It’s time to Break It Down!
Certain groups would have you believe the scourge of black initiated violence is responsible for virtually every negative trend in this country. This applies, especially, to developments that lead to increased mortality rates. If you are a consumer of Right Wing talk radio, or cable news, or dare I say, a number of the GOP Presidential candidates’ spiels, you will hear it suggested that blacks, particularly those ensconced in urban areas are engaged in wonton drug use, hyper gang violence, and random killing sprees. I sometimes wonder if all of what they say is true, how could there possibly be anyone left to buy drugs, join gangs, and/or execute the incalculable numbers of murders we are constantly reminded occur on a nearly daily basis.
Nobel Laureate, Angus Deaton and his wife, Anne Case, both Princeton economists, received international attention for their research, which was published earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). According to the study, since 1999, we have been experiencing a significant spike in the death rate for a large group of middle-aged whites in the United States. The rise in death rates was accompanied by an increase in illness.
However, their work was not immediately received with robust approval. Before presenting it to PNAS, they submitted it to two prestigious medical journals, both of which rejected the study.
First, they tried to get it published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). According to Deaton, who was interviewed while attending a conference, sponsored by Princeton University, on Ebola and global public health in Dublin:
“We got it back almost instantaneously. It was almost like the e-mail had bounced. We got it back within hours.”
Next, Deaton and Case tried the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), after framing their work in the form of a two-page “Perspective” summarizing the alarming trend they had discovered in government mortality statistics. Two tries, two rejection notices. According to Deaton, the NEJM said that their work does not explain why the historically anomalous surge in mortality occurred. He compared that response to calling the fire department to report that your house is on fire:
“And they say, ‘Well, what caused the fire?’ And you say, ‘I don’t know,’ and they say, ‘Well, we can’t send the fire brigade until you can tell us what caused the fire.’”
Staff members at both Journals were reluctant to offer any details surrounding their respective responses to the study. Ms. Jennifer Zeis, media relations manager for the NEJM, said via email that the NEJM could not comment on the fate of any submissions because “The publication process is confidential.” Similarly, Jim Michalski, a spokesman for JAMA, also cited the journal’s confidentiality policy. “We can neither confirm nor deny whether an author has submitted a manuscript for review, or why a manuscript may have been rejected, also conveyed through an email.
The study’s findings apply to the mortality rate for white men and women ages 45-54 with less than a college education. The death rates for this group, based on the results of the study increased markedly between 1999 and 2013. The most likely drivers for this increase are thought to be problems with legal and illegal drugs, alcohol, and suicide. Deaton said of the causality:
“Drugs and alcohol, and suicide…are clearly the proximate cause. Half a million people are dead who should not be dead. That is about 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”
Prior to the time frame cited in the study, death rates for the group had dropped steadily, and at an even faster pace. Historically, increases in mortality rates for any large demographic group in advanced nations, which “Exceptional America must surely be, have been virtually unheard of, with the notable exception of Russian men after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly, this overarching trend narrative is at least in part, the reason that JAMA and the NEJM were less than embracing of the Case’s study and findings.
Since at least 1970, Americans and residents of other wealthy countries have generally enjoyed longer and healthier lives, as smoking has declined, better treatments have been developed and preventive measures and lifestyles changes have had a substantial impact.
The findings of this study could have far-reaching implications as the surviving members of this sizable population segment continue toward retirement and Medicare eligibility. A more sickly population, less able to prepare for the costs associated with old age will place an increasing burden on both society at-large and federal programs.
Such a reversal has not been seen in blacks or Hispanics or among Europeans. The study points specifically to a surge in overdoses from opioid medication and heroin, liver disease and other problems that stem from alcohol abuse, and suicides.
Upon reflection, Deaton noted that he understands the related research will be subjected to political commentary, including that of a conservative Web site’s analysis that blamed President Obama for a trend that began during Bill Clinton Presidency. According to his resulting analysis:
“There is a widening between people at the top and the people who have a ho-hum education and they’re not tooled to compete in a technology economy. …Not only are these people struggling economically, but they’re experiencing this health catastrophe too, so they’re being hammered twice.”
Jonathan Skinner of Dartmouth College, another economist who reviewed the study for PNAS and co-authored a commentary that appears with it, used very similar words to summarize the findings:
“An increasingly pessimistic view of their financial future combined with the increased availability of opioid drugs has created this kind of perfect storm of adverse outcomes.”
Skinner also went on to say:
“This is the first indicator that the plane has crashed. I don’t know what’s going on, but the plane has definitely crashed.
“High school graduates [and] high school dropouts [are] 40 percent of the population. It’s not just the 10 percent who didn’t finish high school. It’s a much bigger group.”
Deaton and Case examined death rates for other developed nations, as well as for U.S. blacks and Hispanics as they continued their steady decline of recent decades. Whites in other age groups between 30 and 64, and more educated whites also had lower death rates. However, the other age groups did also experience substantially higher death rates from drug and alcohol overdoses, suicides, chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis of the liver.
David Weir, director of the health and retirement study at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, noted that while the death rates for African Americans continues to be greater than that for whites, the reversal among whites is shocking because of the advantages they enjoy. He added:
“Typically, socioeconomic circumstances gang up on African Americans, who have lower education, lower incomes, and race all working against them. In this case, that’s not happening.”
Weir surmised that economic insecurity, the decay of communities and the breakdown of families probably have had some impact on death and illness rates, in addition to the nation’s opioid epidemic and the factors the authors identified. Yet, he counters, the study clearly shows they are not the result of diseases such as lung cancer or diabetes, which are declining and increasing slowly, respectively. He interjected:
“I think it has to have something to do [with] the pain underlying it, both physical and psychic. That is the age when people have their midlife crisis…I think it has to do with that stage of life, and physical ailments do start to accumulate at that age. This paper really is a question, not an answer.”
Angus Deaton was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on individual consumption choices. He has long studied measures of well-being, health and pain. He and Case authored a paper in June that found reports of physical pain “are strongly predictive of suicide in many contexts” and that reports of pain are increasing among middle-aged Americans.
Their findings have been corroborated by other research, including a report from the National Heroin Task Force established by the Justice Department, which puts the number of overdose deaths from legal and illegal drugs at 110 every day. The heroin death toll has quadrupled in the decade that ended in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry last year reported that 90 percent of the people who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white. Three-quarters said they were introduced to heroin through the use of prescription drugs.
In January, the CDC reported that an average of six people die every day because of alcohol poisoning and that 76 percent are ages 35 to 64. Three-quarters are men. But just last week, researchers reported that the U.S. death rate for all causes declined 43 percent between 1969 and 2013, from about 1,279 per 100,000 people to about 730. The rate of death caused by strokes, heart disease and cancer all declined significantly, researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
As you reconcile the veritable cornucopia of data that support the findings in this post, do not fail to appropriately integrate and consider the degree to which these maladies precede the Age of Obama, as well as the disproportionate involvement of, and impact on white folks rather than black folks. Why? Because the next time you hear some ill-informed member of the media, the GOP, or perhaps your family spout off about either the role of President Obama in the decline of life as we know it, or the failure of blacks to respect life and authority, play this study like a high trump card in a game of Spades, complete with theatrics and histrionics. So there you have it…“More White People Are Dying: Newsflash – It’s Not President Obama’s Fault!”
I’m done; holla back!
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