The geography of desperation in America: Labor force participation, mobility trends, place, and well-being

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There is much to be troubled about in the state of America today. Booming stock markets and record low levels of unemployment, yet significant sectors of our society are dying prematurely from preventable deaths (deaths of despair) and almost 20% of prime aged males are out of the labor force. Americans have higher levels of well-being inequality and report more pain on average than countries of comparable and even lower levels of income.

This study by the Brookings Institution provides a different perspective by tracking the reported well-being and ill-being of individuals and places. It finds large differences in these trends across education levels, races, and places. Desperation – and the associated trends in premature suicide – are concentrated among the less than college educated and are much higher among poor whites than poor minorities, who remain optimistic about their futures. The trends are also geographically dispersed.

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