On Thursday, March 23, two Princeton University researchers and economists expanded on their recent work on what appears to be a real trend of increased mortality rates among some lower income, less-than-college educated white populations. The findings were discussed at the Brookings Institute.

The paper Mortality and morbidity in the 21st century by Anne Case and Angus Deaton states that middle-aged non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less have experienced increasing midlife mortality since the late 1990s. They trace this to both rises in the number of “deaths of despair” (death by drugs, alcohol and suicide) and to a slowdown in progress against mortality from heart disease and cancer, the two largest killers in middle age.

The research shows that mortality rates are declining for Hispanic and blacks and is falling for whites with a college degree. The research finds that the same trend is not present in comparable European countries and in fact it is decreasing faster for lower income populations compared to higher income European populations although it is falling for both.  The two authors suggest that the key factor may be the lack of economic opportunity at the time of entry for whites with low levels of education.

Certainly, the role of drug addiction is becoming clearer everyday with national stories of the increased impact of opioids addiction and overdoses.  A factor that had to affect the thinking of some members of Congress as they considered changes and restrictions to health care coverage through the ACA.

The research which is getting increased attention could help to shape some of the coming debates not just on health care but the potential impact of budget cuts –especially those that would impact on rural America—something the president’s first budget hits hard on.