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Life Expectancy The Way Down

Williamson, W.Va., is seen Nov. 29 across the border from Kentucky. The largest municipality in the county, Williamson, became known in the last decade as a center for the abuse of prescription opioid painkillers.

Communities and politicians should take heed of U.S. demographic trends and what they portend for workplaces, mental health treatment, child care, preschool education and immigration.

The average life span is decreasing. So is the birth rate — down for the third consecutive year to a 30-year low.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released 2017 statistics late last year showing drug overdoses killed more than 70,000 and suicides were up 3.7 percent to 47,000, which contributed to the third annual decrease in life spans — the first time since 1915-18 amid World War I and an influenza pandemic.

Americans now live on average of 78.6 years, compared to 78.8 in 2015 — men, 76.1 years, and women, 81.1 years.

Deaths attributed to blends of synthetic fentanyl — often sold as heroin — are up a whopping 45 percent. Overall, though, experts believe opioid deaths may be leveling off as drug dealers recognize that killing their clientele with increasingly potent drugs is bad business and many states and localities aggressively address the epidemic.

Dayton, Ohio, had 50 opioid-related fatalities per month in 2017, but has cut that in half. Republican Gov. John Kasich expanded the low-income Medicaid program to include 700,000 more residents — giving them easy access to treatment centers — at a cost of $1 billion.

Dayton police and various agencies increased their use of naloxone (Narcan), an injection or nasal spray that can act as an antidote to opioid overdoses if provided early enough.

Iowa had a 35 percent decline in opioid related deaths from 137 during the first eight months of 2017 to 89 during a similar period in 2018.

The state confronted the crisis with a 2016 law allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone by a standing order to an individual at risk of an overdose or to a person in a position to provide assistance to an individual. Pharmacists handed out 4,000 free doses of naloxone last June.

Suicides have become the 10th leading cause of deaths, increasing 33 percent between 1999 and 2016, when attempts were 29 times the number of actual fatalities. Stopping that first attempt is critical. Nine out of 10 people who survive won’t succumb to suicide later, according to studies tracking survivors.

A worrisome trend is the increase among middle-aged rural women, although suicide is still most common among men.

The reasons for suicides vary widely from addiction to financial pain to mental health. Some experts blame greater “isolation” on social media, the internet and less actual human interaction.

In Iowa, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34 and third for ages 10-14. Iowa had 458 suicides in 2017, up from 433 in in 2016. From 1999 to 2016, it was up 36.3 percent.

That was during a period when hospitals closed eight psychiatric units and the state shuttered mental health facilities in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant.

Last year, the state approved a new system of six regional “access centers” and suicide prevention initiatives. Time will tell if it’s more than just a cheap political bandage. As the adage goes, follow the money.

The National Vital Statistics Reports stated the national birth rate declined 2 percent in 2017: 7 percent for teens, 2 percent for Hispanic and Asian-American women, but up 1 percent for African-Americans. It was down 2.3 percent in Iowa.

The birth rate for unmarried women declined 3 percent — 21 percent lower than a decade ago.

The only age cohort with an increase was women in their 40s.

Not so coincidentally, since 1988 — 16 years after Title IX demanded equity in education — female students have outnumbered males at four-year colleges. Women are now the majority by 56 to 44 percent.

Many colleges are developing strategies to attract elusive males, who are often reluctant to invest in higher education unless their blue-collar workplace is upended.

Consequently, many of those college-educated women are the breadwinners, often putting off childbirth (if not forgoing it entirely), wary of the toll on upwardly mobile careers. Family financial factors also come into play, including repaying expensive college loans.

The No. 1 issue for working women with children, according to the Iowa Women’s Foundation, is affordable, quality day care. In Black Hawk County, 21,324 children are younger than 12, but only 7,686 child-care spaces are available.

In addition, politicians would be wise to follow the lead of Alabama, which has been surprisingly progressive in recognizing the economic and social dividends from preschool education.

If these issues aren’t addressed — when more workers are needed to help fund entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare — then the U.S. inevitably will have to rely more on immigration, a third rail politicians have avoided.

According to the Pew Research Center, naturalized citizens increased from 14.4 million in 2005 to 19.8 million in 2015 after immigration began to spike in the 1990s.

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