by Grit Post Editorial Board, June 11, 2018
A study released late last week showed that suicide rates have risen significantly across the country. The culprit appears to be capitalism.
t’s largely assumed that people who decide to kill themselves are suffering from a mental illness. Mental Health America estimates that 30 to 70 percent of Americans who end their own lives are suffering from either severe depression or bipolar disorder. However, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 54 percent of Americans who committed suicide in 27 states in 2015 had no known mental health condition.
The CDC study, which examined suicide rates in all 50 states between 1999 and 2016, found that the rate of Americans taking their own lives increased by an alarming 38 to 58 percent in 12 states, 31 to 37 percent in another 12 states, and 19 percent to 30 percent in another 12 states. The CDC found that on average, suicide rates jumped by more than 30 percent for all 50 states. The only state that saw a decrease in suicide rates was Nevada:
(Data by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Map by Magazine for the Society for Science & the Public)
The fact that more than half of these suicides were not attributed to any mental illness in a majority of states for at least one year of the period the CDC studied is remarkable, and begs the question of what other factors led to thousands of Americans taking their own lives. CDC researchers discovered that, outside of problems with intimate partners, the prime causes of suicide for Americans with no known mental illnesses were primarily financial in nature.
“For those who died, circumstances surrounding their suicide included relationship or job problems, the loss of a home, legal troubles and physical health issues,” wrote Aimee Cunningham in the Magazine for the Society for Science & the Public. “These factors played a role whether suicide victims had a diagnosed medical condition or not.”
Such a significant increase in the rate of Americans killing themselves between 1999 and 2016 in 49 states merits research into national trends during that same time period. In 2011, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York (New York Fed) published a report showing that student debt had risen by 511 percent over a 12-year period. Student debt continued to increase at a catastrophic rate, with the New York Fed finding that the average American household has roughly 828 percent more student debt in 2017 than in 1999.
Home prices and healthcare premiums also increased precipitously from 1999 to today. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, on average, housing is 51 percent more expensive in 2018 than it was in 1999. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that between 1999 and 2017, health insurance premiums increased by more than 200 percent. Last year, Quartz reported that of the $2 billion raised on crowdfunding site Gofundme between 2010 and 2016, $930 million was for healthcare expenses.
(Data and graph by Kaiser Family Foundation)
In the meantime, wage growth for the bottom 90 percent of American workers has been at a standstill since the start of the 21st century. Even though workers saw an average 15 percent increase in wages during the 1990s, data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that the vast majority of wage earners saw no cumulative growth in real annual wages between 1999 and 2013 despite worker productivity increasing by approximately 71 percent. However, wages for the top 1 percent skyrocketed over that same time period.
When the troubling rise in American suicide rates is taken in context with the relentless redistribution of wealth from the bottom 90 percent to the top 1 percent that took place over the same period, the culprit behind the wave of suicides is abundantly clear. Working-class Americans — when faced with rapidly increasing costs of living and stagnant wages — are forced to work longer hours just to stay afloat. Tragically, for thousands of financially unstable Americans, the stress of providing for their household amidst crushing student debt, housing prices, and healthcare costs eventually became too much to bear.
America is rapidly becoming a place where only the rich can survive. If local, state, and federal governments don’t take drastic steps to correct the inequality plaguing society, the trend of rising suicide rates will only continue.