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Hidden Economic and Social Despair as U.S. Life Expectancy Drops — Whites Hit Hardest

(MSN/Los Angeles Times) A reversal of American life expectancy, a downward trend that has now been sustained for three years in a row, is a grim new reality of life in the United States.

New research establishes that after decades of living longer and longer lives, Americans are dying earlier, cut down increasingly in the prime of life by drug overdoses, suicides and diseases such as cirrhosis, liver cancer and obesity.

The ills claiming the lives of Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 vary widely by geography, gender and ethnicity. But the authors of the new study suggest that the nation’s lifespan reversal is being driven by diseases linked to social and economic privation, a health care system with glaring gaps and blind spots, and profound psychological distress.

Why are lives is the U.S., with higher per-capita health care spending than any other country on earth, growing shorter?

During the 1980s and 90s and accelerating into the 2000s, middle-class incomes stagnated. Rates of child poverty grew and the rolls of the uninsured swelled. The distribution of wealth in the United States began to concentrate densely at the top of the economic ladder.

In 1999, rates of drug overdose death among non-Latino whites between 25 and 64 stood below those of all other ethnic groups. But by 2017, rates of drug fatalities in this group had risen almost seven-fold, ending higher than those among Native Americans, black and Latinos.

Woolf and Schoomaker found that the rise in premature deaths was often most evident in regions and states that have weathered steep job losses, population outflows, and a consequent hollowing out of local civic and social institutions.

Over the past four decades, the U.S. steel and coal-mining industries have collapsed, automation has eliminated U.S. manufacturing jobs, and industries have moved offshore to find cheaper labor. States like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana underwent profound job losses, a steady decline population, and progressive social changes — from disbanded sports teams and shuttered hospitals and churches to closed barbershops and cafes.

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