Geography of desperation in America

A Brookings piece based on a new paper by Carol Graham and Sergio Pinto:

“There is much to be troubled about in the state of America today. We boast booming stock markets and record low levels of unemployment, yet significant sectors of our society are dying prematurely from preventable deaths (deaths of despair) and almost 20% of prime aged males are out of the labor force.1 Americans have higher levels of well-being inequality and report more pain on average than countries of comparable and even lower levels of income. There are other signs of decline, ranging from falling levels of civic trust to viscerally divided politics.

These trends have already received significant scholarly attention. Yet we provide a different perspective by tracking the reported well-being and ill-being of individuals and places. We find large differences in these trends across education levels, races, and places. Desperation – and the associated trends in premature mortality – are concentrated among the less than college educated and are much higher among poor whites than poor minorities, who remain optimistic about their futures. The trends are also geographically dispersed, with racially and economically diverse urban and coastal places much more optimistic and with much lower incidences of premature mortality (on average). Both death and desperation are higher in the heartland and in particular in areas that were previously hubs for the manufacturing and mining jobs which have long since disappeared.

Our earlier work shows that the geographic patterns in lack of hope, worry, reported pain, reliance on disability insurance, and deaths of despair are remarkably consistent across these places. Monnat and Brown (2017) find that counties with higher levels of poverty, obesity, deaths due to drugs, alcohol, and suicide, more non-Hispanic whites, individuals on disability or other safety nets, and smokers were the same places where Trump “over-performed” in terms of predicted votes 2016.3

In this paper, we supplement what we know about these race and place-based trends with new research on the role of inter-generational mobility, prime aged individuals out in the labor force, and rural and micropolitan versus urban differences. We explore how patterns across these cohorts, races, and places associate with the worrisome trends in lack of hope and premature death. We also add in new indicators which assess financial, social, purpose, and community level well-being”


Posted by at 12:12 PM

Labels: Inclusive Growth


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