One of the defining issues of the 2016 election was the loss of jobs and economic opportunity among white, working-class Americans. As the middle class continues to shrink, so too has the labor market for those with only a high-school diploma. There’s now reason to believe that this lack of education is taking a physical toll as well: A new study released Thursday by the Brookings Institution finds that mortality rates are rising for those without a college degree.
Nearly 20 years ago, the mortality rate for high-school-educated white Americans ages 50 to 54 was 30 percent lower than the rate for all black Americans in the same age group. As of 2015, the rate was 30 percent higher. “This is a story of the collapse of the white working class,” Angus Deaton, the study’s co-author, told The New York Times. “The labor market has very much turned against them.” (Conversely, mortality rates are falling among middle-age white Americans with college degrees.)
It’s not just that lack of education has led to declining incomes, although that is certainly the case. The authors find that white men of all ages without a four-year college degree are less likely to participate in the labor force. But there seems to be a broader effect among white Americans in middle age: Not having a college degree often results in fewer economic opportunities, which in turn may trigger things like divorce, poor health, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, or raising children in unstable conditions.