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‘Dying of Whiteness’ Author Discusses How the White Working Class is Shortening Lives

Author Dr. Jonathan Metzl says the white working class is voting for policies that shorten their lives.

“Usually you see shortening life spans after a famine, after Hiroshima, after [the] fall of the Soviet Union, but it doesn’t happen in 2015 in the United States, a time of prosperity and lowering crimes rates and factors like that,” he stated. “There really are very few historical correlates for what we’re seeing in the South and Midwest right now.”

Metzl says those areas are experiencing shortening life spans—and a majority of the demographic is white men.

Metzl is also a professor at Vanderbilt University, where he is director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society. His book, “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland,” he explains why white, working-class Americans in the South and Midwest support right-wing politicians who put their lives at risk.

“The reason we’re seeing shortened life spans is in part about addiction and part about economics, but it’s also about particular health policies and what I’m trying to illustrate is these are terrible health policies,” he explained. “It’s almost like an epidemic or what economists have called ‘deaths of despair.’ But the irony here is that people are voting for these policies that are shortening their own life spans.”

Metzl traveled America’s heartland listening in on focus groups ranging from the chronically ill to those who lost family members to guns. His research revealed a diagnosis of sorts that he calls “jarring.” Many states that passed laws that shrank benefits of the Affordable Care Act or made gun laws more lenient ended up leading to more lives lost.

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