Dahleen Glanton: Donald Trump’s suicide warning is a sign of his privilege, and most Americans can’t relate

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We always knew that Donald Trump was out of touch with most Americans. The fact that he thinks we’re going to kill ourselves if the economy doesn’t improve soon shows how clueless he is about how resilient we are.

Only someone of privilege could believe that being without money is worse than death. Obviously, he wasn’t referring to the people who live from paycheck to paycheck and are broke every other week.

Of course, everyone is worried that so many people are out of work. We aren’t naive enough to believe that even when the coronavirus pandemic is over, everyone’s job will be waiting.

Some companies will use the crisis as an excuse to downsize. Some businesses won’t reopen at all. Some others will try to meet their bottom line by replacing experienced workers with younger ones at lower pay.

People are going to suffer for a long time because of this pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they will just give up.

There is no factual basis for Trump’s claim during a virtual town hall on Fox News on Tuesday that “you’re going to have suicides by the thousands” if the economy doesn’t improve.

Americans are much stronger than that. Those who have nothing or earn very little are living proof.

What Trump doesn’t seem to grasp is that most people aren’t like him. While he might define his self-worth by his wealth, most Americans do not. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t.

According to a recent report from Bankrate, the typical American family has an average of $8,863 in their savings account. Couples with children have an average of $4,727 put away. Single people under the age of 34 have about $2,729.

This is far short of the amount needed to cover six months’ expenses as recommended by financial experts.

When it comes to 401(k)’s, the situation is direr. Only about half of American households have work-based retirement plans, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity.

That’s because many lower-paying jobs don’t offer such tax-deferred savings plans, and when they do, some workers feel as though they can’t afford the automatic deductions.

So what happens in the stock market doesn’t have any direct effect on a lot of Americans when it comes to their daily livelihood and ability to achieve wealth.

That’s not to say that the economy doesn’t have an impact on everyone’s lives. Many of us have watched our retirement funds dwindle in recent weeks. That means some people who had planned to retire might have to work longer. When there are no jobs, there’s no legal way to earn money.

In the coming months, people will lose their homes to foreclosure, their cars will be repossessed and the little savings they have will disappear. It will be tough, but most of us believe there are better days ahead — even if they are far out of our view right now.

Trump used the suicide scenario as a backdrop for his argument that it’s nearly time to reopen businesses and get the economy moving again, despite warnings from health officials that it would cause the virus to spread widely.

“People get tremendous anxiety and depression, and you have suicides over things like this when you have terrible economies. You have death,” he said during his Tuesday news briefing. “Probably and — I mean, definitely — would be far greater numbers than the numbers that we’re talking about with regard to the virus.”

There is simply no way to predict such a thing.

Without question, suicide is a serious health issue in America. Suicide has been rising in nearly every state for years, and is now the 10th leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans, age 10 or older, died by suicide.

The CDC warns, however, that suicide is rarely caused by a single factor.

A 2017 study by the National Institutes of Health found little evidence to suggest that the 2007-09 recession affected suicide rates in the U.S. Suicides already were increasing prior to the recession for middle-aged men and women, according to the report. There were nearly 5,000 additional suicides during that period, but the overall number was less than had been projected, the report found.

We are in for a tough haul over the next several months, and the fallout may last for years. The last thing we need is for Trump to use the serious issue of suicide to circumvent what health officials are saying about the seriousness of this pandemic.

Many people will need financial and economic support from the government to make ends meet. The $2 trillion stimulus package that would expand unemployment insurance, put cash in needy people’s hands and keep small businesses afloat would go a long way in helping Americans get through this crisis.

Families and friends will have to lean on one another for emotional support — as they always have. If depression sets in, people must immediately seek professional help. And if you suspect that someone is suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Yes, people will die for various reasons during these difficult times. But the overwhelming majority of Americans will live — if we follow the rules that have been put in place to keep us safe.

Together, we will get through this — just as we have gotten through every crisis that has come our way. That’s the kind of people we are.



Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.


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