LAMBRO: Casualties in the jobs war

Suicide statistics start to track the unemployment rate

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There has been a disturbing increase in America’s suicide rate and our job-scarce economy may be one of the reasons why.

Historically high suicide rates occurring in recent years are taking place among baby boomers, people in their 50s and 60s — one of the age groups who have been among the long-term unemployed who couldn’t find jobs and stopped looking.

According to a report last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a 50 percent increase in suicides among this vulnerable age group. In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC cites the economy’s high unemployment rate as one of the possible factors.

Overall, the CDC said suicides among the middle-aged, between the ages of 35 to 64, shot up 28 percent. Notably, men were four times more likely to commit suicide than women. Suicides have become the 10th-leading cause of death in the nation. In 2010 alone, more than 38,000 Americans killed themselves. While further study is needed to figure out why suicides are rising, psychologists are already pointing to some of the likely causes.

“We’ve had recent economic downturns, the war is winding down, so we’re seeing a lot more of an increase in veterans, who have 21 suicides per day,” psychologist Kelly Prosner at the Columbia University Medical Center told CBS News last week.

The jobless rate among returning war veterans is high. More than 800,000 were unemployed this year, according to Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He said the statistic was “a sobering reminder of just how bad this economy is for our nation’s veterans.”

These and other figures are the latest manifestation of the Obama economy’s unspoken human dimensions that all too often get ignored or underreported in the rush of 24-hour news.

Last week’s Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ (BLS) report that the economy created only 165,000 jobs in April, in a workforce of 160 million, dominated all the headlines. Many reporters called the number “solid” and said it showed the economy was coming back.

A few more sobering voices, however, were not as impressed by April’s figures or those that came before it. Employment numbers have averaged 168,000 jobs a month over the past 12 months, the kind of weak job growth “you would expect to see in an economy expanding at a 1.5 percent to 2 percent annual rate,” says The Washington Post’s chief economic analyst, Neil Irwin, who isn’t buying the White House’s ballyhooed exaggerations.

“This kind of growth cannot boost the economy toward full employment in the near future. If this keeps up, no one will be singing ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ anytime soon,” Mr. Irwin writes.

“If you’re living in Britain or most of continental Europe [where the unemployment rate is 12 percent] or Japan, the U.S. track record is one to envy, but we Americans have higher expectations for how our economy ought to perform,” he adds.

Break down the BLS‘ April job figure, and it isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Many jobs were in low-paying retail, hospitality and other services sectors. A third were in temporary work. There was no net increase in manufacturing, which the White House told us was on the mend. Construction lost 6,000 jobs, and logging turned negative. So much for the purported building boom.

“This isn’t a good economy. By a lot of measures, it’s terrible,” Mr. Irwin says. Yes, we are in a kind of a slow-growth recovery that, “if it can go for several more years, will eventually get us out of the muck. But it is also slow enough that the human toll of the crisis will be long and enormous.”

Last week, the nation got a chilling peek into one of the dimensions of that human toll in CDC’s grim numbers. The fine print in the BLS statistics gave us another that said we still have a long way to go before America is growing again at rates we saw in the 1980s and ‘90s.

That’s not the message President Obama was selling or preaching when he addressed the graduating class of Ohio State University in Columbus on Sunday.

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About the Author
Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is the chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, the author of five books and a nationally syndicated columnist. His twice-weekly United Feature Syndicate column appears in newspapers across the country, including The Washington Times. He received the Warren Brookes Award For Excellence In Journalism in 1995 and in that same year was the host and co-writer of ...

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