Saturday, April 23, 2016

Struggling and suicidal Americans: New Deal policymakers said, "We're here to help." Today, we say, "Go ahead and jump." A collective, national disgrace.

(A WPA librarian reads to a bed-ridden man in Kentucky, ca. 1935-1943. This type of compassion, facilitated by New Deal policymakers, is rare today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Years ago, a woman stood on a bridge in Seattle and prepared to kill herself. Someone in the gathering crowd yelled, "Jump, bitch, jump!" So, she did (but apparently survived serious injuries). Another distraught person, more recently, stood on a ledge of a building, ready to end it all. Shouts from the crowd below included, "Do it already!", "Idiot!", and "Stupid Motherf&*ker!" The man jumped to his death.

"Cruel, yes. Unusual? Experts say no." ("Why Bridge Jumper Was Taunted," ABC News, August 30, 2001.

Suicides have been rising over these past many years, pretty much in correlation with the the deterioration of the middle-class, the shredding of the social safety net, and a modern ethos that holds: If you're not rich and successful you're a failed human being at best and a parasite at worst. And, let's be honest, the label "parasite" is pretty much synonymous with, "Society would be better off without you."

In 2014, the most recent year we have complete data for, 42,773 Americans killed themselves - about 117 per day. Here are the numbers since 2005:

2005: 32,637 (11.04 suicides per 100,000 people)
2006: 33,300 (11.16)
2007: 34,598 (11.49)
2008: 36,035 (11.85)
2009: 36,909 (12.03)
2010: 38,364 (12.43)
2011: 39,518 (12.68)
2012: 40,600 (12.93)
2013: 41,149 (13.00)
2014: 42,773 (13.41)

As you can see, over the past 10 years nearly 376,000 Americans have killed themselves, and the rate per 100,000 has increased each year. (Figures from the CDC, "Fatal Injury Reports, National and Regional, 1999-2014," accessed April 23, 2016.) 

(This WPA nurse is making a house call for a sick child in New Orleans, 1936. New Deal policymakers paid unemployed health care professionals to assist Americans in need. They also trained other unemployed people to provide housekeeping and cooking services for ill parents. Suggest such a thing today, and you'll be laughed out of the room. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

In 2013, a sociologist from Oxford University and an epidemiologist from Stanford University estimated that for "every $100 in New Deal spending per capita," there was "a drop in suicides of 4 per 100,000 people" ("How Austerity Kills," New York Times, May 12, 2013). 

If the trend continues from recent years, we could have about 44,000 suicides this year. But, if we were able to replicate New Deal spending and New Deal policies (work for the unemployed, increased health care, better retirements, etc.), and thus reduce the rate of suicide by 4 per 100,000, we could save over 12,000 lives. If we created an even stronger New Deal, perhaps we could cut the annual number of suicides in half.

But the real question is: Do we even care that our fellow citizens are killing themselves? Not only is it routine for some Americans to persuade the distraught to kill themselves, but we also have Republican policymakers that are constantly trying to shred social safety net programs like food stamps, unemployment insurance, and Social Security, and we also have conservative Democrats, like President Obama, who shun New Deal-type policies that would help reduce suicide - for example, a new WPA (unemployment is highly linked to suicide rates - see, e.g., here, here, and here) and conservative Democrats like Hillary Clinton, who tell us that bold ideas are impractical and foolish.

(In this 1935 photo, we see transient men working in a surplus commodities warehouse in San Francisco.  Transient workers were temporarily or permanently homeless, and roamed the countryside looking for jobs. The New Deal hired them for various projects, and the surplus commodities you see above were distributed by the New Deal's Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation. It was a win-win situation: The unemployed received jobs and low-income Americans received cooking items, mattresses, pillows, towels, and more. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

If you suggested to the average policymaker today, "I think we should create a government jobs program for the unemployed; it would improve our nation's infrastructure and reduce depression and suicide," they would think you were a pie-in-the-sky dreamer, or perhaps even a lunatic. How many times do you hear policymakers even discuss the issue of suicide, let alone do something about it? You see, most of our policymakers today are idiots - at least in terms of their knowledge of history. They don't know--and, more importantly, don't care to know--that New Deal policymakers created a jobs program for the unemployed; that infrastructure was improved and suicide rates reduced; and that we are still utilizing many work-relief infrastructure projects today. And their idiocy, as well as their lack of vision, empathy, and leadership skills, are a fundamental reason why more and more Americans are killing themselves - a fundamental reason why they accept increasing rates of suicide and brush aside ideas to reduce them.

Make no mistake about it, the power-mad imbeciles that govern us today--in their pursuit of corporate cash and their denunciation of bold ideas--have blood on their hands (as do the corporations and super-wealthy who send jobs overseas, evade taxes, and pay politicians to protect their criminal activity).  

New Deal policymakers said: "We're here to help." Today, both policymakers and citizens say, "Go ahead and jump." And this is the kind of society that is created when millions buy into the idea that government is the problem and greed & selfishness are the solutions. It is a mass sickness that we have succumbed to.

"Many people view suicide as a mental health problem, but many people who die of suicide do not have a mental health problem. It’s a public health problem."

--Kristin Holland, Behavioral Scientist, Centers for Disease Control, 2016 (link)

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