White Americans without a college degree are becoming more likely to die in middle age, reversing decades of progress toward better health.
Researchers first noticed this worrisome trend last year. They pointed to increases in opioid abuse, obesity and suicide among the causes of death, but what caused these increases has remained something of a mystery.
This week, a pair of economists have advanced a new theory. They suggest that, for many workers, a major shift in the structure of the U.S. economy may have been fatal.
The researchers, Justin Pierce and Peter Schott, found evidence that trade with China has resulted in greater rates of suicide and poisonings (including fatal drug overdoses) after 2000, when President Clinton and Republican lawmakers allowed a major increase in imports.
Pierce and Schott suggest that as competition with Chinese manufacturing forced U.S. factories to close, many of the Americans who were laid off never got their lives back together. Instead, they fell into depression or addiction. White adults, in particular, suffered from the change in policy.