The Economic Collapse of the Midwest

Growing sense of social status threat and concomitant deaths of despair among whites


Background: A startling population health phenomenon has been unfolding since the turn of the 21st century. Whites in the United States, who customarily have the most favorable mortality profile of all racial groups, have experienced rising mortality rates, without a commensurate rise in other racial groups. The two leading hypotheses to date are that either contemporaneous economic conditions or longer-term (post-1970s) economic transformations have led to declining economic and social prospects of low-educated whites, culminating in “deaths of despair.” We re-examine these hypotheses and investigate a third hypothesis: mortality increases are attributable to (false) perceptions of whites that they are losing social status. Methods: Using administrative and survey data, we examined trends and correlations between race-, age- and, education-specific mortality and a range of economic and social indicators. We also conducted a county-level fixed effects model to determine whether changes in the Republican share of voters during presidential elections, as a marker of growing perceptions of social status threat, was associated with changes in working-age white mortality from 2000 to 2016, adjusting for demographic and economic covariates. Findings: Rising white mortality is not restricted to the lowest education bracket and is occurring deeper into the educational distribution. Neither short-term nor long-term economic factors can themselves account for rising white mortality, because parallel trends (and more adverse levels) of these factors were being experienced by blacks, whose mortality rates are not rising. Instead, perceptions – misperceptions – of whites that their social status is being threatened by their declining economic circumstances seems best able to reconcile the observed population health patterns. Conclusion: Rising white mortality in the United States is not explained by traditional social and economic population health indicators, but instead by a perceived decline in relative group status on the part of whites – despite no actual loss in relative group position.

I don't think that the perception of losing status is false. Whites are discriminated in elite education and employment and constantly vilified in mass media and entertainment. Any attempt to organize as other communities is vehemently denounced and swiftly suppressed. With whites expected to become a minority at national level the future looks really bleak.

I believe that a large subgroup of any low status ethnic group feels the same sense of fear and despair, even when they have higher wealth and education than the politically dominant ethnic group, and I also believe that equality is not actually possible, so the best solution is having ethnically homogenous nation-states where this is possible.

Forgive me, but I'm going to rant. These kinds of articles drive me crazy.

The factories in the Midwest began to close in the 1980’s, and the process terminally accelerated in the early 1990’s.  The economy of many towns in the region collapsed, the mom and pop stores were replaced by big boxes, and everyone who could find a way to escape the region did so, leading to an enormous brain drain.  The remaining population, disproportionately poor and living on disability, was then targeted by Purdue Pharmaceutical in 1996 for sale of its latest pain-relieving medication, which was sold – with supportive labeling by the FDA – as having little to no addictive potential.   This was a complete fabrication, and millions of people became addicted, which was fertile ground for franchised heroin dealers from Nayarit to move in over a porous southern border and begin turning pill addicts to heroin addicts, and even more recently, for Chinese-manufactured fentanyl.  Drug abuse and social decline then drive further economic regression in an ever-tightening spiral.

All of this has been happening for decades. The African American population in the rust belt has been hit just as hard economically as the white population, and when the white people in rust belt towns look at their black neighbors, they don't see anything to envy. It's just that there aren't very many black people in these towns, so their stories don't get told, and their "deaths of despair" aren't heavy enough to weight the statistics. To the extent that there's a racial angle here, it's that the Mexicans from Nayarit won't sell to black people because, well, they're racist.

This story of socioeconomic collapse is entirely typical.  It’s exactly what happened to urban African Americans in the 1970’s-early 1990’s after white flight gutted urban economies until the process of re-urbanization began to rescue many American cities and their black populations a quarter century ago, about the time the decline was really starting to bite in the rust belt.

If you live in a town on the Scioto river, it’s not racial disparities or the lack thereof that drives any sense of despair. It’s the disparity between the way the town is now, and the way it was forty years ago when you were young, and having been present to watch that decline.

The “racial status” narrative is a story that the professional managerial class or the salary class or whatever we’re calling them now, tells itself in order to avoid responsibility for pursuing – and continuing to pursue – the economic policies that have gutted so many former manufacturing towns and left those unable to escape the ruins to rot in them.  This isn’t surprising; the PMC has never come to terms with how it hollowed out American cities sixty years ago, either.  The bourgeoisie are ever vigilant for the speck in the eye of the working class, ever ignorant of the log in their own.

Because the reality is, the PMC is beset on all sides with spiraling prices for higher education, prestigious real estate and other status goods, and the only thing that has allowed its members to sustain their standard of living under these pressures is to continuously push down the cost of manufactured products and labor through offshoring and immigration.  So the working class goes under the bus, and everyone in the PMC sings the Racist Racist song as loudly as possible to drown out the screams and thumping from the undercarriage.