With the Federal Reserve pushing up interest rates, we appear headed for a new recession. Sadly, our unemployment insurance system remains broken: too few unemployed receive benefits and the benefits are far too low. As a result, the next recession, when it comes, will again bring unnecessary suffering to millions of workers and their families.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Federal action during the recent pandemic crisis shows how our unemployment system can be dramatically improved. The problem is that many business and political leaders are content with the system as it is now. That means it is up to us to start agitating for reform, and the sooner the better.
Many are understandably alarmed about what the September 4th termination of several special federal pandemic unemployment insurance programs will mean for millions of workers. Twenty-five states ended their programs months earlier, with government and business leaders claiming that their termination would spur employment and economic activity. However, several studies have disproved their claims.
One study, based on the experience of 19 of these states, found that for every 8 workers that lost benefits, only one found a new job. Consumer spending in those states fell by $2 billion, with every lost $1 of benefits leading to a fall in spending of 52 cents. It is hard to see how anything good can come from the federal government’s willingness to allow these programs to expire nationwide.
A growing number of business and political leaders have found yet another argument to use against federal pandemic relief programs, especially those that provide income support for workers: they hurt the economic recovery by encouraging workers not to work.
In the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as reported by BusinessInsider:
“We have flooded the zone with checks that I’m sure everybody loves to get, and also enhanced unemployment,” McConnell said from Kentucky. “And what I hear from businesspeople, hospitals, educators, everybody across the state all week is, regretfully, it’s actually more lucrative for many Kentuckians and Americans to not work than work.”
He went on: “So we have a workforce shortage and we have raising inflation, both directly related to this recent bill that just passed.”
In line with business claims that they can’t find willing workers despite their best efforts at recruitment, the governors of Montana, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi have all announced that they will no longer allow the unemployed in their respective states to collect the $300-a-week federal supplemental unemployment benefit and will once again require that those receiving unemployment benefits demonstrate they are actively looking for work.
Our unemployment insurance system has failed the country at a moment of great need. With tens of millions of workers struggling just to pay rent and buy food, Congress was forced to pass two emergency spending bills, providing one-time stimulus payments, special weekly unemployment insurance payments, and temporary unemployment benefits to those not covered by the system. And, because of their limited short-term nature, President Biden must now advocate for a third.
The system’s shortcomings have been obvious for some time, but little effort has been made to improve it. In fact, those shortcomings were baked into the system at the beginning, as President Roosevelt wanted, not by accident. While we must continue to organize to ensure working people are able to survive the pandemic, we must also start the long process of building popular support for a radical transformation of our unemployment insurance system. The history of struggle that produced our current system offers some useful lessons.
A meaningful working-class recovery from the recession seems far away.
After seven months of job gains, although diminishing gains to be sure, we are again losing jobs. As the chart below shows, the number of jobs fell by 140,000 in December.
We are currently about 9.8 million jobs down from the February 2020 employment peak, having recovered only 55 percent of the jobs lost. And, as the following chart illustrates, the percentage of jobs lost remains greater, even now after months of job growth, than it was at any point during the Great Recession.
Workers in the United States are in the midst of a punishing COVID-19 economic crisis. Unfortunately, while a new fiscal spending package and an effective vaccine can bring needed relief, a meaningful sustained economic recovery will require significant structural changes in the operation and orientation of the economy.
While the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the United States were triggered by recent police murders of unarmed African Americans, they are also helping to encourage popular recognition that racism has a long history with punishing consequences for black people that extend beyond policing. Among the consequences are enormous disparities between black and white well-being and security. This post seeks to draw attention to some of these disparities by highlighting black-white trends in unemployment, wages, income, wealth, and security.
A common refrain during this pandemic is that “We are all in it together.” Although this is true in the sense that almost all of us find our lives transformed for the worst because of COVID-19, it is also not true in some very important ways. For example, African Americans are disproportionally dying from the virus. They account for 22.4 percent of all COVID-19 deaths despite making up only 12.5 percent of the population.
One reason is that African Americans also disproportionally suffer from serious preexisting health conditions, a lack of health insurance, and inadequate housing, all of which increased their vulnerability to the virus. Another reason is that black workers are far more likely than white workers to work in “front-line” jobs, especially low-wage ones, forcing them to risk their health and that of their families. While black workers comprise 11.9 percent of the labor force, they make up 17 percent of all front-line workers. They represent an even higher percentage in some key front-line industries: 26 percent of public transit workers; 19.3 percent of child care and social service workers; and 18.2 percent of trucking, warehouse and postal service workers.
African Americans have also disproportionately lost jobs during this pandemic. The black employment to adult population ratio fell from 59.4 percent before the start of the pandemic to a record low of 48.8 percent in April. Not surprisingly, recent surveys find, as the Washington Postreports, that:
More than 1 in 5 black families now report they often or sometimes do not have enough food — more than three times the rate for white families. Black families are also almost four times as likely as whites to report they missed a mortgage payment during the crisis — numbers that do not bode well for the already low black homeownership rate.
This pandemic has hit African Americans especially hard precisely because they were forced to confront it from a position of economic and social vulnerability as the following trends help to demonstrate.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting separate data on African American unemployment in January 1972. Since then, as the figure below shows, the African American unemployment rate has largely stayed at or above twice the white unemployment rate.
Between strides in civil rights legislation, desegregation of government, and increases in educational attainment, employment gaps should have narrowed by now, if not completely closed. Yet as [the figure above] shows, this has not been the case.
The figure below from an Economic Policy Institute study, shows the black-white wage gap for workers in different earning percentiles, by education level, and regression-adjusted (to control for age, gender, education and regional differences). As we can see, the wage gap has grown over time regardless of measure.
Elise Gould summarizes some important take-aways from this study:
The black–white wage gap is smallest at the bottom of the wage distribution, where the minimum wage serves as a wage floor. The largest black–white wage gap as well as the one with the most growth since the Great Recession, is found at the top of the wage distribution, explained in part by the pulling away of top earners generally as well as continued occupational segregation, the disproportionate likelihood for white workers to occupy positions in the highest-wage professions.
It’s clear from the figure that education is not a panacea for closing these wage gaps. Again, this should not be shocking, as increased equality of educational access—as laudable a goal as it is—has been shown to have only small effects on class-based wage inequality, and racial wealth gaps have been almost entirely unmoved by a narrowing of the black–white college attainment gap . . . . And after controlling for age, gender, education, and region, black workers are paid 14.9% less than white workers.
The next figure shows that while median household income has generally stagnated for all races/ethnicities over the period 2000 to 2017, only blacks have suffered an actual decline. The median income for black households actually fell from $42,348 to $40,258 over this period. As a consequence, the black-white income gap has grown. The median black household in 2017 earned just 59 cents for every dollar of income earned by the white median household, down from 65 cents in 2000.
Moreover, as Valerie Wilson, points out, “Based on [Economic Policy Institute] imputed historical income values, 10 years after the start of the Great Recession in 2007, only African American and Asian households have not recovered their pre-recession median income.“ Median household income for African American households fell 1.9 percent or $781 over the period 2007 to 2017. While the decline was greater for Asian households (3.8 percent), they continued to have the highest median income.
The wealth gap between black and white households also remains large. In 1968, median black household wealth was $6,674 compared with median white household wealth of $70,768. In 2016, as the figure below shows, it was $13,024 compared with $149,703.
“The historical data reveal that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years,” wrote economists Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick and Ulrike I. Steins in their analysis of U.S. incomes and wealth since World War II.
As of 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, you would have to combine the net worth of 11.5 black households to get the net worth of a typical white U.S. household.
The self-reinforcing nature of racial discrimination is well illustrated in the next figure. It shows the median household wealth by education level as defined by the education level of the head of household.
As we see, black median household wealth is below white median household wealth at every education level, with the gap growing with the level of education. In fact, the median black household headed by someone with an advanced degree has less wealth than the median white household headed by someone with only a high school diploma. The primary reason for this is that wealth is passed on from generation to generation, and the history of racism has made it difficult for black families to accumulate wealth much less pass it on to future generations.
The dollar value of household ownership of liquid assets is one measure of economic security. The greater the value, the easier it is for a household to weather difficult times not to mention unexpected crises, such as today’s pandemic. And as one might expect in light of the above income and wealth trends, black households have far less security than do white households.
As we can see in the following figure, the median black household held only $8,762 in liquid assets (as defined as the sum of all cash, checking and savings accounts, and directly held stocks, bonds, and mutual funds). In comparison, the median white household held $49,529 in liquid assets. And the black-white gap is dramatically larger for households headed by someone with a bachelors degree or higher.
The fight against police violence against African Americans, now being advanced in the streets, will eventually have to be expanded and the struggle for racial justice joined to a struggle for economic justice. Ending the disparities highlighted above will require nothing less than a transformational change in the organization and workings of our economy.
One hopeful sign is the widespread popular support for and growing participation in the Black Lives Matter-led movement that is challenging not only racist policing but the idea of policing itself and is demanding that the country acknowledge and confront its racist past. Perhaps the ways in which our current economic system has allowed corporations to so quickly shift the dangers and costs of the pandemic on to working people, following years of steady decline in majority working and living conditions, is helping whites better understand the destructive consequences of racism and encouraging this political awakening.
If so, perhaps we have arrived at a moment where it will be possible to build a multi-racial working class-led movement for structural change that is rooted in and guided by a commitment to achieving economic justice for all people of color. One can only hope that is true for all our sakes.
The announcement by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the federal unemployment rate declined to 13.3 percent in May, from 14.7 percent in April, took most analysts by surprise. The economy added 2.5 million jobs in May, the first increase in employment since February. Most economists had predicted further job losses and a rise in the unemployment rate to as high as 20 percent.
This employment gain has encouraged some analysts, especially those close to the Trump administration, to proclaim that their predicted V-shaped economic recovery had begun. But there are strong reasons to believe that the US economy is far from recovery.
Long term trends and the coronavirus
Predictions for a V-shaped recovery rest to a considerable degree on the belief that our current economic collapse was caused by state mandated business closures to battle the coronavirus which unsurprisingly choked off our long expansion. Now that a growing number of states are ending their forced lockdowns it is only natural that the economy would resume growing. Certainly, the stock market’s recent rise suggests that many investors agree.
However, there are many reasons to challenge this upbeat story of impending recovery. One of the most important is that the pre-coronavirus period of expansion (June 2009 to February 2020), although the longest on record, was also one of the weakest. It was marked by slow growth, weak job creation, deteriorating job quality, declining investment, rising debt, declining life expectancy, and narrowing corporate profit margins. In other words, the economy was heading toward recession even before the start of state mandated lockdowns. For example, the manufacturing sector spent much of 2019 in recession.
Another reason is that the downturn in economic activity that marks the start of our current recession predates lockdown orders. It was driven by health concerns. As Emily Badger and Alicia Parlapiano explain in their New York Times article, and as illustrated in the following graphic taken from the article:
In the weeks before states around the country issued lockdown orders this spring, Americans were already hunkering down. They were spending less, traveling less, dining out less. Small businesses were already cutting employment. Some were even closing shop.
People were behaving this way — effectively winding down the economy — before the government told them to. And that pattern, apparent in a range of data looking back over the past two months, suggests in the weeks ahead that official pronouncements will have limited power to open the economy back up.
In some states that have already begun that process, like Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Alaska, the same daily economic data shows only meager signs so far that businesses, workers and consumers have returned to their old routines.
Thus, while some rebound in economic growth is to be expected given the severity of the downturn to this point, it is unlikely that the May employment jump signals the start of a powerful economic recovery. Weak underlying economic conditions and health worries remain significant obstacles.
In fact, even the optimistic US Congressional Budget Office predicts at best a long, slow recovery. As Michael Roberts describes:
It now expects US nominal GDP to fall 14.2% in the first half of 2020, from the trend it forecast in January before the COVID-19 pandemic broke. Then it expects the various fiscal and monetary injections by the authorities and the end of the lockdowns to reduce this loss from the January figure to 9.4% by end 2020. The CBO still expects a sort of V-shaped recovery in US GDP in 2021 but does not expect the pre-pandemic crisis trend in US economic growth (already reduced in the Long Depression since 2009) to be reached until 2029 and may not even return to the previous trend growth forecast until after 2030! So there will be a permanent loss of 5.3% in nominal GDP compared to pre-COVID forecasts – $16trn in value lost forever. In real GDP terms, the loss will be about 3% cumulatively, or $8trn in 2019 money. And this assumes no second wave in the pandemic and no financial collapse as companies go bust.
Depression level unemployment
Although President Trump has celebrated the May employment gains, the fact is we continue to suffer depression level unemployment. The following figure from the Washington Post provides some historical perspective. The current official unemployment rate of 13.3 percent is more than a third higher than the highest level of unemployment reached during the Great Recession.
But even the Bureau of Labor Statistics acknowledges that because of the unique nature of the current crisis the official announced unemployment rate for each of the last three months is flawed. The unemployment rate is based on household surveys. For the past three months, in an attempt to better understand the impact of the coronavirus, interviewers were supposed to classify people not working because of the virus as “unemployed on temporary layoff.” However, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics acknowledges, many of those people were incorrectly classified as “employed but absent at work,” which is the classification used when a person isn’t coming to work because of vacation, illness, bad weather, a labor dispute, or other reasons. People in this latter category are not counted as unemployed.
The BLS has determined that correcting the classification error would boost the official April unemployment rate to 19.7 percent and the May rate to 16.3 percent. And, it is important to note that this unemployment rate does not include those workers who have stopped looking for work and those who are involuntarily working part-time. Including them would push the May rate close to 25 percent.
Stephen Moore, an economic adviser to President Trump, has stated that the May job numbers take “a lot of the wind out of the sails of any phase 4 [stimulus bill] — we don’t need it now. There’s no reason to have a major spending bill. The sense of urgent crisis is very greatly dissipated by the report.” This is crazy.
Danger signs ahead
There are three reasons to fear that without substantial new federal action May employment gains will be short-lived.
First, it has been relatively low-wage production and nonsupervisory workers who have suffered the greatest number of job losses. That has left many businesses relatively top-heavy with managers and high-income professionals. A number of business analysts are now predicting a new wave of layoffs or firings of higher-income and management personal to bring staffing levels back into pre-coronavirus balance.
The following figure shows that almost 90 percent of the jobs lost from mid-February to mid-April were in the six lowest paid supersectors as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The May employment gains were also in these six sectors.
Economists with Bloomberg Economics are now warning of a second wave of job losses that will include “higher-paid supervisors in sectors where frontline workers were hit first, such as restaurants and hotels. It also includes the knock on-effects to connected industries such as professional services, finance and real estate.”
As Bloomberg explains:
The pandemic isn’t finished with the U.S. labor market, threatening a second wave of job cuts—this time among white-collar workers. . . .
For the analysis, [Bloomberg Economics economists] looked at job losses by sector in March and April—with affected industries dominated by blue-collar, hospitality and production workers—and determined how those layoffs would move to supervisory positions, since management cuts tend to lag the frontline workers.
The economists then took government data on relations between industries to compute the ones most reliant on demand from the most-affected sectors. Combining that information with the hit to employment in the most affected sectors they extrapolated to other jobs at risk, most of which were higher-skilled, white-collar roles.
The second reason to downplay the significance of the May employment gains is that critically important stimulus measures–in particular the one-time grant of $1200 for individuals and the $600 a week additional unemployment benefit (which expires at the end of July)–appear unlikely to be renewed. If that boost to earnings is withdrawn, economic demand and employment will likely fall again.
As Ben Casselman, writing in the New York Times, points out:
Research routinely finds that unemployment insurance is one of the most effective parts of the safety net, both in cushioning the effects of job loss on families and in lifting the economy. In economists’ parlance, the program is “well targeted” — it goes to people who need the money and who will spend it. Various studies have found that in the last recession, the system helped prevent 1.4 million foreclosures, saved two million jobs and kept five million people out of poverty.
The impact could be greater in this crisis because the program is reaching more people and giving them more money. The government paid $48 billion in benefits in April and has reached $86 billion in May, according to the Treasury Department.
As the following figure shows, almost all workers have suffered significant declines in employment income with low income workers taking the biggest hit.
Yet, the increase in food insecurity has been relatively small, especially for low income workers.
It is, as highlighted in the next figure, the massive individual benefit boosts included in the March stimulus package that has so far kept the decline in employment income from translating into dramatic spikes in food insecurity. If Congress refuses to pass a new stimulus that includes direct aid to the unemployed, the odds are great that the economic recovery will stall and unemployment will grow again.
The last reason for pessimism is the likely further contraction in state and local government spending and, by extension, employment and services, as a result of declining revenue. State and local government employment fell by 1 million from February to April, and by an additional 600 million in May. Looking just at state budgets, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates a shortfall in state budgets of $765 billion over fiscal years 2020-22, “much deeper than in the Great Recession of about a decade ago” (see the figure below).
And unfortunately, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities also notes, the federal government has, up to now, been unwilling to do much to help state governments manage their ballooning deficits:
Federal aid that policymakers provided in earlier COVID-19 packages isn’t nearly enough. Only about $65 billion is readily available to narrow state budget shortfalls. Treasury Department guidance now says that states may use some of the aid in the CARES Act of March to cover payroll costs for public safety and public health workers, but it’s unclear how much of state shortfalls that might cover; existing aid likely won’t cover much more than $100 billion of state shortfalls, leaving nearly $665 billion unaddressed. States hold $75 billion in their rainy-day funds, a historically high amount but far too little to meet the unprecedented challenge they face. And, even if states use all of it to cover their shortfalls, that still leaves them about $600 billion short.
States must balance their budgets every year, even in recessions. Without substantial federal help during this crisis, they very likely will deeply cut areas such as education and health care, lay off teachers and other workers in large numbers, and cancel contracts with many businesses. . . . That would worsen the recession, delay the recovery, and further harm families and communities.
Without a new stimulus measure that also includes support for state and local governments, their forced reduction in spending and cuts in employment can only add to the existing pressures working against recovery.
In sum, the crisis is real. A new stimulus that included a renewal of special unemployment payments as well as direct support for state and local governments and other critical services like the postal service could help stabilize the economy. But real progress will require a major effort on the part of the federal government to ensure adequate production of COVID-19 test kits and PPE as well as nationwide testing and contact tracing programs and then, most importantly, a fundamental reorganization of our economy.
While there are great differences between the crises and political movements and possibilities of the 1930s and now, there are also important lessons that can be learned from the efforts of activists to build mass movements for social transformation during the Great Depression. My aim in this paper is to illuminate the challenges faced and choices made by these activists and draw out some of the relevant lessons for contemporary activists seeking to advance a Green New Deal.
Advocates of a Green New Deal often point to the New Deal and its government programs to demonstrate the possibility of a progressive state-directed process of economic change. I wrote my article to show that the New Deal was a response to growing mass activity that threatened the legitimacy and stability of the existing economic and political order rather than elite good-will, and to examine the movement building process that generated that activity.
Depression-era activists were forced to organize in a period of economic crisis, mass unemployment and desperation, and state intransigence. While they fell short of achieving their goal of social transformation, they did build a movement of the unemployed and spark a wave of militant labor activism that was powerful enough to force state policy-makers to embrace significant, although limited, social reforms, including the creation of programs of public employment and systems of social security and unemployment insurance.
Differences between that time period and this one are shrinking and the lessons we can learn from studying the organizing strategies and tactics of those activists are becoming ever more relevant. The US economy is now in a deep recession, one that will be more devastating than the Great Recession. US GDP shrank at a 4.8 percent annualized rate in the first quarter of this year and will likely contract at a far greater 25 percent annualized rate in the second quarter. While most analysts believe the economy will begin growing again in the third quarter, their predictions are for an overall yearly decline in the 6-8 percent range. As for the years ahead—no one can really say. The Economist, for example, is talking about a 90 percent economy for years after the current lockdown ends. In other words, life will remain hard for most working people for some time.
Not surprisingly, given the size of the economic contraction, unemployment has also exploded. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “In the past six weeks, nearly 28 million, or one in six, workers applied for unemployment insurance benefits across the country.” More than a quarter of the workforce in the following states have filed for benefits: Hawaii, Kentucky, Georgia, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Nevada. And tragically, millions of other workers have been prevented from applying because of outdated state computer systems and punitive regulations as well as overworked employment department staff. Even at its best, the US unemployment system, established in 1935 as part of the New Deal reforms, was problematic, paying too little, for too short a time period, and with too many eligibility restrictions. Now, it is collapsing under the weight of the crisis.
Yet, at the same time, worker organizing and militancy is growing. Payday Report has a strike tracker that has already identified over 150 strikes, walkouts, and sickouts since early March across a range of sectors and industries, including retail, fast food, food processing, warehousing, manufacturing, public sector, health care, and the gig economy. As an Associated Pressstory points out:
Across the country, the unexpected front-line workers of the pandemic — grocery store workers, Instacart shoppers and Uber drivers, among them — are taking action to protect themselves. Rolling job actions have raced through what’s left of the economy, including Pittsburgh sanitation workers who walked off their jobs in the first weeks of lockdown and dozens of fast-food workers in California who left restaurants last week to perform socially distant protests in their cars.
Rather than defending workers, governments are now becoming directly involved in suppressing their struggles. For example, after meatpacker walkouts closed at least 22 meat plans and threatened the operation of many others, triggered by an alarming rise in the number of workers testing positive for the virus, President Trump signed an executive order requiring companies to remain open and fully staffed. It remains to be seen how workers will respond. In Pennsylvania, the Governor responded to nurse walkouts at nursing homes and long-term care facilities to protest a lack of protective equipment by sending national guard members to replace them.
Activists throughout the country are now creatively exploring ways to support those struggling to survive the loss of employment and those engaged in workplace actions to defend their health and well-being. Many are also seeking ways to weave the many struggles and current expressions of social solidarity together into a mass movement for radical transformation. Despite important differences in political and economic conditions, activists today are increasingly confronting challenges that are similar to ones faced by activists in the 1930s and there is much we can learn from a critical examination of their efforts. My article highlights what I believe are some of the most important lessons.
US life expectancy is on the decline, falling from 2014 to 2017—the first years of decline in life expectancy in over twenty years. And according to Steven H. Woolf and Heidi Schoomaker, authors of the recently published “Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates in the United States, 1959-2017” in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “A major contributor has been an increase in mortality from specific causes (e.g., drug overdoses, suicides, organ system diseases) among young and middle-aged adults of all racial groups, with an onset as early as the 1990s and with the largest relative increases occurring in the Ohio Valley and New England.”
Declining life expectancy
In 1960, the US had the highest life expectancy of any country in the world. By 2017 US life expectancy significantly trailed that of other comparable countries, as illustrated below.
In 1980, the difference between average life expectancy in the US and that of comparable countries was not large–73.7 years versus 74.5 years. However, as we can see in the next figure, the gap steadily grew over the following years. The US gained 4.9 years in average life expectancy from 1980 to 2017; comparable countries gained 7.8 years on average.
As researchers for the Kaiser Family Foundation point out, “The U.S. and most comparable countries experienced a slight decline in life expectancy in 2015. By 2016, life expectancy for these comparable countries rebounded to pre-2015 numbers, but in the US, such a bounce back did not occur.” After averaging 78.9 years in 2014, averaged life expectancy in the US fell to 78.7 years in both 2015 and 2016, and then dropped again in 2017 to 78.6 years. These declines mark the first decreases in US life expectancy in more than 20 years.
Moreover, this growing gap and outright decline in average life expectancy holds for both US males and females, as we see from the following figure.
The growing social crisis
Woolf and Schoomaker drew upon 50 years’ worth of data from the US Mortality Database and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database in an attempt to explain why US life expectancy has not kept pace with that of other wealthy countries and is now falling. Their primary finding, as noted above, is that US life expectancy is being dragged down by “an increase in mortality from specific causes (eg, drug overdoses, suicides, organ system diseases) among young and middle-aged adults of all racial groups.”
More specifically, while over the period 1999-2017, infant mortality, mortality rates among children and early adolescents (1-14 years of age), and age-adjusted mortality rates among adults 65-84 all declined, individuals aged 25-64 “experienced retrogression” beginning in 2010, as we can see in the following figures taken from their article. Between 2010 and 2017, these midlife adults experienced a 6 percent total increase in mortality rate. This increase overwhelmed gains experienced by the other age cohorts, dragging down overall US average life expectancy.
Woolf and Schoomaker concluded that there were multiple causes for this rise in mortality rates among individuals 25-64. However, they highlighted drug overdose, alcohol abuse and suicide as among the most important. This age cohort experienced a nearly four-fold increase in fatal drug overdoses between 1999 and 2017. Their suicide rates went up nearly 40 percent over the same period. The rate of alcohol-related disease deaths soared by almost 160 percent for those 25-34 years.
In an interview with BusinessInsider, Woolf wrestled with why the country is experiencing such a dramatic rise in mortality rates among young and middle aged adults. “It’s a quandary of why this is happening when we spend so much on healthcare,” Woolf said, adding: “But my betting money is on the economy.”
That seems like a pretty safe answer. It also raises the question: how do we help working people understand the increasingly toxic nature of the workings of the US economy and build the ties of solidarity necessary to advance the struggle for system transformation.