By now, everyone has heard about the depressed blue-collar White Guy. His jobs have dried up, the mainstream is leaving him behind, and he’s paranoid about signs he’s becoming a minority.
People have blamed this demographic for the Alt-Right, electing Trump, and for generally being a cesspool of simmering privilege. The consensus seems to be they are upset because they are entitled. The world doesn’t revolve around old white men anymore, and they need to adjust.
New data challenges this stereotype. The American Journal of Public Health released analysis of a longitudinal study they started in 1995. Visiting with the participants five times over 20 years, they interviewed them about things like drinking and drug use.
“We examined changes in measures of despair across the early adult life course from adolescence to adulthood from 1994 to 2017…. Whether increases in indicators of despair have been particularly acute among White, low-educated, rural members” like had been found 10 years earlier. “We documented racial/ethnic, educational, and geographic-specific trends in 4 indicators of despair among US adults.”
Their nationally-representative group didn’t show Poor Whites as being especially unhappy at all: ” By contrast to this narrative, our findings demonstrated a generalized increase in multiple indicators of despair among all White, Black, and Hispanic adults in their 30s.”
“[This group] is distinct from earlier cohorts reflected in the rising midlife mortality of low-educated Whites with more highly educated parents, different perceptions of racial and ethnic diversity, and labor market entry following globalization. Nonetheless, the generalized increases in despair indicators we documented are worrisome for forthcoming midlife mortality trends.”
So, these people aren’t entitled racists. They aren’t hicks afraid of modern life. They are everyone.
“Despite a lack of scientific consensus regarding the cause of elevated midlife mortality among Whites, There is some evidence that opioid disorders and declines in mental health are concentrated among low socioeconomic status Whites….”
This is a whole post unto itself!
“….This pattern of rising despair is not isolated to rural America but is heterogeneous across geographic locales…. [The] patterns of despair potentially underlying increased midlife mortality are not restricted to low-educated Whites and [we] caution against an overemphasis on this single demographic group.”
Recently I read a comment in my little corner of the internet written by a Black woman. She said she wants to be called a Black woman because she finds the term Person of Color insulting; As if a Latina, a Black woman and an Indian woman are all in one giant category: Non-White.
Maybe some of the focus on White people is backlash from the way Europeans treated the rest of the world for so long. I have made my personal feelings on old white men clear elsewhere, but the Poor Whites are being screwed over by the same wealthy few as everyone else.
Aside from being exactly my age, this group was interesting because “[it] is nearing the age range of elevated midlife mortality (45–54 years) and is beyond the age range of highest opioid mortality risk from opioids (25–34 years).” In this group born between 1974 and 1983 they found that “suicidal ideation, depressive symptoms, marijuana use, and heavy drinking increased as the cohort aged into their late 30s.”
The older you get, the more you understand just how fucked you were from the beginning.
“We found no evidence that increases in despair were limited to low-educated Whites. Furthermore, levels of despair increased across the 30s in all geographic locales.” Our generation grew up in the glow of the Boomers burning bright. We are left with smoke and ash. And thousands of great songs about how much fun it was.
“If rising despair was indeed responsible for the increases in mortality among earlier cohorts of low-educated Whites, then the generalized increases in despair we documented among a younger and more recent cohort could presage increases in midlife mortality in the coming decade for all population subgroups.”
There probably is something to the notion that working-class whites are mourning a cultural privilege. But, as Lyndon Johnson famously explained, that was an illusion anyway:
The whites may have been at the top of the working-class heap, and so felt the deprivation first. But as the middle class evaporates like a mirage, no amount of Affirmative Action or increasing numbers is going to make much difference.
The Boomers are just the latest hideous iteration of a story that’s been the same forever – A few live lives of comfort on the backs of many others who don’t. This is the story they told us was over. Modern technology was turning the world into a middle-class playscape. Fascist countries were called “backwards.” Castles that once housed despots became museums.
Today’s despots have a different style, they are more collegiate and behave like they are not members of the ruling class. But you will know them by how they are beholden to power, and follow it over principle.
It’s easy to shit on white people and make scapegoats of hillbillies, but the reality is sinking in everywhere that we’ve been duped. The twentieth century was one long con game. Now the wheels are coming off and we are left with the same old problems to solve. Piled on top is the mess made in maniacally skipping into the “Post-Modern” era as if Better Living Through Chemistry were Happily Ever After.
Millennials are more diverse and numerous than any group before us. It feels like an abdication of responsibility to blame the system for the struggle. Work hard, we are told. Get good grades, a good degree, and you will be rewarded. Personal responsibility is empowering except that it fails to support those who stumble. And everyone stumbles. The culture of every-man-for-himself is the ultimate divide and conquer strategy.
California Congresswoman Katie Porter handed it to Jamie Dimon the head of JP Morgan Bank, breaking down for him exactly how impossible his employees’ budgets are.
After detailing his employee’s bottom rung budget and how it doesn’t add up, she asked him, “She’s short $567, what would you suggest she do?”
“I don’t know,” He replied. “I’d have to think about that.”
Many of us find ourselves in positions that seem increasingly impossible. I don’t know how we’re going to fix it but we need to understand we are not alone.