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Noah Smith

Decline and Fall of America's Working Class

Economics shows that middle-age whites destroy themselves. But why?
A conundrum for economics.

A conundrum for economics.

Ty Wright for/Washington Post/Getty Images

One big piece of news in the past couple of weeks has been the release of a new paper by recent economics Nobel winner Angus Deaton and his co-author Anne Case. The paper highlights a very disturbing trend -- death rates are increasing for white people in America, especially for working-class middle-aged whites. The increase looks like it has been going on since the late 1990s. 

Among other American groups, such as Hispanics and blacks, mortality has fallen across all age and income groups during the past decade and a half. Death rates have also plunged in Europe and in other rich countries. Although some statisticians later found that the mortality increase was a bit less than reported in the Deaton-Case paper, even a slight increase stands in stark contrast to the decline among all other groups.