Economic Anxiety and Suicide

During the 2016 election (and afterwards too), there was an entire cottage industry devoted to arguing that economic issues didn’t play any role in the election outcome (or so small as to not matter). The first study used to justify this position–one promoted by Matthew Yglesias, who is just smart enough to fuck up statistical analysis–was conducted by Jonathan Rothwell. Those who didn’t bother to read the paper (or were unable to understand it) took away the message that racism was the primary determinant of Trump support, even as increased mortality was nearly as strong a determinant (and according to one model used in the paper, the strongest).

As some asshole with a blog noted:

…there is a large economic component of health outcomes. How pundits can claim this paper proves that Trump’s support is exclusively due to racism escapes me when white mortality is a strong indicator of Trump support. As Rothwell himself notes, “Yet, more subtle measures at the commuting zone level provide evidence that social well-being, measured by longevity and intergenerational mobility, is significantly lower among in the communities of Trump supporters.”

…obviously racism plays a significant role in the rise of Il Trumpe–I’ve made that point myself for years (and, for what little it’s worth, I was claiming the Republicans were a white nationalist party long before it was cool). Unless you want to claim that the increased white mortality in pro-Trump communities is largely genetic, and that underlying genetic variation is driving this pattern, health outcomes and intergenerational mobility are economic issues–and, taking the paper at face value, these seem to have an effect–meaning their solution requires economic remedies.

Well, there’s an effective intervention for preventing suicide (boldface mine):

Since 2000, the suicide rate in the United States has risen 35 percent, primarily because of the significant increase in such deaths among the white population…

Researchers have found that when the minimum wage in a state increased, or when states boosted a tax credit for working families, the suicide rate decreased.

Raising the minimum wage and the earned-income tax credit (EITC) by 10 percent each could prevent about 1,230 suicides annually, according to a working paper circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research this week.

…The team found little change in drug overdoses, whether intentional or accidental, after the new policies took effect. This falls in line with the growing consensus that, unlike other deaths of despair, drug overdoses probably are linked to increased availability of addictive (and lethal) drugs.

…But the number of suicides that weren’t related to drugs dropped noticeably. Among adults without a college education, increasing the EITC by 10 percent appears to have decreased non-drug suicides by about 5.5 percent. Raising the minimum wage by 10 percent reduced suicides by 3.6 percent.

Although raising the minimum wage led to an immediate decrease in suicides, raising the EITC had a delayed effect, resulting in fewer suicides the following year, once the tax change came into force. In both cases, it appears as though taking home more money had a positive effect….

A March study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also found that a one-dollar increase in the minimum wage was associated with a 1.9 percent decrease in suicides, and that the association was strongest between 2011 and 2016, the most recent year studied.

Like my Uncle Harry used to say, “Rich or poor, it’s always good to have money.”

By the way, this isn’t just about white men. Guess who is helped the most?

The effect was strongest among young women and others who were most likely to have minimum-wage jobs. Among men, black and Hispanic Americans saw the largest effect.

If we needed to convince most Trump supporters then we would be screwed: a large component of his support is bigoted and supports him due to that bigotry. But we don’t need most of them, just a few*. That these policies also would help women and minorities, who disproportionately don’t vote Trump, is critical. Make enough people’s lives better–that is, govern well–and you can win elections.

*The #NotAll hashtags have been pernicious, as they make things appear binary, when that’s not the case–we just need a few more.

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1 Response to Economic Anxiety and Suicide

  1. Bern says:

    Thanks for the links. See also too Mike Rosmann’s frightening article in the New Republic last April about suicidal farmers.

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