchers only discovered it by accident and our leaders don’t seem too concerned with it.
Then again, maybe this morbid development is why so many Americans are embracing the call of political populism and supporting outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Commentators have been scratching their heads when it comes to explaining the popularity of both Trump and Sanders. Perhaps the plight of one, largely ignored demographic can explain why so many in the heartland are eschewing the establishment in favor of anyone who offers a hope for redemption.