The star of the Trump era was the White working class. In particular, the media focused on the crisis of White working class men. They were dying at alarming rates, so much so that their life expectancy decreased. They were dying from what became dubbed “deaths of despair,” drug overdoses, alcoholism, and suicide.
We saw endless examinations of the causes and statistics from research organizations like Brookings and publications like The Atlantic and Vox. Washington Monthly wrote a piece called “What’s Killing the White Working Class?” A Washington Post piece was titled “New research identifies a ‘sea of despair’ among white, working-class Americans.”
The focus on the White working class’s demise started in 2015 with the publication of a study by Princeton professors Ann Case and Angus Deaton called “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century.” The study noted that life expectancy among non-educated, middle-aged White people was decreasing. The paper made headlines and follow-up research delved into causes and trends, especially as the group overwhelming supported Donald Trump in 2016. In March 2020, just as COVID was dominating the news, Case and Deaton published a book called “Deaths of Despair and the future of Capitalism.”
What if, during that period from 2015 to 2020, deaths from overdose and suicide were higher among African Americans than among White people? A study released last week from the Pew Foundation found that from 2015 to 2020, the overdose rate among African American men rose 54% as compared to 44% for White men. In May of this year, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a paper that noted the suicide rate for Black people increased 30% between 2014 and 2019 while it decreased among White Americans. Where are the endless articles about despair in the Black community?
To be fair, Case and Deaton’s 2020 book focused more on everyone without a college degree than just the White working class. The New York Times published a piece called “How Working-Class Life Is Killing Americans, in Charts” that showed the difficulties for all working class people regardless of age or race. And last year, Vox wrote a piece examining the gap in life expectancy between Black and White Americans.
Still, the travails of White working class Americans became a dominant theme in the media for most of the Trump presidency while “deaths of despair” actually impacted the Black community more. If I were African American, which I’m not, I would think that the news media and the research community seem to place greater emphasis or importance on the impacts of “death of despair” on White Americans than on my community. Maybe it’s been that way so long, that it’s taken for granted, but at least it should explain some of the resentment and frustration that African Americans must feel living in a country like this one. As a White American, I just think we have a lot further to go to overcome innate racial bias in the United States.