Despair, American Style

You see a somewhat similar pattern across regions within the United States. Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Meanwhile, low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.

.. So what is going on? In a recent interview Mr. Deaton suggested that middle-aged whites have “lost the narrative of their lives.” That is, their economic setbacks have hit hard because they expected better. Or to put it a bit differently, we’re looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true.


.. Ross Douthat and Paul Krugman writing on the same topic and ending in a similar place! I hope both political parties pay attention. This urgent, and will get worse.

The causes are many. Here is another. We are living a game of musical chairs. An economy which doesn’t value people’s efforts, which throws millions of people on the scrap heap with every recession, crushes people’s self esteem. If you grow up in a middle class family, with the expectation that if you’re willing to work, you can have a family, be respected, then find this is impossible, the result is depression and too often suicide.

It’s a terrible thing, but this happened in my own family.

.. Ask almost any white male in his 50s and 60s and he will know of many of his cohorts in the same age group — including himself — who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

Age-and-wage is the No. 1 discrimination factor in the American job market today. And education and experience (years of service) are of little help and make matters worse as seniority and education usually mean higher pay.

Why Trump Matters

..To a great extent, our progressive culture strips ordinary people of almost all settled roles, other than economic ones. This heightens the existential pain of the already harsh economic realities of our globalized economy, which can be very punitive to the poorly educated. Two generations ago, a working class man was often poor or nearly poor, but he could be respected in his neighborhood as a provider for his family, father to his children, law-abiding citizen, coach of a Little League team, and usher in church. The culture that made such a life possible has disintegrated, partly due to large-scale trends in our post-industrial society, but also because of a sustained and ongoing ideological assault on the basic norms for family and community.

.. white people do not know how to suffer successfully.

.. In particular, we explore the possibility that working class disengagement from the institutions of work and marriage (Cherlin, 2009;Wilcox, 2010) are strongly associated with recent declines in religious attendance among white working class Americans.

.. Thus, if moderately educated whites are now less likely to be stably employed, to earn a decent income, to be married with children, and to hold familistic views, they may also be less likely to feel comfortable or interested in regularly attending churches that continue to uphold conventional norms, either implicitly or explicitly

.. the bottom line is that the changes in the American economy over the past few decades have worked to alienate working-class whites from religious life because of the way the white working class connects its sense of self, and of justice, to the ability to be rewarded for hard work, being honest, playing by the rules, and delaying gratification. When this formula fails, they don’t know how to deal with it. Say the sociologists, “In brief, the declining economic position of white working class Americans may have made the bourgeois moral logic embodied in many churches both less attractive and attainable.”