This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, November 30, 2018

Suicides and Drug Overdose Deaths are up; Life Expectancy is Down

I recently blogged about the upward trend in suicide in the U.S., which bucks the global trend of declines in suicides. Yesterday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out three new reports on death in America (no, not death "to" America)--the news is all-bad, as the Associated Press reports:
Suicides and drug overdoses pushed up U.S. deaths last year, and drove a continuing decline in how long Americans are expected to live. 
Overall, there were more than 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, or nearly 70,000 more than the previous year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. It was the most deaths in a single year since the government began counting more than a century ago. 
The increase partly reflects the nation’s growing and aging population. But it’s deaths in younger age groups — particularly middle-aged people — that have had the largest impact on calculations of life expectancy, experts said. 
It is very clear that the widespread availability of opioids is a key factor behind this increase--the means available to kill yourself either deliberately (suicide) or accidentally (drug overdose) are more numerous than ever. But what is the underlying motivating factor? In my earlier blog I mentioned the "sea of despair" that seems to have engulfed middle-aged Americans--especially non-Hispanic Whites. The AP story has a similar story line:
Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, sees a sense of hopelessness. Financial struggles, a widening income gap and divisive politics are all casting a pall over many Americans, he suggested. “I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide,” he said.
This gets us back to the increasingly important issue of wealth and income inequality. It was brought to center stage a a few years ago by Thomas Piketty, and it is almost certainly at the root of many of the social problems we are seeing in the richer nations. 

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