If you are dumber, you won't live as long.
A reader sends me an article about life span in the United States. They had previously posited that college graduates live longer than non-college graduates. But in a new analysis of the data, it appears that high school dropouts skew the statistics for "non-college graduates" as the drop-outs have a significantly lower life expectancy.
Why is this? Well, the article gets all weepy-liberal (the wrong kind of liberalism, in my mind) about how we should be reaching out to the lower classes, perhaps by lowering the power window on our limousine and handing them a twenty. There, problem solved!
Having rubbed elbows with the poor and working class (Yes, I lived in Chittenango once - as well as Flint, Michigan) I have a different perspective. Yes, the poor get a raw deal and don't live as long, but it isn't just a matter of them getting depressed and killing themselves - at least not in the traditional way.
Lower class people end up being forced to take jobs that essentially kill them over time - jobs that are dangerous or expose them to toxic materials. Much ado was made by Republicans about how they were going to "save jobs" in the coal mines of West Virginia. But who the hell wants to work in a coal mine - if there are other alternatives? I spend some time in the Mountain State, and there are billboards galore for law firms willing to represent you for black lung cases. Yea, we all thought that problem was "solved" back in 1968. It wasn't. It still happens.
People take jobs like that not because they love being a mile underground in an environment that might explode, cave-in, or suffocate them to death at any moment - and if they survive that, will slowly kill them after 30 years of inhaling coal dust. No, people take those jobs because that's all there is in impoverished areas like West Virginia, and coal mine owners know this.
Kind of weird, when you think about it, that one guy gets to own this huge mine and make tons of money from it while hundreds or thousands labor underground for a relative pittance. Why does one guy get to own a natural resource that arguably should belong to all of us? But that's commie thinking and dangerous.
And no, I don't feel sorry for that "one guy" when demand for coal dries up due to the low cost of natural gas. Free market, baby! You live and die by it. So of course, the coal mine owners throw money at political candidates who promise them to save the coal industry by passing laws restricting fracking, solar, and wind. That's Capitalism, right?
But I digress.
When I worked at GM and Carrier, I was exposed to a lot of hazardous materials - and I was a salaried employee! But those were just places I was passing through - three years at GM, five at Carrier. The career employees saw much more in the way of toxic exposure than I did. And most salary employees were ensconced in clean, well-lit offices, that had little in the way of exposure to toxic chemicals, other than perhaps a whiff of photocopier toner.
I recall a guy at Carrier, "Herman the Crazy German" who ran the trichloroethelyene bath in TR-1. "Tri-chlor" as we called it (and we washed our hands with it) is nasty stuff. They used to use it for dry cleaning, but it can kill you if you are drunk and inhale the fumes, apparently. We had a "tank" of the stuff, set 30 feet into the ground, about the size of a small swimming pool - maybe 30 by 20 feet, rectangle. Herman manned the tank and he was crazy as a loon. The other workers told me his brain was full of holes from inhaling the tri-chlor. I don't know.
The bottom of the tank was filled with tri-chlor maybe ten feet deep - hundreds of gallons of the stuff. Halfway up the tank was a set of cooling coils that caused most of the tri-chlor fumes to condensate into a nasty ominous-looking cloud about ten feet from the top. Herman would lower machinery into the tank to "degrease" it. If you lowered something into the cloud, you could see the grease just melt off it - and the paint, too! Down into the liquid, well, when you pulled whatever it is up, it would be clean and shiny metal! Great stuff! Too bad it is deadly and a carcinogen.
They bulldozed TR-1 and planted grass there. I am beginning to understand why.
Guys like Herman worked at jobs like that and yea, as a union job it paid well. But every day he went into work, it took a toll on his body, a little bit at a time.
At GM, I worked in a ball bearing factory. We had a "grind shop" where inner and outer rings were ground to precise tolerances. The grinding machines used a "grinding fluid" which was an emulsion of water and oil and filled the bay with a fine mist to the point where you could not see the far wall during the day. You spend a few hours in the grind and you end up blowing oil-snot out of your nose. And the noise was deafening. Some wore hearing protection, others were basically stone deaf.
Of course, when you grind metal, you produce a lot of metal powder and for high-chrome alloy steel, this includes some heavy metals. The stuff is flammable - like magnesium! Half the plant burned to the ground only a year after it opened. Putting out a metal fire is hard to do - pouring water on it makes it burn even hotter. Imagine inhaling all those metal particulates.
Those were, of course, union jobs. Other jobs pay less and are more hazardous. A friend of mine took a job with a temp agency doing "Hazmat cleanups" on the Interstate whenever a truck turned over. Mostly, it was just mopping up spilled diesel fuel, but other times, it was far worse. The truck they used to service these incidents was a hazmat site of its own - having had every sort of chemical known to mankind tracked into it.
Most of the other employees were desperate people - ex-convicts, drug addicts, and illiterates who could not get any other work. Their employer viewed them as an expendable commodity. Most didn't work there for more than a few months, but one or two made a career out of it. I think my friend lasted a week. He was kind of appalled by the whole thing. If you think experts in space suits mop up all that crap and carefully dispose of it, you've got another think coming. At least back them, it was a lot of kitty-litter and hosing things into the storm drain. Can't keep the Interstate shut down for days while you clean things up with a Q-tip!
The point is, people with lower education levels tend to end up in more dangerous jobs that expose them to imminent physical danger as well as exposure to toxins. One of the most dangerous jobs out there - more dangerous than Policeman - is garbage collector. Riding on the back of a truck, with one foot on a tiny, greasy step and one hand on a slimy bent handle is just one mis-step from falling off and being run over by the asshole tailgater who is in a hurry to get nowhere. The guy climbing the tower at the radio station risks his life every climb. The executive in the corner office risks getting a paper cut. That's one reason why lower education means lower lifespan.
But there are other reasons as well. Less-educated people engage in more risky personal behaviors. Smoking is prevalent among the lower classes, and today is seen as "trashy" by more educated people. Heavy drinking and drug use are also more prevalent among the poor and less educated, even as some celebrities and rich folks fall into that trap.
The poor are less likely to get top-level medical care. Even in countries with socialized medicine, the very rich can afford private doctors and get moved to the head of the line for transplants and special surgeries. It is unfair, granted, but that is part and parcel of the problem.
Even something as simple as dentistry is to blame. Many doctors are now realizing that heart problems may be linked to mouth bacteria which in turn may be linked to poor dental hygiene.
Then there is diet. The poor are more likely to be obese (oddly enough - the trope of the "starving poor" has no traction in the USA, where we have the fattest poor people on the planet). The rich are not the ones sitting in line at the drive-through, waiting for their diabetes meal. It is the poor who eat the worst sort of trash.
Maybe you shop at the high-falutin' grocery mart and never see this. I shop at Walmart. And it is heartbreaking to see a 300-lb (or higher) person in an electric scooter, loading their cart with orange soda and chips - after having already lost one leg to diabetes. You want to reach out and shake them. You want to shout, "Stop killing yourself with shitty food!" But them you realize you'd probably be thrown out and the "helpless" person would pull out a gun and shoot you. You can't fix stupid. You can't save people from themselves.
The poor and less educated tend to engage in more risky recreational behaviors as well. The poor drive fast everywhere - and drive a LOT, as I noted before. Car accidents can happen to anyone, but they seem to happen more often to the poor. Throw in drug and alcohol abuse - combine that with reckless driving - and you've got a perfect storm.
When I was living in Chittenango, I had a neighbor, Gwen Swatski. She was a sweet lady and worked at Syracuse China (now defunct). One day, I came home from Carrier, and she opened her window and introduced herself and asked if I wanted a beer. I said "sure" and we sat in her kitchen and had Genesse beers. She used these to wash down handfuls of aspirin, which she said helped with her various pains.
She had a sump pump in the basement and her ex-husband "Stan" had rigged up a string to the sump pump, and ran it into the kitchen next to her chair, so she could tug on it, occasionally, and get that last bit of water out of the sump. She lived on a corner lot and from her chair, she could see everyone coming and going through the Venetian blinds. Whenever one of us peeks through a Venetian blind today, we call it "doing a Gwen Swatski." Her memory lives on.
She was a nice lady and took me to the Syracuse China company Christmas party, making all the other office ladies jealous that she had such a "handsome young man" on her arm. It was fun.
But over time, her diet of beer and aspirin - and did I mention cigarettes? - took its toll and she developed stomach cancer and she died not too long after retiring from Syracuse China. A sad story, but illustrative of how the working class often ends up living shorter lives. No doubt the level of medical care she got was not the same as, say, Dick Cheney. It is sort of like how my Sister was treated for breast cancer - with her rural doctor denying for two years that the odd lumps in her breasts could be cancerous - until she finally demanded a biopsy. "Well, if you're going to get hysterical about it!" the doctor said. And later on, he said, "Whaddya know! Cancer!"
You don't get that kind of treatment at Mayo.
And then there are firearms. Not the root cause of the discrepancy, but yet another factor. The poor are more likely to squander what little money they have on guns. And gun owners are 22 times more likely to kill themselves or a family member with their gun, than an intruder or criminal. You do read the papers, right? Every day is a story about some man (and it is usually a man) who murders his whole family before turning the gun on himself. Those who merely kill themselves are not reported on much, other than to be listed in their obituary as "dying suddenly" in their home.
Today, the pattern continues. The poor and lesser-educated are more likely to believe that vaccines are bad for you - and they died in droves during the pandemic. As the above-chart illustrates, life expectancy among the less-educated was already several years less than those with a college degree. But it really took a nose-dive during the pandemic, as the less-educated were more willing to believe in conspiracy theories and deny basic science. Far more of the poor earned their "Herman Cain Award" than the rich and better-educated.
UPDATE: Note how this graph is made to look more dramatic by starting the Y-axis at 50 and using the metric of "life expectancy at age 25" instead of overall life expectancy. A zero-axis chart with overall life expectancy would not show such a dramatic difference or such a dramatic drop-off, either.
So what is to be done about it? To some extent, nothing. As I noted before, you can try to educate people but they will shout you down as "telling 'em what to do!" You can't fix stupid, you can't save people from themselves. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. We've known this for millenia.
Of course, some folks seem hell-bent on stripping our educational system down to nothing and letting it fail - replacing it with religious education. That has worked out so well in the Middle-East, hasn't it? An army of uneducated people who will die young and die for your cause or your industry. And they won't do pesky things like use Medicare or Social Security, either! Hell, if you play the game right, they won't even live long enough to qualify for either!
Intervening in people's lives isn't the answer. Throwing money at them isn't the answer, either. You can try to educate people, and hope they make better life choices. But if they insist on self-destructive behavior, there isn't much you can do about that.
And as for Herman-the-German, we can pass laws to make workplaces more safe and less toxic. What that has done, in effect, is offshore dangerous industries to third world countries, where people are deemed expendable and the ruling classes see no problem with this. Or, it means that third-world people who sneak into America become the new exploited class - forced to work at dangerous or toxic jobs, and threatened with deportation if they complain.
Sadly, that is how the world works.
The wealthy and the better-educated will always get a bigger slice of the pie - a better standard of living and a longer life. The poor and less-educated will, by definition, get the short end of the stick. What is odd to me - or perhaps not so odd - is that many of the poor and less educated will defend, literally to their death, their lifestyle and employment. The coal miner pines for his job back, while puffing on a Camel cigarette. Working in the coal mine - those were the good old days!
It is like my stinking hippie commie brother who talks at great lengths about "the workers" which are creatures he only knows about in theory. Having worked in factories and having been a Teamster, I can tell you the "workers" would kick his commie hippie ass if he came around the plant passing out leaflets.
The poor working class - that's who voted for Trump. You really can't fix stupid. So why bother trying?
UPDATE: In re-reading and editing this entry, I realize that some may think it comes across as elitist. I beg to differ. The authors of this ivory tower study are the elitists, I think, wondering what theoretical poor people they've never met, worked with, or been, behave. Having been poor and working class at one time (and engaged in all the stupid self-destructive behaviors) I think I have some insight into the problem.
Freedom means freedom to make bad choices, and the people making bad choices are the first to tell you to fuck off when you try to "educate" them otherwise. To the guy with the big-dually crew-cab jacked Ram pickup, the problem isn't that he is commuting to work in a 10 MPG vehicle, but that gas prices are too high because..... Democrats!
Fortunately, it is always possible to change your mind and make better choices in life - although the longer you wait, the harder it is to do and the smaller the benefits.
I guess that is where I digress from far-left liberalism in this country. I realize from experience that the reason why I was "poor" had more to do with my own life choices than luck - although luck should not be discounted. I made better choices and my life improved. I see no need to give "guaranteed annual income" to someone with a $1000-a-month drug habit or someone with $10,000 of tattoos on their body. Poor choices should not be subsidized. But they often are!