President Donald Trump proclaims the economy the best it has ever been. But for those still suffering, hearing how great things are for everyone else can make things really depressing.
Nicholas Kristof's Sunday editorial in the New York Times explained that for all of Trump's soaring stocks and profitable corporations, things aren't great for many people.
"Yet we live in two Americas, and there’s another side of the country that Trump didn’t mention — one that helped elect him but that he has neglected since," Kristof wrote. "In the other America, suicide rates are at a record high in the post-World War II era, and more Americans die every two weeks from drugs, alcohol, and suicide — 'deaths of despair' — than died in 18 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Kristof explained that it isn't Trump's fault; he's just perpetuating a world after promising another. In some ways, particularly when it comes to healthcare and trade, he's made it worse.
"Important new research finds that 20 million Americans, particularly those with low levels of education, describe all 30 of the last 30 days as 'bad mental health days,'" Kristof wrote.
As farmers and ranchers faced off against Trump's trade war, both bankruptcies and suicides increased, according to the National Farmers Union, Forbes reported.
“These men and women report in effect that every day of life is a bad day,” Kristof cited Dartmouth economist David Blanchflower, who did the research on American happiness.
At the same time, low-income Americans report significant levels of physical pain that is impairing their lives. Wealthier Americans experience less debilitating pain.
"One-third of Americans say that they have been in pain 'often' or 'very often' in the last four weeks," Kristof cited from the study.
Some can come from a lack of affordable healthcare. For people with injuries that never correctly heal, things like physical therapy can make a huge difference. But if private insurance doesn't cover enough of it, or deductibles are high, such things can fall by the wayside.
"In effect, we have a bifurcated economy, marked by prosperity for millions of Americans and by a Social Great Depression for millions of others," Kristof continued. "It’s strange to make a comparison to the Great Depression, for output is surging. But consider the effect on mortality: Even during the Great Depression, life expectancy rose strongly, while in three of the last four years it fell because of deaths of despair."
This kind of depression isn't regional. It's based on economics.
“The crisis is almost invisible for those with a college degree,” he quoted Princeton economist Anne Case, who co-authored a forthcoming book about deaths of despair.
"It is these working-class Americans, white and black alike, who have seen earnings collapse, family structure disintegrate, and mortality climb. These Americans are earning less on average, adjusted for inflation, than their counterparts back in the 1970s," Kristof explained.
“Our story of deaths of despair is essentially a long-run account of destruction of the working class,” said Case's co-author, economist Angus Deaton.
In the 1930s, while the majority of Americans were suffering from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. President Franklin Roosevelt crafted the New Deal to help kickstart jobs, help seniors, and deliver affordable health care. Under Trump, 400,000 children lost their health insurance, and rural hospitals are closing without Obamacare funding.
Unemployment may have dropped, and workers at the very bottom are finally getting wage gains, but Case explained that almost half of Americans over 25 with only a high school diploma aren't in the labor force.
"Meanwhile, the central fact of America today is not its economic vigor but its profound inequity," wrote Kristof. "I noted that private wealth has increased by $800,000 per household. It’s similarly true that whenever Jeff Bezos walks into a room, average wealth there shoots up so that each person becomes, on average, a billionaire. Interesting, but not very meaningful."
There are lots of people trying to draw attention to the need for solutions, but Kristof closed by saying, "indignant columns are not a scalable solution to the problem of labor injustices."