Native American “Deaths of Despair” and Economic Conditions

Native American “Deaths of Despair” and Economic Conditions

Institute Working Paper 62
Published: Sep 21, 2022
Publisher: Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Randall Akee

Donn L. Feir

Marina Mileo Gorzig

Samuel Myers, Jr.

Key Findings
  • “Deaths of despair” are more common among Native Americans than white Americans
  • Different relationship between economic conditions and Native American “deaths of despair” than for white Americans
  • “Deaths of despair” increase among Native American women for improved local economic conditions
  • Findings suggest a hidden aspect of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) epidemic

Non-Hispanic white Americans who do not have a college degree have experienced an increase in “deaths of despair” – deaths caused by suicide, drug use, and alcohol use. Yet, deaths of despair are proportionally largest among Native Americans and the rate of increase of these deaths matches that of non-Hispanic white Americans. Native American women and girls face the largest differentials: deaths of despair comprise over 10% of all deaths among Native American women and girls – almost four times as high as the proportion of deaths for non-Hispanic white women and girls. However, the factors related to these patterns are very different for Native Americans than they are for non-Hispanic white Americans. Improvements in economic conditions are associated with decreased deaths from drug use, alcohol use, and suicide for non-Hispanic white Americans. On the other hand, in counties with higher labor force participation rates, lower unemployment, and higher ratios of employees to residents, there are significantly higher Native American deaths attributed to suicide and drug use. These results suggest that general improvements in local labor market conditions may not be associated with a reduction in deaths of despair for all groups.

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