In a paper published last month, Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton showed that over the last 15 years, white middle-aged Americans have been dying at unusually high rates. Most of those deaths were concentrated among people with only a high-school diploma, or less.
Polls say that the same kind of people — older, less-educated whites — are largely responsible for Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the Republican nomination for president.
This could be a coincidence. But it is nonetheless striking that Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” has been most enthusiastically embraced by those who have seen their own life’s prospects diminish the most — not in terms of material wealth, but in terms of literal chance of survival.
Case and Deaton’s work has attracted some controversy. There’s debate over whether the death rate has actually risen for white Americans aged 45-54, as they claim, or if it has just remained the same over the past two decades. But even their critics concede that the bigger picture is alarming.