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Post-Recession American Economic Causalities: From Graphs to Graves

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization. 

By William Clements
February 26, 2019

Much has changed in the United States post-recession, and the realities from this change have had negative externalities, producing thousands of casualties over the years. According to a NOLA study in 2016, the CDC reported 63,632 deaths due to drug overdoses, a 21.4 percent increase from the year before. Nearly two-thirds of those deaths involved prescription in addition to illicit opioids. There is little doubt about how the relationship between the 2008 fiscal crisis and the realities faced in America today have negatively impacted many individuals, specifically those in rural areas with low-skill sets. We currently have one of the strongest economies in the world, which surprisingly maintains one of the highest suicide and overdose rates as well. This is a terrible socioeconomic reality. Though reluctant, we as public administrators must look at the realities not only as they exist on economic graphs, but as they exist in our neighborhoods and communities.

Currently, the United States has an unemployment rate around 4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What this means in theory is that things are looking up in America regarding work opportunities and standards of living. Closer inspection of the realities derived from the graphs and charts begin to highlight a disconnect between what should be true theoretically and what is actually experienced within the growing economy. Despite this development, there have also been an increasing number of prime-aged men who have dropped out of the workforce in the Midwest and Northeast. The latest figures given by the Brookings Institute was 15 percent. Even more troublesome is the fact that these males are overrepresented in the category of opioid deaths. Unfortunately for many state and local governments in the era of economic growth, we are still faced with bleak outlooks regarding overall life satisfaction of our citizens.

It would be remiss to suggest that the country has not undergone a series of demographic changes since the recession here in America. Many thriving cities and economic areas are working hard to attract the young adult millennials and the graying baby boomers. It is worth noting that millennials make up a highly educated and diverse group of individuals who are not only vital in creating and driving innovation, but also make up an important consumer block due to the disposable income they now possess. However, upon closer observation a rift begins to appear which adds more clarity to discovering the possible causes promulgating differences between the millennials with high disposable incomes and the poor who have dropped out of the job market. The harsh reality is that many of the high-paying jobs and job growth have been experienced in America’s largest cities. The Brookings Institute reported that 72 percent of the nation’s growth occurred in big cities. What is wearisome is that most opioid-related deaths are occurring in the Midwest and Northeast among middle-aged men. The hardships faced in many of these communities are related to slow, stagnant or declining job outlook.

As many of us have learned in public finance courses, in order to adequately serve the needs of the citizens we need to have a tax base capable to fund and sustain many of the programs desired and needed in our communities. There are no quick-fix solutions to such a complex problem. Despite the noblest of intentions, we must have a conversation that addresses the gap in education, earnings and standard of living. We could, at our own detriment, continue to only view the graphs as an actualization of bettering our country, which includes our neighboring states. America has witnessed lowered life-expectancy as a result of opioid deaths. While the graphs provide great visuals of economic output and consumption, what graphs are not capable of showing is the hardships encountered by those who find themselves further behind. The graphs do not allow for realities on the ground to be acknowledged, felt and understood. As a result, it is up to us to be sure that those voices are heard and considered.

Author:Mr. William Clements is a Professor of Criminal Justice and Psychology at higher education institutions. He possesses a Bachelor of Science Degree in Justice Studies, a Master of Science Degree in Forensic Psychology, and he is currently an A.B.D. in Public Policy and Administration and has submitted his full dissertation for approval. He has served in the field of public service for a total of 11 plus years and is a well-read enthusiast for topics of economics, politics, and most of all, public policy. Email: [email protected]

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