Monday, December 9, 2013

Unemployment Kills

Congress may soon have more blood on their hands.
Methods of suicide
Last May, from an article in the New York Times: Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.:
Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.
"It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide," said the C.D.C.’s deputy director, Ileana Arias.

From another New York Times article this year, How Austerity Kills: "The correlation between unemployment and suicide has been observed since the 19th century. People looking for work are about twice as likely to end their lives as those who have jobs. Unemployment is a leading cause of depression, anxiety, alcoholism and suicidal thinking. Rates of such suicides were significantly greater in the states that experienced the greatest job losses. Deaths from suicide overtook deaths from car crashes in 2009. Austerity — severe, immediate, indiscriminate cuts to social and health spending — is not only self-defeating, but fatal."

PBS: A Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) study reported that among men and women age 55-64, there was a dramatic increase in rate of suicides from 1999 to 2010.

As PBS had reported in one broadcast, for Americans 55 and older, it takes about a year on average to find work, longer than for any other age group. One of the unforgettable lessons of statistics is that correlation does not equal causation. But when the data shows older (but not old) Americans out of work longer than others and older (but not old) Americans committing suicide at a higher rate than they have in almost a century, how can you help but wonder if the frustration of the former isn't contributing to the latter?

Huffington Post: As layoffs surged late in 2008, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, a group based in D.C. and Massachusetts that helps organizations develop suicide prevention programs, reviewed two decades' worth of research on the question. It found that a "strong relationship exists between unemployment, the economy, and suicide.

Before Annie Lowrey went to work for the New York Times and wrote Caught in a Revolving Door of Unemployment, she wrote a piece for the Washington Independent called Death and Joblessness. She notes a paper by Timothy J. Classen of Loyola University Chicago and Richard A. Dunn of Texas A&M that found that mass layoffs and long spells of unemployment specifically were associated with increased suicide risk.
"I would be concerned that the increasing rate of long-term unemployment in the United States is having important consequences on the mental health of many American workers, and I would be concerned that we are going to see increased rate of suicide because of it," Dunn says.
Classen and Dunn found that unemployment does increase the risk of suicide. And not just once, but twice: First, just after the factory shuts down, and then again, about six months later, when unemployment insurance ends. The impact is strongest among men.

Dunn concluded, "The research suggests that the impact of losing your unemployment benefits is actually stronger than the impact of losing your job. How much stronger? We don’t know. But twice as strong, three times as strong. Some significant difference."

That is to say, duration of unemployment and loss of unemployment benefits are more important determinants of suicide risk than job loss itself.

The unemployed commit suicide at a rate two or three times the national average, researchers estimate. And in many cases, the longer the spell of unemployment, the higher the likelihood of suicide. Academic studies show that suicide rates tend to move with the unemployment rate. Researchers found that the unemployed were up to three times as likely to commit suicide, with middle-aged men the most likely.

Amy Rowland, a spokesperson for the CDC Injury Center, also noted a bump in the suicide rate for older male workers. "Studies done by other researchers show that economic strain and loss are risk factors for suicide.” she says.

In 2010 the suicide prevention hotlines were already showing signs of stress. In January 2007, as the recession started, there were 13,423 calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. A year later, by January 2008 there were 39,467. In August 2009, the call volume peaked at 57,625 (Most people contemplating suicide don't bother calling.)

The government has since granted National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (a nationwide toll-free hotline) an extra $1 million to increase programs in places with high unemployment rates.

Nobody knows how many suicides are associated with the recession because statistics lag about three years --- but looking at individual counties’ or cities’ data, there are ominous signs of a real spike.

According to a congressional study for the Centers for Disease and Control, the unemployed commit suicide at a rate of up to three times the national average, with middle-aged men the most likely. During the Great Depression, the suicide rate increased about 20 percent. The figures for the Great Recession might be much higher.

A spokesperson for the CDC Injury Center noted a bump in the suicide rate for older male workers: "Studies need to be done to better understand what might be occurring in this age group."

This is not just happening in the U.S. as researchers at the University of Hong Kong and other institutions examined suicide trends in 54 countries around the world, using data on unemployment, gross domestic product and suicide deaths from the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their analysis revealed an association between unemployment and suicide rates, which was especially strong for men in countries that used to have low unemployment.

Les Leopold, an author and the executive director of the Labor Institute in New York, asks in an article earlier this year, "Is cutthroat capitalism pushing a growing number of Baby Boomers to suicide?"
"There's no question about it--American baby boomers are taking their own lives like never before. Suicide rates in the United States jumped dramatically for 35- to 64-year-olds between 1999 and 2010, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)." (I would suggest to Congress that they read the entire article.)
The U.S. government is fully aware of the problem we have here at home: that when unemployment insurance ends, suicide rates soar --- that's why they had increased funding to suicide hotlines. Yet Congress still remains unwilling to extend unemployment insurance benefits to the long-term unemployed.

NBC reported that suicide rates for middle-aged Americans now surpassed those during the peak during the Depression --- but now, even Democrats are talking about cutting food stamps too.

The Nation reports that on the same day that President Obama eloquently described his vision of an economy defined by economic mobility and opportunity for all, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was busy cutting a deal with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas to slice another $8 to $9 billion from food stamps (SNAP).

The congressional "hunger games" began when Senate Democrats voted to cut $4.1 billion from food stamps, or SNAP. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said it was a matter of slicing “waste, fraud and abuse” from the program.

Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said "That was the first time in history that a Democratic-controlled Senate had even proposed cutting the SNAP program. The willingness of some Senate Democrats to double new cuts to the program is unthinkable."

So our government (who many once said were only Republicans, but are now Democrats too) may soon have more blood on their hands.

* Also see a related post about older unemployed workers: Suicides Spike for the Long-term Unemployed

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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