A new study from Princeton University [PDF] shows an extraordinary increase in the mortality rate among middle-aged white non-Hispanic Americans since 1999. Mortality rates declined for other racial groups in the US during the same period and there is no equivalent trend anywhere else in the developed world including majority-white Europe.
Economist Angus Deaton, one of the study’s co-authors, explained that the economic insecurity of the last decade led to white Americans “losing the narratives of their lives.” Despair and a lack of belief in the future sown by neoliberalism led to increased suicide and drug use, with the trend most pronounced among poorer middle-aged whites.
Among left-wing circles, the white working class has always appeared to have a “chump problem,” perhaps best articulated in the book “What’s The Matter With Kansas.” The white working class in aggregate continually screw themselves over by voting against their own economic interests in favor of cultural war issues that they ultimately lose anyway (see gay marriage fight for details).
In what has posthumously become one of comedian George Carlin’s most famous bits — thanks in part due to a renewed interest during the Great Recession — Carlin excoriates working class Americans who continue to vote for rich people “who don’t give a fuck about you!”
The routine is a good stand in for the exasperation many progressives feel watching poor whites (and any other poor demographic) openly embrace the savage capitalism of the neoliberal establishment. The 1% truly do not care if the 99% live in excruciating poverty or simply die. In fact, they do not even care about Americans or America at all — they are transnational and will happily dump the U.S. if they can get a better deal elsewhere.
The solution is not simply for the white working class to start voting for the Democratic Party (which has its own corporate pathologies), but to seek and find solidarity with other poor and struggling Americans. A more class-conscious and inclusive life narrative could lead to less insecurity and despair by creating a system that provides some grounded hope for a better future.