Over the past 18 months we have brought various pieces of grim news about the United States’ population health. We looked at the rise in the mortality rate of middle-class whites, the rise in the American suicide rate, and the downturn in the United States’ life expectancy in 2015. My concern that there was an American underclass that was not getting much coverage in most media outlets was strengthened by the unpredicted Trump victory. But I was not aware how bad things are outside the “bubble” until I recently read this piece by demographer Nicholas Eberstadt. It’s entitled “Our Miserable 21st Century” and it certainly makes a powerful argument that, for many Americans, life is not getting better. In fact, the first 16 years of this century have seen their lives get worse.
The piece is quite long, and I’d recommend that you go and read it for yourself, but I’d like to pull out some of the more disturbing aspects of the United States that emerge:
- The wealth creation of the USA is growing. In fact, since 2000 the estimated net worth of American households and non-profit institutions has more than doubled to $90 trillion.
- However, in terms of GDP, the value added to the US economy since 2007 was only 12 per cent higher. In terms of per capita GDP, the American economy was only 4 per cent higher than it was in late 2007 (prior to the crash) leading Eberstadt to claim that the United States has “suffered something close to a lost decade”.
- The number of workers in the USA has declined dramatically since 2000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the jobs-to-population ratio for adult civilian men and women has plunged by nearly five per cent (to 59.7 per cent) in the years 2000-2016.
- The American work rates have never recovered from the recession of 2001, let alone the crash of 2008. Although the official unemployment rate is only 4.8 per cent, this only counts those still in the labour market and looking for work. It does not count those who are workforce dropouts. Thus, for every unemployed American man aged 25-55 years old, there are another three who are neither working nor looking for work.
- Apparently, the recovery since 2008 is the first in US history where the basic labour-market indicator has failed to respond.
- It is not only men who have dropped out of the workforce, current work rates for prime-age (25-54 years old) women are now back at the same rates that they were a generation ago, in the late 1980s.
- Thus, the 21st century USA economy has produced much more wealth and far less work. Between 2000-2015 the number of paid hours of work per adult civilian dropped by 12 percent!
- Aside from the economy, the health conditions of many Americans have declined since 2000. Many of Eberstadt’s statistics we talked about last year, but some further shocking facts include that nearly half of all prime working-age male labour-force dropouts (about 7 million men) currently take pain medication on a daily basis.
- These prime working-age male labour-force dropouts (Michael Cook wrote a brilliant piece about these “ghost legions” last year) spend on average 2,000 hours in front of a screen and do very little to help civil society (charitable work, religious activities, volunteering etc).
- Much of this medication was funded by Medicaid and other federal disability benefits. Over one fifth of all civilian men aged 25 to 55 years old were Medicaid beneficiaries as of 2013 (!), of those of the same age not in the workforce, that share jumped to 53 per cent.
Finally, the great American Dream is perhaps dying. Geographical mobility in America has been on the decline for three decades and American labour market fluidity continues to decline. Thus, the ability for people to get ahead by moving homes and moving jobs has also declined. In short, there seems to be a vast underclass in the United States which has less of a chance of moving up the economic and social ladder than ever before. Troubling stuff…
Marcus Roberts is the editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog about demography, from where this article is adapted.