Week In Review
September 23, 2012
by Bill Onasch
Why Are White Drop-Outs Dying Faster?
Sabrina Tavernise opened a New York Times paywall-protected article entitled Life Expectancy Shrinks for Less-Educated Whites in U.S.,
“For generations of Americans, it was a given that children would live longer than their parents. But there is now mounting evidence that this enduring trend has reversed itself for the country’s least-educated whites, an increasingly troubled group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990.”
While women of all class and demographic groups have historically outlived men these new peer reviewed studies establish that the average life span of under-educated white women has dropped fastest of all–a full five years between 1990-2008.
“The five-year decline for white women rivals the catastrophic seven-year drop for Russian men in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity in London.”
Of course, the tried and true behavioral explanations of smoking and unhealthy diets are not overlooked by experts. But these factors are surely just as common among Blacks and Latinos without high school diplomas–and their life spans have shown modest improvement, Latinos most of all. Even the well-educated and well-to-do fall in to such bad habits–and other more expensive ones. They may be more symptoms than origin of rising mortality. The Soviet example is probably closer to the decisive cause.
Today most workers of any skin pigment who didn’t complete even high school are likely to be poor. But well in to the Eighties white high school drop-outs could still find good blue collar jobs and were in fact a significant part of the semi-mythical Middle Class.
This fact was driven home for me through personal experience. In 1985, my former employer, Litton Microwave, began to close its four Minneapolis-area plants. UE Local 1139 arranged to get a TAA-TRA-funded Dislocated Worker Project established at Minneapolis Community College. I was selected to be a Union Placement Specialist, a general factotum involved in enrolling union workers being axed, helping to get them in to retraining and./or new jobs, representing their general interests in dealing with the program bureaucracy--and other duties as required.
My first priority was enrolling the initial wave of laid-off workers in to the program. These were mainly from my department, sheet metal fabrication, and the paint shop--workers I knew quite well. While the assembly lines were a big majority women, including many African-Americans, American Indians, and Vietnamese, fab and paint were still a big majority white males over the age of 30. I soon discovered I didn’t know them as well as I thought.
One of the first to accept an invitation to visit my office I will dub, out of privacy respect, Joe the Machine Operator. After doing his compulsory military duty Joe used on the job experience to eventually become highly skilled in setting up and operating punch presses, press brakes, shears, and spot welders. At age fifty, he had a marriage that seemed to work, one kid in college and another about to start, and was half-way through a twenty-year mortgage. He was interested in my recruitment pitch so I handed him the two-page enrollment form to fill in so we could get him started.
But after barely glancing at the paper Joe said he would take the form home to work on and would bring it back. He insisted that he wanted to keep the “Old Lady” involved from the beginning. Some others coming in also took the forms with them, offering excuses such as “I left my reading glasses at home.”
Eventually I learned that several senior skilled men I had worked beside, and shared lunch and breaks with for a decade, were functionally illiterate school dropouts. They relied on wives and kids to fill out important paper work. Their competence on the job, and their ability to discuss current events based on what they learned from radio and television, effectively disguised what, for them, was an embarrassment.
There were few happy outcomes for any of the Litton workers. There was an epidemic of plant closings in the Twin Cities at the time and blue collar opportunities there never fully recovered .As things got tough for those “dislocated” the statistically predictable suicides, divorces, foreclosures, and bankruptcies followed. Along with lost income there was loss of access to health care.
Unlike Romney’s 47 percent, the still proud newly impoverished white workers were initially reluctant to seek help to which they were entitled and had supported by taxes paid while working. They in fact had little idea of those few useful programs available. These formerly “privileged” whites lacked the support networks in their communities that poor people of color have, through necessity, put together over generations. This was a segue in to the period examined in the studies cited in the Times article, a time that has also been graphically documented from various angles by film maker Michael Moore.
There is no more telling example of the utter failure of health care in our society than a rising mortality rate among a group of millions of Americans. Many are dying needlessly because of complications from untreated--but easily treatable--disorders such as high blood pressure and cholesterol build up. This should spark discussion and outrage among a far bigger audience than just the erudite readership of the New York Times. It requires action beyond limiting the size of sugary beverages or heavily taxing cigarettes.
Presently there is supposed to be a great debate about our country’s future leading up to an election to determine control of the White House and Capitol Hill. The health care topic has been reduced to for or against ObamaCare and how to “save” Medicare.
Romney has had a tough time denying Obama’s labeling him “the father of ObamaCare” because the President did use the essentially the same scam passed on his opponent’s watch in Massachusetts.
And Medicare? As AARP members were booing Paul Ryan, Margot Sanger-Katz opened a National Journal article,
“In his convention speech in Charlotte, President Obama vowed to block the Republican Medicare reform plan because ‘no American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies.’ But back in Washington, his Health and Human Services Department is launching a pilot program that would shift up to 2 million of the poorest and most-vulnerable seniors out of the federal Medicare program and into private health insurance plans overseen by the states.”
Some will say, “sounds like the same old, same old.” They are wrong. Things are getting worse in almost every respect for the working class–including many dying sooner than need be.
Our labor statespersons don’t like to raise such unpleasantness about their “friends” during an election campaign. The Labor Campaign for Single-Payer will try to regroup with a National Strategy Conference in Chicago, January 11-13, 2013. I wish them well in this matter of life and death.
¶ From an AP story: “With joblessness persistently high, the gap between rich and poor increased in the last year, according to two major census measures. Also, the median, or midpoint, household income was $50,054, 1.5 percent lower than 2010 and a second straight decline.” The reports also show 48.6 million Americans lacked any kind of health care coverage last year.
¶ The CWA and IBEW finally reached tentative agreements with Verizon. Jenny Brown writes in Labor Notes, “The telecom giant won several important concessions. For the first time members would pay a portion of health insurance premiums. Workers retiring after January 1 would pay the same premiums as active employees for their retiree medical benefits. The unions also agreed new hires would receive a 401(k), not a pension.”
¶ After victory of a “wildcat” strike by a “breakaway” union at a Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, similar strikes have spread to South Africa’s gold mines. AP reported, “Days after soldiers were deployed, South African President Jacob Zuma announced Thursday that he has ordered the military to assist police trying to control labor unrest in the nation's crucial mining sector.” The Scottish Sunday Herald said, “Two people have died after clashes between police and striking miners in South Africa, including a local councillor who was apparently an innocent bystander. African National Congress councillor Paulina Masuhlo was shopping on Saturday in the Wonderkop shantytown, where many miners live, when police firing from an armoured car hit several women.” The founding president of the official COSATU union federation Jay Naidoo has denounced the current repression of miners by the ANC-COSATU.
¶ The Canadian Auto Workers have reached tentative settlements with Ford and General Motors but have yet to seal a deal with more belligerent Fiat-controlled Chrysler. Reporting on the GM agreement the Detroit News summarized, “The tentative contract, like the one agreed to by Ford, would extend the number of years that newly hired employees must work at lower wages before earning top-tier pay. And it would come with a ratification bonus of $3,000 in Canadian funds. Base wages would be frozen throughout the four years of the contract. Cost-of-living adjustments would be suspended until June 2016, though workers would receive annual $2,000 "lump sum cost-of-living improvement" payments in the last three years of the deal. Retirees would not get cost-of-living improvements. New employees will have a hybrid pension system, which combines a defined benefit plan with a defined contribution plan; there would be no change in pension plans for active members.”
¶ From the CBC: “One of Quebec's three biggest student groups is championing the idea of free university education, now that tuition hikes are officially off the table. Several hundred people supporting that cause took part in a rally and march on Saturday in Montreal — a regular occurrence on the 22nd of each month since the start of the Quebec student crisis in the winter.”
¶ The BBC reports from Lisbon: “The center-right government in Portugal has agreed to look for alternatives to a social security tax rise a week after huge anti-austerity street protests.”
¶ Called the “Great Global Frackdown,” demonstrators rallied Saturday against the natural gas drilling process known as fracking in dozens of cities across the USA as well as in Canada, France, South Africa, and Australia.
¶ From an LA Times article posted on the National Nurses United website: “A group of Filipino nurses who claimed they were mocked for their accents and ordered to speak ‘English only’ won a nearly $1-million settlement against a Central California hospital where bosses and co-workers were allegedly urged to eavesdrop on the immigrant workers.”
That’s all for this week.