US working families now prey to twin epidemics
With two epidemics now raging at once, life expectancy is set to fall markedly in the United States in 2021.
By the end of 2020 the United States had reached the frightening milestone of 20 million coronavirus cases with a national death toll of over 350,000 people.
As The Lamp went to print, the death toll had reached 430,000.
More than 10,000 people died in the US in the last three days of 2020 alone, according to data collected by John Hopkins University.
One expert, Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s school of public health, has warned that “several hundred thousand more people” would die in 2021 if the chaotic roll out of vaccines was not resolved.
While the coronavirus is wreaking havoc on American lives it is also accelerating changes in the nature of employment that will exacerbate another epidemic that had been running rampant in the United States well before COVID-19 struck.
Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton and his wife, economist Prof Anne Case had previously shown how life expectancy has been dropping for years among the American white working class through “deaths of despair” – suicides, accidental drug overdoses and alcoholic liver disease.
There were 164,000 deaths from these sources in 2019.
While less-educated white workers have borne the brunt of this first epidemic, African-Americans and Hispanics have been disproportionately killed by COVID-19 according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC says the evidence clearly points to higher rates of hospitalisation or death from COVID-19 among non-Hispanic black persons, Hispanics and Latinos, and American Indians/Alaska Natives than among non-Hispanic white persons.
Stark class differences in fatalities
Deaton and Case say that “while educated elites live longer and more prosperous lives, less-educated Americans – two-thirds of the population – are dying younger and struggling physically, economically, and socially”.
“The rise in deaths that we describe (from deaths of despair) is concentrated almost entirely among those without a bachelor’s degree, a qualification that also tends to divide people in terms of employment, remuneration, morbidity, marriage, and social esteem – all keys to a good life.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is playing out similarly. Many educated professionals have been able to work from home – protecting themselves and their salaries – while many of those who work in services and retail have lost their jobs or face higher occupational risk. When the final tallies are in, there is little doubt that the overall losses in life and money will divide along the same educational fault line,” they wrote on the website Project Syndicate.
Deaton and Case say: “It is now entirely plausible that deaths in the US will rise again as the structure of the economy shifts after the pandemic”.
“The US economy has long been experiencing large-scale disruption, owing to changes in production techniques (especially automation) and, to a lesser extent, globalisation.
“The inevitable disturbances to employment, especially among less-educated workers who are most vulnerable to them, have been made vastly worse by the inadequacy of social safety nets and an absurdly expensive health-care system.”