New research identifies a ‘sea of despair’ among white, working-class Americans

Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case continue to report on sickness and early death among white, middle-aged, working-class Americans. (Yana Paskova/For The Washington Post)

For the first time, research findings are showing that white people are not living as long as they once did. This is alarming information to disclose to all in education.  Many times we overlook rural white families and students. We cannot afford to overlook the challenges these families encounter.  This article below sheds information about why white families life expectancy is shorter and some possible contributing factors.

Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists.

Anne Case and Angus Deaton garnered national headlines in 2015 when they reported that the death rate of midlife non-Hispanic white Americans had risen steadily since 1999 in contrast with the death rates of blacks, Hispanics and Europeans. Their new study extends the data by two years and shows that whatever is driving the mortality spike is not easing up.

The two Princeton professors say the trend affects whites of both sexes and is happening nearly everywhere in the country. Education level is significant: People with a college degree report better health and happiness than those with only some college, who in turn are doing much better than those who never went.

Offering what they call a tentative but “plausible” explanation, they write that less-educated white Americans who struggle in the job market in early adulthood are likely to experience a “cumulative disadvantage” over time, with health and personal problems that often lead to drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease and suicide.

“Ultimately, we see our story as about the collapse of the white, high-school-educated working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline,” they conclude.

The study comes as Congress debates how to dismantle parts of the Affordable Care Act. Case and Deaton report that poor health is becoming more common for each new generation of middle-aged, less-educated white Americans. And they are going downhill faster.

In a teleconference with reporters this week, Case said the new research found a “sea of despair” across America. A striking feature is the rise in physical pain. The pattern does not follow short-term economic cycles but reflects a long-term disintegration of job prospects.

“You used to be able to get a really good job with a high school diploma. A job with on-the-job training, a job with benefits. You could expect to move up,” she said.

The nation’s obesity epidemic may be another sign of stress and physical pain, she continued: “People may want to soothe the beast. They may do that with alcohol, they may do that with drugs, they may do that with food.”

Similarly, Deaton cited suicide as an action that could be triggered not by a single event but by a cumulative series of disappointments: “Your family life has fallen apart, you don’t know your kids anymore, all the things you expected when you started out your life just haven’t happened at all.”

The economists say that there is no obvious solution but that a starting point would be limiting the overuse of opioids, which killed more than 30,000 Americans in 2015.

The two will present their study on Friday at the Brookings Institution.

“Their paper documents some facts. What is the story behind those facts is a matter of speculation,” said Adriana Lleras-Muney, a University of California at Los Angeles economics professor, who will also speak at Brookings.

She noted that less-educated white Americans tend to be strikingly pessimistic when interviewed about their prospects.

“It’s just a background of continuous decline. You’re worse off than your parents,” Lleras-Muney said. “Whereas for Hispanics, or immigrants like myself” — she is from Colombia — “or blacks, yes, circumstances are bad, but they’ve been getting better.”

David Cutler, an economics professor at Harvard who also will be discussing the paper at Brookings, said the declining health of white, working-class Americans suggests that Republican plans to replace the Affordable Care Act are akin to bleeding a sick patient. As he put it, “Treat the fever by causing an even bigger fever.”

Whites continue to have longer life expectancy than African Americans and lower death rates, but that gap has narrowed since the late 1990s. The picture may have shifted again around the Great Recession, however: Graphs accompanying the new paper suggest that death rates for blacks with only a high school education began rising around 2010 in many age groups, as if following the trend that began about a decade earlier among whites.

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White men continue to die at higher rates than white women in every age group. But because women started with lower death rates, the recent mortality increase reflects a greater change in their likelihood of dying early. The numbers reported by Case and Deaton suggest that white men today are about twice as likely as they were in 1999 to die from one of the “diseases of despair,” while women are about four times as likely.

Case and Deaton play down geography as a factor in the epidemic. Yet they note that white mortality rates fell in the biggest cities, were constant in big-city suburbs and rose in all other areas. The Washington Post’s analysis published last year highlighted the same geographical signature, with a break in death rates between the two most urban classifications (big cities and big-city suburbs) and the four less urban classifications, which The Post described as an urban-rural divide.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on U.S. suicides by level of urbanization between 1999 and 2015, a period in which 600,000 Americans took their own lives. The report showed rising rates in each of the six urbanization classifications but found “a geographic disparity” in which rates increased as urbanization decreased. That urban-rural divide appears to have widened, particularly in recent years, the CDC reported.

Style Is Eternal

My family — two sons, Quinten and Jabari and wife of 21 years, LaTonya Brown — and I just moved from Madison, Wis. I am totally committed to education. Education is freedom. Education allows one to enjoy all of the wonderful things this resourceful country has to offer. Being educated has made it possible for me to become assistant superintendent of secondary education for such an innovative school district such as Columbia Public Schools.

How would you describe your style? 
Improvisational: I never know exactly what I might wear. However, I buy most of my suiting from Banana Republic, Kenneth Cole, J. Crew and Ralph Lauren.

How does what you wear reflect your personality?
I tend to wear bright and exciting to plaid clothing. I would like to think that I am a fun guy, happy most times, and always in search of excitement. I don’t care for down time too much.

Who are your fashion inspirations?
People tend to enjoy what I wear. I do not look to match navy blue on navy blue, but instead to coordinate colors.

What is your go-to wardrobe item?
I wear suits 95% of the time. One can never go wrong with a nice Ludlow J. Crew or Banana Republic suit.

Any signature…  
…accessories?  Just keep it as simple as possible. Watch to wedding ring. Nothing more.
…shoes?  Magnanni, Too Boot New York, Cole Haan, Mezlan and Antonio Maurizio. I love the cut of their shoes and the craftsmanship.
….colors? crimson and white
…scents?  Ralph Lauren Blue, Ralph Lauren Polo Red, and Vintage Black by Kenneth Cole

Inside Columbia Magazine

Creatives in Business

Dr. Kevin Brown, Columbia Public Schools’ new assistant superintendent, never goes anywhere without his saxophone. He plays both tenor and soprano sax, and he started when he was 23, fresh out of grad school and teaching at Southern University of Baton Rouge.

“I was teaching kids at the university basically my same age,” Brown says. “I went to a pawn shop, and I just wanted to look around, and I saw some instruments, and I had a master’s degree and everything, and I decided not to teach summer school — I wanted to learn how to play the saxophone.”

He started out teaching himself, squeaking out the notes to “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” He baffled his parents by playing “Jingle Bells” repetitively in July.

Eventually, he got a private teacher, and once he got good enough, he studied at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, in Milwaukee, under instructor Berkley Fudge, a famed Wisconsin saxophonist.

Brown taught in the daytime and played in the nighttime.

“To be honest, I’m glad it happened late in life for me because most people put their instruments down, but I had gotten my education out of the way, so I wasn’t depending on the instrument to make money,” Brown said. “You know, I had a teaching job, but I surrounded myself with other people who knew far more than I did, so I was able to gather stuff from them and practice for hours and hours, and I did, and I’ve been playing ever since.”

Brown thinks learning music can be an important part of education, and he appreciates the emotional side of learning music.

“Being a jazz musician, or an improviser, has sometimes helped me on the job in dealing with things that I’ve never dealt with before,” he says. “But on the other side of that, it’s a great outlet. It allows for relaxation.

Brown has taught psychology, sociology, government, and history at collegiate and secondary levels, and this is his first year as assistant superintendent for secondary schools. In his role, he will ensure that middle and high schools align to the CPS vision for student success.

“This includes making sure that your principals are savvy and that they are strong, instructional leaders with the capacity to lead their faculty and staff, and ensuring that the teachers are doing what is best for all students every 50 minutes throughout the day,” Brown says. He specifically would like to focus on equity and achievement gap concerns.

For Brown, education and music are both passions. Every once in a while, he wonders what his life would be like if he had pursued music professionally.

“Every time I hear Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, every time I hear the great jazz people that no longer live – and still live, such as Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton – I have strong desires and wishes to play at that capacity.”

But you can only professionally pick one, Brown says; “You can’t straddle the fence.”

After playing with two bands in the past in Wisconsin, Brown is looking forward to meeting musicians in Columbia. He has played at Murry’s before. Brown was out to dinner at the restaurant while interviewing for his position in Columbia, and he asked if he could sit in with the band.

“They said, ‘You have your instrument with you?’” Brown remembers.

Luckily, he had it in his car.

Columbia Business Times

Gilmore Middle School Welcomes New Members into its Hall of Fame

In February, Gilmore Middle School inducted new members into its hall of fame, including former drama teacher Richard Chambers, former science teacher Dan Werlington and past Gilmore principals.

On Saturday, Feb. 7, the Gilmore auditorium was filled with alumni, inductees and their families, RUSD staff and many devoted community members to recognize those individuals who have provided valued and loyal service to Gilmore.

“It’s more than a building,” Gilmore science teacher Jennifer Al-Sager said. “Anyone who has been part of this building and given their blood, sweat and tears will agree that calling Gilmore a building is inaccurate. This is a home.”

Superintendent Dr. Lolli Haws thanked all of the inductees for their service and the thousands of children whose lives they touched.

Principal Bryan Wright hung new pictures of former principals Dan Thielen and Kevin Brown on Gilmore’s Wall of Principals. All former and present principals are automatically members of the Gilmore Hall of Fame, Wright said.

“To be inducted into the hall of fame is special,” Wright explained. “The inductees are staff members who, while working at Gilmore Middle School, brought honor and distinction to the school and students. Their contributions have positively impacted the lives of others.”

Racine Unified School District

Race and policing discussed by Racine panel

About 40 people filled the Buhler Room of the Lakefront Branch YMCA, 725 Lake Ave., on Wednesday evening as leaders from law enforcement, public safety and education participated in the discussion.

Participating were: Pete Payne, Mount Pleasant Police officer; Carmen Lassiter, Wisconsin public defender; Kevin Brown, former Racine-area educator and current principal at Cherokee Heights Middle School in Madison; R.L. Woods, Racine Police chaplain; Art Howell, Racine Police chief; Tonya Scarver, Racine Police detective; and Eric Prybylski, Racine Police officer.

Ahmad Qawi, chief operations officer at the Racine Family YMCA, moderated the evening’s questions.

When Qawi asked a question about police shootings, Chief Howell told a recent story of how his officers peacefully resolved a situation involving the potential for deadly force.

Howell told the audience the story how two of his police offers, who happened to be white, responded to a shooting on Jan. 21 at the Corinne Owens Transit Center involving two teenagers, who happened to be black – and armed.

“One officer got a gun away from him without force. A second kid put his hand on his gun and could have been shot,” Howell told the audience. “But the officers waited long enough for the kid to throw the gun into the river.”

Qawi also asked why Wisconsin was one of the worst states for raising African-American children. Brown shared his experience as a principal in Racine.

“Wisconsin is a very progressive state with a college on almost every corner; however everyone is not benefiting from it,” Brown said. “When I was vice principal of Horlick High School and I would go to AP courses, which kids can get college credit in high school for free, they were all-white.”

Brown went on to say that everything goes back to education. “If you do not have your education, you cannot even stand in line to become a police officer. You can’t even stand in line to be told ‘no.’ Eventually, all you need is one ‘yes.’ ”

The Journal Times

RAMAC announces education award winners

RACINE – Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce on Wednesday announced its Excellence in Education Award winners.

The awards, given annually, recognize an exceptional area teacher, administrator, guidance counselor, volunteer and program based on nominations from school and community members. The nominations, collected in December and January, are narrowed and winners are selected by a panel of RAMAC business members, said Carol Barkow, RAMAC director of community partnerships.

This year no guidance counselor was nominated, but panel members chose winners in the other four categories. Winners work with a variety of Racine Unified schools or the district as a whole.


Gilmore Middle School Principal Kevin Brown has been chosen administrator of the year for his work leading the school in increased technology use and increased test scores.

Brown has been a key part of obtaining more technology resources for the school, 2330 Northwestern Ave., and of urging staff members to share input, nominators said.

Brown also helped start a Saturday morning program at Gilmore to help students perform better on state tests. 

“This program helped increase test scores dramatically,” wrote nominator Nicholas Sturycz, a Gilmore teacher. “Kevin has helped to focus the entire atmosphere of the school … for students to be successful in their academic road to success.”

The Journal Times

Gilmore officials go door-to-door: School leaders listen to neighbors concerns

Sometimes outreach takes action.

RACINE-Kevin Brown is taking over this year as principal of Gilmore Middle School. His first order of business: get out into the community and check the pulse of the neighborhood around the school, which is located at 2330 Northwestern Ave., not far from the district’s administrative building.

On Tuesday, Brown went door-to-door along the streets immediately surrounding the school, with one of Gilmore’s new assistant principals, Kathryn Poznanski.

They knocked on doors and introduced themselves to the residents, many of whom are elderly. Some were reluctant to answer at first, Brown said.

When they realized why the two school officials were standing outside, they were eager to open up.

“The reception has been great. Most of the time, the neighbors don’t think we care or the school doesn’t care,” Brown said. “I want them to know that we do care.”

Residents in the neighborhood around the school said it was the first time they had experienced this kind of visit from an official at the school. Many are concerned about some of the fights that occur after school and they worry that some of the students might be responsible for minor vandalism that has occurred in the past.

Virginia Barnes, 64, has lived kitty corner from the school for the past six years. She said she hasn’t had too many problems with students from the school, but she was pleased to see Brown and Poznanski reaching out.

“It’s nice and different. It’s the first time,” Barnes said she has had a school official visit her door.

Barnes, who has a foster child who will start seventh grade at Gilmore next week, raised four children who attended Racine Unified schools and have been out of school for a few years, “but I never had anybody come to my house to see how things are going.”

Brown hopes his efforts will help build a relationship with neighbors and change the perceptions about the school.

Racine Unified schools start up again on Tuesday, Sept. 2.

The Journal Times

A mother gets her dying wish

RACINE – Tears welled in the corners of Susan Buscemi’s yellowing eyes as she lay in the hospital bed beside the window in her home on Eaton Lane.

In the living room, surrounded by family, Buscemi’s daughter, Ashley Douglas, 18, fought back tears of her own, put on her scarlet cap and gown and granted her dying mother’s wish.

She graduated from Horlick High School.

A little more than four years ago, Buscemi, 51, learned she had Stage IV colon cancer. She left her first visit to the doctor with only one concern. She wanted to see her youngest daughter – the last of her four children – graduate.

“The first thing she said was, ‘Am I going to see Ashley graduate?” Susan’s husband Joe Buscemi said.

Since then Susan has fought – unsuccessfully – to rid her body of the cancer.

Her doctors told Susan last week there is nothing more they can do to help her fight the cancer that has ravaged her body. Years of chemotherapy didn’t work. Her liver is shutting down. The cancer never went into remission, her husband said.

Doctors said it is unlikely she could make it to Ashley’s graduation on Sunday, June 8. If she’s still alive Sunday family members said there is no way she could make it to the school in her frail condition, no matter how much she wants to be there. Susan is, for the most part, confined to a special bed and can’t walk without assistance.

“Your time is not measured in months. It’s not measured in weeks. It’s short,” Joe said doctors told his wife.

Horlick High School Assistant Principal Kevin Brown had never received such a request. The Friday call sent Brown scrambling to make sure Ashley was cleared for graduation.

He had to get her cap and gown and he had to get his. Then there was the diploma. And he wanted to bring flowers, too.

So Monday afternoon in the Buscemi’s living room Brown and colleague Al Hutton, a school guidance counselor, gave one of their families a memory they’ll always cherish, a special ceremony for a mother and a daughter. There was no need for “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Family members, including Susan’s brothers and sisters, came to the house and cleaned-up the garden. The family planned to celebrate Monday afternoon in the backyard.

“We were trying to make it like a real graduation. I wanted to make sure she had everything, because pretty soon, all she’ll have are pictures,” Brown said.

When the moment arrived the family gathered around Susan’s bed. Brown and Hutton presented Ashley her diploma. Her mother watched her daughter graduate. The family applauded.

Instead of throwing her cap in the air, Ashley leaned in and hugged her fragile mother, diploma in hand.

Susan Buscemi’s dying wish came true.

The Journal Times