Trump Voters and The Drug Epidemic

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Why should so many rust-belt citizens vote for President-Elect Donald Trump, who is patently against the interest of working class voters? I am speaking of his promise to revoke Obamacare, which will make the 20-30 million dependent on it poorer and sicker. And his selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt to run the EPA, who we know wants to roll back environmental regulations, making everyone warmer, or House Speaker Ryan, who really wants to abolish Medicare as we know it and turn it into a voucher plan.

A recent Penn State study tells us why so many of the poorest and displaced white, blue collar workers voted for him. It was the desperation of depressed families and communities rampant with drug and alcohol abuse, in part from the loss of jobs and the identities that went with holding a decent paying job, who would trust a strong white male with authoritative tendencies who made enough pie-in-the-sky promises to defeat a female candidate with 30 years experience in government.

One can say that such desperation leads to an irrational kind of anger, against anything that looks like the old order. Yet it was the old, white male order that created both the Great Recession--because GW Bush's trickle-down economics cut regulations as well as taxes of the wealthiest, frittering away the budget surpluses of President Clinton's last 4 years in office--and obstructed a robust recovery by opposing almost any stimulus spending, even shutting down the government in 2011.

The Penn State study showed how hopeless was the situation to the inhabitants now isolated from the modern multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-national economy. Most of those industrial, high-paying blue collar jobs are gone, replaced by high tech machines and little effort was made to replace them or rebuild those communities.

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Graph: Econoday
The factory sector has been contracting since October 2014, but has recently shown signs of strength. Factory orders surged 2.7 percent in October. Both commercial and defense, were major positives, but the strength was well distributed with the monthly gain excluding all aircraft at a very strong 0.7 percent.

Donald Trump got significantly more votes in areas with high rates of drug addiction, alcohol abuse and suicide, according to the study done by Shannon Monnat, a Penn State researcher who specializes in rural issues.

"I think Trump's anti-free trade message resonated in these places and his rhetoric was very simple -- Make America great again," Monnat said. "And you have to understand that in some of these places that have experienced widespread decline in manufacturing and extraction and the types of jobs that pay livable wages, people there really feel like America is not so great anymore. I think the message that he was the change candidate really resonated with people in these places."

According to Swayne's article, the mortality rate from drugs, alcohol and suicide is 36 deaths per 100,000 people in the least economically distressed parts of the country. The rate is 49 deaths per 100,000 in the most economically distressed areas.

There is now some hope for the rust belt if Trump can carry through on his infrastructure rebuilding promise. After two years in contraction, factory orders year-on-year rates are again positive, at 1.3 percent, and for shipments, at 0.4 percent. October details included a useful 0.4 percent rise in shipments and a 0.7 percent jump in unfilled orders that ended a long run of contraction for this reading.

We hope the manufacturing sector in general can recover, as the CDC reported in a 2007 report that more people now die from heroin overdose that gun homicides in those same rust-belt areas. And opioid deaths continued to surge in 2015, surpassing 30,000 for the first time in recent history, according to CDC data released Thursday. That marks an increase of nearly 5,000 deaths from 2014. Deaths involving powerful synthetic opiates, like fentanyl, rose by nearly 75 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Harlan Green © 2016

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