Unemployment: The Other Health Crisis

By Jefferey Jaxen

As the country mostly shuts down during the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. Department of Labor’s latest jobless numbers are unsurprisingly bad. 

Breathless headlines about unemployment zipped across news feeds Thursday, showing 6.6 million Americans filed new claims. In the week ending March 21, 3.28 million claims were filed, bringing the two-week total to nearly 10 million. Meanwhile John Williams of ShadowStats, who regularly analyzes flaws in current U.S. government economic data and reporting, puts the seasonally adjusted alternate unemployment rate for March 2020 is 22.9%.

During that previous week, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said record unemployment claims were “not relevant” during an interview 

“To be honest with you, I just think these numbers right now are not relevant whether they’re bigger or smaller in the short term,” Mnuchin said. The supporting argument being that temporarily not working and being without an employer are two different things

Additionally, Mnuchin fell back on the $2T ‘CARES’ stimulus package recently signed by President Trump as “protecting those [jobless] people” and seemed confident that the unemployed workers “will be rehired.”  

Let’s hope so. A recent analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimated the second quarter unemployment rate to hit 32%. Yet the analysis states “…one can argue that the expected duration of unemployment matters more than the unemployment rate itself, especially if the recovery is quick.” 

As health officials hyper-focus on a myopic virus suppression response, the American economy crumbles in parallel as a direct consequence. As a society, at what point do we look at unemployment data to also inform policy of the cascading effect of unemployment on health and mortality rates?

In 1976, Harvey Brenner of Johns Hopkins University compiled a report titled Estimating the Social Costs of National Economic Policy: Implications for Mental and Physical Health, and Criminal Aggression for the U.S. Congress, Joint Economic Committee.

Brenner found, among other points, that when unemployment rises by one percent, 36,000 people die as a result. Brenner found that the ripple effect took 5 years for those mortality rates to eventually manifest themselves– in other words, it wasn’t an immediate turnaround. 

Around half of those deaths were from heart attacks, while many others fall under what are called ‘deaths of despair.’ Brenner also presented evidence of increased infant mortality, homicides, incarceration and more people having increased mental health issues. 

In a recent interview, Toby Rogers, Ph.D. stated there is basically 50 years worth of data that looks at what happens when unemployment increases: “When unemployment increases, lots of people die. We have very good data on this.

Following Brenner’s 1976 model, Rogers estimated the cumulative impact of an increase in unemployment on mortality over a five-year lag period reporting:

Lower bound. If the unemployment rate increases by 5 points as a result of the various lockdowns, then 294,170 additional lives will be lost, not from coronavirus, but from deaths of despair.

Mid-range. If the unemployment rate increases by 16.5 points (as predicted by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin), then 970,761 additional lives will be lost to deaths of despair.

Upper bound. And if the unemployment rate increases by 10-fold — which is what we are already seeing in several states — then 1,853,271 lives will be lost to deaths of despair from government orders to lock down, shut down, and shelter in place.

“Deaths of despair” should be a regular media talking point as unemployment surges, but it’s nowhere to be found amid a litany of corporate news doom-sayers. In America, several warning indicators of “despair” have been flashing long before the world heard the term COVID-19. Opioid-related deaths, for example, have killed over 400,000.

In Europe and the United States, suicide rates rise about 1% for every one percentage point increase in unemployment, according to research published by lead author Aaron Reeves from Oxford University.

The Miss Institute argued recently in an article titled End the Shutdown that “There is no conflict between humanitarian and economic concerns; in fact they are flipsides of the same coin. A poorer America will be a much less healthy America, one more vulnerable to future illness and disease.” 

The article concluded by stating, “Government cannot decide what aspects of our lives are essential or nonessential. The American people cannot simply sit at home and wait for government checks written on funds that government does not have.

How’d we get here? The American coronavirus ‘suppression’ response was initially crafted in large part by a highly questionable assumptive model from the Imperial College London and Neil Ferguson. Ferguson’s previous modeling—which led in part to the slaughter of more than 6 million animals during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, leaving parts of Britain economically ravaged—was called “not fit for purpose” and “severely flawed” by colleagues. 

This time around, Ferguson relied on code he wrote 13 years ago. Now, he is dragging his feet on openly releasing the code to the public for independent analysis and peer-review. 

Meanwhile, coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci recently appeared on CNN calling for a full U.S. shutdown either by all state governors or at the federal level. FOX News host Tucker Carlson said Fauci’s call for all states to issue stay-at-home orders would amount to “national suicide.” Fauci’s counterpart, Dr. Deborah Birx, who sits on the board of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Global Fund, decided to discard several models in favor of a Gates-funded model from the Institute for Health Metrix and Evaluation. It uses New York and New Jersey data and applies it to the rest of the country. 

Despite that modeling fiasco, which was built on continually changing assumptions and inaccurate projections, there is no White House health model that encompasses the impacts on health and mortality due to now-surging unemployment. Will Trump’s coronavirus task force be forced to change direction in the coming weeks, as the nation sees a logical and unavoidable rise in unemployment numbers?