Recent studies showing a rise in death rates for the white, middle-aged individuals suggest a connection between economic insecurity and health. In this week’s Working-Class Perspective, John Russo traces a frightening phenomenon that began in the 1980s when deindustrialization displaced many workers, resulting in their physical and mental deterioration.
Globalization, trade liberalization, deregulation, privatization, and reductions in the welfare state have not only led to downsizing in many industries, they have also reduced wages and benefits, contributing to growing economic inequality. The nature of many jobs has also changed. Work has been intensified, hours have become increasingly irregular, and workers face anxieties about the loss of their jobs and electronic monitoring of their work. These changes leave workers feeling vulnerable and stressed, and that together with anti-union laws and poorly enforced labor laws limit their ability to fight back. As someone who taught courses in Occupational Safety and Health for many years, I am all too aware that these workplace stresses and the limits of workers’ agency are associated with increases in cardiovascular disease, physical and mental disorders, and acute injuries. In other words, while research has focused on increasing mortality rates, changes in work also contribute to increased health problems, which may, in turn, explain the increases in alcoholism and drug abuse that Anne Case and Angus Deaton see as key factors in the rising death rates.
John Russo, our Visiting Scholar for the 2015-16 academic year, brings the renowned Working-Class Perspectives blog to the Kalmanovitz Initiative. The blog is edited by him and Sherry Linkon, a professor of English at Georgetown University. It features several regular and guest contributors.