Photographer: Franck Robichon/EPA

Suicide Surge for White Males Followed Freer U.S.-China Trade

Changes to trade rules in 2000 came alongside higher suicide rates in heavily-affected counties

The idea that globalization isn't working for everyone has taken center stage in 2016 as populism sweeps the globe on the back of anti-free trade and anti-immigration rhetoric. 

New research adds texture to the discussion, finding that freer trade between the U.S. and China came alongside higher suicide rates among white males in heavily-impacted U.S. counties. That's the top item in this week's research wrap, which also looks into the composition of the gig economy and how disasters affect inflation. Check this column each Tuesday for a summary of new and interesting studies. 

The dark side of trade liberalization

In 2000, the U.S. granted permanent normal trade relations status to China, a move that exposed some American firms to increased lower-cost competition. A new analysis by Federal Reserve economist Justin Pierce and Yale School of Management's Peter Schott finds that counties vulnerable to that changing dynamic showed higher mortality due to causes of death "linked to relative loss of employment and income" particularly suicide. 

The relationship between the new trade rules and suicide was concentrated among white males, the paper finds, which makes sense because they're heavily employed in manufacturing. The trade policy also came alongside fewer fatal heart attacks, "perhaps due to loss of employment in industries requiring physically strenuous activity."

It could be tough to reverse manufacturing losses at this point. Read more on that in this Brookings Institution post

Trade Liberalization and Mortality: Evidence from U.S. Counties
Published November 2016
Available at the NBER website

Who's driving your Uber? 

More than 460,000 Americans drove for the ride-service Uber in 2015, with the number active doubling every six months between mid-2012 and the end of last year. That exponential growth opens a question: who makes up the rapidly-expanding labor market? 

Uber drivers are younger than taxi drivers, and women make up 14 percent, versus 8 percent of taxi drivers and chauffeurs. Uber drivers are also more likely to be white and non-Hispanic, and about half have a college degree or higher which actually exceeds the 41 percent of people in the U.S. workforce with that level of education. In 2015,  52 percent of Uber drivers had a full-time job in addition to driving.  Asked why they were driving Uber, many respondents in the survey cited flexibility. Another new Pew Research analysis of the gig economy shows that most "platform economy" workers hold the job for fun, while helping to fill income gaps comes in second.

An Analysis of the Labor Market for Uber's Driver-Partners in the United States
Published November 2016
Available on the NBER website

Disasters and inflation

Earthquakes, storms and droughts can cause major economic disruptions in addition to their human toll, and their impact on inflation can be pronounced in emerging economies. The authors analyze 212 countries, and their findings "point to a considerable heterogeneity in the impact of disasters" by type, timing and development level. 

Earthquakes reduce inflation excluding food, housing and energy, while storms push up food costs in the short-term. Floods increase headline inflation in the quarter in which the flooding occurs. 

The impact of disasters on inflation 
Published Nov. 21, 2016
Available on the ECB website

The U.S.'s silver workforce

About one in four people in the U.S. labor force are projected to be age 55 or older by 2024, up from 11.9 percent in 1994. That's partly because the population is aging, and partly because labor force participation is increasing among older workers, even as it drops for the broader population. 

In a new analysis, the Department of Labor digs into why that's happening. Part of it may be that workers are living longer, with life expectancy at retirement age three years higher in 2014 than it was in 1980. It could also owe to changes in Social Security and the decline in defined benefit retirement plans. 

Why More People Ages 55+ are Working
Published Nov. 18, 2016
Available on the Department of Labor blog