Meaning and Pride Come “From Being Part of a Shared Enterprise”

(p. 6) . . . over the past three decades, deaths of despair among whites without a college degree–especially those under age 50–have soared.

. . .

Case and Deaton — a married couple who are both economists at Princeton — try to explain the causes in a new book, “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.” Their basic answer is that working-class life in the United States is more difficult than it is in any other high-income country.

. . .

Many of the problems afflicting the working class span racial groups, and Case and Deaton emphasize that these problems aren’t merely financial. Life for many middle- and low-income Americans can lack structure, status and meaning. People don’t always know what days or hours they will be working the following week. They often don’t officially work for the company where they spend their days, which robs them of the pride that comes from being part of a shared enterprise.

“Many people used to associate the meaning of their life with what their corporation or institution was doing,” says Deaton, a Nobel laureate in economics. Miners and factory workers identified themselves as such. Warehouse workers, especially those whose paycheck is signed by a staffing company, rarely feel the same connection.

The result of these trends has been a “coming apart,” as Case and Deaton put it, of day-to-day life for whites without a college degree versus those with a college degree.

For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson. “Dying of ‘Despair’ in America.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, MARCH 8, 2020): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 6, 2020, and has the title “How Working-Class Life Is Killing Americans, in Charts.”)

The book by Case and Deaton, discussed in the passages quoted above, is:

Case, Anne, and Angus Deaton. Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2020.

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