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LostInParadise's avatar

What are we to make of the rising mortality rate of U.S. white lower class?

Asked by LostInParadise (27952points) November 6th, 2015

According to this NY Times article, there has been an alarming rise in the mortality rate of uneducated white Americans, and the cause is largely self-inflicted – suicides and drug use. Can this be attributed in part to the decline in high paying blue collar jobs? At one time an uneducated person could make a decent living by riveting bolts on an assembly line. Now these people are more likely to be flipping burgers. Are these the people that keep electing Republicans in order to retain some shred of dignity by discriminating against minorities? Are they going to eventually die out?

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11 Answers

Seek's avatar

Most of them don’t vote. Or can’t vote, because they don’t have up-to-date identification, or a home address, or access to a polling place.

They’re as likely to have no job at all as a job flipping burgers (a career more and more often held by people with college degrees (PDF warning) ). Their 401 K is worthless, they have no pension, and Social Security isn’t ever going to be enough. They make money by collecting scrap metal to recycle, or mowing lawns, or selling plasma, or getting a doctor to write them a pain pill prescription and then selling the pills.

In some cases literally the best case scenario is for them to land a decent job with a good company, and get injured on the job and land permanent disability before they get laid off or replaced with someone younger.

75,948,000 people worked at minimum wage or below in 2013, according to the above PDF from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is the people that had jobs on the books.

If those people lived in a red state, they were living without health insurance, since there was no Medicaid expansion available to them. Thus, if they had any sort of mental illness it went untreated, or self-medicated with cheap alcohol. They weren’t eating food that was conducive to mental and body health. They were living in unsafe neighborhoods. They were arrested more often than other white people and fined greater amounts of money and given harsher sentences. They had their kids taken away from them and their kids were abused in foster homes while they themselves were being called unfit parents because they couldn’t be home when the kids got off the school bus.

No, they’re not going to die out. For every poor white person that kills themselves, another is right behind them to take that minimum-wage job because they have no other choice. And the trend is moving toward more low-paying retail jobs and fewer unions.

so hold on to your middle-class income and enjoy it while it lasts. Any one of you could be next.

Judi's avatar

Access to healthcare probably plays a role. I just read a post about a 40 something white guy living in California who was eligible for Medi Cal (California’s version of medicaid) but the county that he lives in is notorious for denying medicare claims and making it very difficult to apply and keep coverage. His throat cancer had become stage 4 before they finally decided to cover him. Then there’s all the race baiting that keeps them voting against their best interest because you know, it’s better than being black. Ugh.

JLeslie's avatar

I only glanced through the article. I think that very poor whites in the mountains of West Virginia and some neighboring states tend to vote Democrat. They are poor in a way that most of America doesn’t think still exists. It is true a lot of white people who struggle financially vote Republican, I saw a lot of it in Tennessee when I lived there. The races were fairly divided when it came to politics. There were some Democrats like me who were white, and I know some black people who were Republican, but we are few and far between where I lived.

I do think that lower wages are part of the problem. I worked in a psych hospital and the people on suicide watch were not those hearing voices and barely able to take care of themselves. Suicide watches were mostly for the depressed, and when unemployment went way up we had many more people at risk. It’s a horrible thing not being able to afford life despite making every effort and working very hard.

I wonder if more white people are keeping unexpected pregnancies now? Just a thought. I feel like the pro-life message is louder than ever before. Maybe I’m wrong. Not that I’m pushing abortion, I am just thinking out loud.

Also, we just went through a very bad 10 years for employment. I have been in the situation of not being able to cover my bills, but it was short lived and my family could help. I can’t imagine not being able to make ends meet for a very prolonged time. It’s some of the worst stress a person can go through. It probably increases chances of health problems, mental problems, and shortens lives. Not to mention now in America shaming the poor is a regular thing. It’s really horrible. We should be ashamed that people who work 40 hours a week, who all they want to do is earn a living and take care of themselves and their families, live in slums that are like war zones. WTH?

Something has to be done.

Seek's avatar

Poor people can’t afford to pay out of pocket for abortions. Not without making major, major sacrifices, unless they’re lucky enough to have family to borrow money from.

JLeslie's avatar

@Seek So do you think that number has been constant in the last say 20 years? The number of white people having children while in poverty. You make a good point about the money. I was only thinking of the social pressures and expectations.

I’m all for subsidizing birth control and abortions for those who want it.

Seek's avatar

I couldn’t speak to the reproductive rate by income level. Not numbers I’m familiar with offhand, and I’m on a mobile device that isn’t great for research. I’ll look it up in a while.

I can say that when you can’t afford a $120 ob/gyn appointment each year to get a prescription for birth control, assuming you can even use the low cost pills (my old script was $6 / mo out of pocket), you really don’t have much of a choice beyond having babies and vows of celibacy.

JLeslie's avatar

@Seek I’m with you.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar


JLeslie's avatar

I googled and this website has a tremendous amount of stats on unintended pregnancies in the US. From what I can gather many more women below the poverty line have unintended pregnancies than compared to those above. White women have about half that of minority women, but as far as I can tell they didn’t separate out white women below the poverty line, but it does say unintended pregnancy have increased since the 90’s. I still am not very sure whether white poor women are having more babies than 20 years ago, I think the answer is yes, because it states that black women are more likely to terminate an unintended pregnancy, but I’m not sure with the information provided. Part of it is cultural I think, not just financial.

Seek's avatar

Unless it’s adjusted to ratios rather than actual numbers, it would be easy to explain due to the fact that more teen and young adult women live in poverty now than did 20 years ago.

Seek's avatar

According to this which was a source of your article, @JLeslie white women have gone from, 40% pregnancies unintended to 42% pregnancies unintended between 2001 and 2008. Total pregnancy rate for white women has gone up from 86 per 1000 women in ‘01 to 89 per 1000 in 2008.

Women under poverty level, pregnancy rates went from 197/1000 to 209/1000.

Percent of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion for white women? Went down from 42 to 36%.

All in all, more unintended pregnancies, and fewer abortions. Thanks, anti-abortion legislation and abstinence-only education.

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