Posts Tagged ‘stress’

Bloody hell!

Posted: 13 October 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

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Over the years, I’ve written about many different dimensions of the relationship between health and economic inequality on this blog—from children’s brain development to car crashes.

But, as Kat Arney [ht: ja] explains, “Unpicking the biological connections between external socioeconomic forces and an individual’s health is no easy task.”

Now apparently, researchers in England are beginning to unpick those connections, by measuring biological markers in the bloodstream. And what they’ve discovered is fascinating—and disturbing.

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Apparently, measuring the levels of two molecules—an individual’s C-reactive protein and fibrinogen (as in the charts above)—and matching them against their socioeconomic position starts to reveal the hidden mechanisms connecting social inequality and health. And the missing link turns out to be stress.

“You have stressful life events such as bereavement or divorce, but we’re talking about understanding chronic long-term stresses,” Kumari says. “One of the things we think about is why is disadvantage stressful? For something like low income, it could be because you don’t have the same levels of control over your life. Maybe you can manage it for a little while, but over the long term it becomes a chronic stress. These things are hard to measure and capture.”

Bartley agrees more needs to be done to understand the financial causes of stress across society. “Debt is deadly for people – it’s the ultimate lack of control,” she says. “Housing is also a huge issue and it doesn’t get researched enough – living in poor situations is depressing, especially if you’re bringing up children. People in poverty can end up in social isolation, and that’s known to be associated with all kinds of unhealthy outcomes.”

From a policy perspective, if you know when health inequalities begin and when they peak, it becomes possible to target these age groups and allocate resources more effectively. A far more effective response, of course, would be to eradicate the grotesque inequalities that characterize contemporary society.

Toward this end, public health experts might suggest eliminating capitalism, which would decrease stress and improve people’s health.

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American voters are clearly angry. At least it’s clear to me—for example, as reflected in the success of the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns (and in the evident dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton, Congress, and Wall Street).

But it’s not clear to many economists, who cite rising average incomes, a relatively low unemployment rate, and other aggregate indicators. For them, the economic situation is improving and there’s really no reason for Americans to be angry.*

And then there are the philosophers, like Martha Nussbaum, who think anger is itself morally bad.

You can be dignified, you can protest, you can say this is outrageous, but you don’t have to do it in a way that is angry or seeks payback.

But the fact is, even with slight improvements in the overall economic situation in recent years, many Americans remain financially stressed and are angry that most of the gains that have been achieved since 2009 have been captured not by them, but by a tiny group at the top.

The financial stress underlying the anger is evident in the latest Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015 issued by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (pdf).

The word cloud above is a good place to start. Each cloud includes the 75 most frequently observed words in the description of individuals’ challenges, with the size of the word reflecting its frequency. Thus, for example, among low-income respondents, “bills” and “money” are the most commonly reported words, while for those in the middle, the most common words are “insurance,” “health,” “money,” and “retirement.” For those earning more than $100,000, the emphasis shifts to worries about “retirement.”

The report offers plenty of additional evidence about the financial stress experienced by many Americans. For example, just under one-third of respondents report that they are either “finding it difficult to get by” (9 percent) or are “just getting by” (22 percent) financially. This represents approximately 76 million adults who are struggling to some degree to get by.

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And while individuals are 9 percentage points more likely to say that their financial well-being improved during the prior year than to say that their situation worsened, it is still the case that 46 percent of adults reveal they either could not cover an emergency expense costing $400, or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money.

That’s 46 percent! To cover a $400 expense!

So, although there’s been some improvement in recent years when looking at aggregate-level results for the U.S. population as a whole, the fact is most of the improvement has occurred at the top (especially for college-educated, white Americans). The rest of the population (black, white, Hispanic, without college degrees) continues to be financially squeezed. And it’s that difference—between improvement for a few and stress for everyone else—that means lots of Americans are angry right now. And, yes, they want payback.

The mainstream economists and politicians who say that people should not be angry, that they should be content with their lot, are wrong. So are the philosophers who argue that anger and the desire for payback are morally suspect.

As I see it, the American working-class is justifiably angry and they clearly want to see some kind of payback. The real questions are, who is standing in their way (and thus whom should they be angry at) and what kinds of fundamental changes in the economic system are necessary to improve their situation (and thus to achieve the appropriate payback)?

 

*To be fair, Jared Bernstein himself looks behind the aggregate numbers, which leads him to understand “why some people are unsatisfied with the economy and beyond. Growth hasn’t reached all corners by a long shot, and policymakers have too often been at best unresponsive to that reality and at worst, just plain awful.”

 

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Once again, Martin Luther King, Jr. is being justly recognized as one of the most important civil rights leaders this country has known—but his legacy of demanding economic justice for everyone is too often forgotten.

We need to remember that, in February 1968, members of King’s premier civil rights group, the Southern Christian Leadership Council, drafted a letter demanding “an economic and social Bill of Rights” that would promise all citizens the right to a job, the right to a minimum income, and the right to decent housing, among others. And on 10 March 1968, just weeks before his death, he spoke to a union group in New York about what he called “the other America.” He was preparing to launch a Poor People’s Campaign whose premise was that issues of jobs and of justice for all Americans, black and white, were inextricably intertwined.

So, while King would have pleased that death rates for black and Hispanic adults have fallen since 1999, he would have been horrified that death rates for whites, particularly women and young adults, have risen—mostly as a consequence of drug overdoses.

Researchers are struggling to come up with an answer to the question of why whites in particular are doing so poorly. No one has a clear answer, but researchers repeatedly speculate that the nation is seeing a cohort of whites who are isolated and left out of the economy and society and who have gotten ready access to cheap heroin and to prescription narcotic drugs.

“There are large numbers of people who never get established in the economy, who live outside family relationships and are on the edge of poverty,” Dr. Hayward said. Many end up taking prescription narcotics, he added.

“Poverty and stress, for example, are risk factors for misuse of prescription narcotics,” Dr. Hayward said.

Eileen Crimmins, a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, said the causes of death in these younger people were largely social — “violence and drinking and taking drugs.” Her research shows that social problems are concentrated in the lower education group.

“For too many, and especially for too many women,” she said, “they are not in stable relationships, they don’t have jobs, they have children they can’t feed and clothe, and they have no support network.”

“It’s not medical care, it’s life,” she said. “There are people whose lives are so hard they break.”

That’s why today, as much as in King’s time, we need an economic and social Bill of Rights for all Americans.

stress

We’ve all seen it among our students: their stress levels are way up.

The sense that, over the past decade, students are feeling more stress is confirmed by the latest report on first-year college students from the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA [pdf]. 34.6 percent of the students surveyed reported that they are frequently overwhelmed by all they had to do. According to the Huffington Post [ht: ja], that is up from 24 percent in 2005.

Only half of last year’s freshmen consider themselves “above average or better” in emotional health, continuing a skid from 63 percent in 1985 and 54 percent in 2005.

Denise Hayes, president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors in 2011, theorized at the time that the declining emotional health was connected to financial pressures.

“College tuition is higher, so they feel the pressure to give their parents their money’s worth in terms of their academic performance,” Hayes said then. “There’s also a notion, and I think it’s probably true, that the better their grades are, the better chance they have at finding a job.”

Think about it: workers are increasingly stressed on the job, and when they lose their jobs. And college students are increasingly stressed by the prospect of paying for their education and finding a job.

Clearly, there’s something seriously wrong with the way workers—who have jobs, who have lost jobs, or who have yet to find jobs—are being stressed out today.

Perhaps then we need to transfer that stress to those at the top to accept a radically different set of educational and economic institutions.

lives

The third part of “Children of the Recession,” UNICEF’s report on “the impact of the economic crisis on child well-being in rich countries,” focuses on Gallup Poll data about people’s experiences and perceptions of the most recent crisis of capitalism.*

In 18 of the 41 countries, three or more of these indicators reveal rising feelings of insecurity and stress from 2007 to 2013. The most severely affected countries—including the United States—are clustered at the bottom of the table.

In terms of its impact on personal experiences and perceptions, the Second Great Depression is certainly not over. In 13 countries—again, including the United States—negative responses to three or four questions were still rising between 2011 and 2013, particularly in countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey.

 

*Due to data availability, the numbers in the table refer to the population in general, not to families with children. Countries are ranked based on their average score across the four indicators, each of which measures how responses changed between 2007 and 2013. The highest number indicates the sharpest change. Column 5 indicates how many of the responses to the four were negative over the full period.