Does higher unemployment boost the death rate?

We got this e-mail question yesterday:

“Has anyone looked at the comparison of the job rate to the death rate? Has joblessness and loss of healthcare raised the rate of death in Minnesota and in the country?”

Well I did a little checking and the short answer appears to be, “No.”


As you can see from this first chart, from ’07 to ’08, both the U.S. death rate and the unemployment rate did rise. But the next year the two measures diverge. The unemployment rate soared to 9.3 percent in 2009 while the death rate moderated.

[The death rate is measured as total deaths per 100,000 population. The 2009 data was the most recent available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The unemployment rate is the 12-month average for the non-seasonally adjusted U.S. jobless rate.]

Also, this second chart from the U.S. CDC shows both the crude and age-adjusted death rates falling visibly in the mid 70’s, roughly coincident with the 1973-75 recession.


Even if the numbers did appear to show a correlation between higher unemployment and a rising death rate, it probably wouldn’t be prudent to assume that there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. As the old statistical saw goes, “Correlation does not imply causation.”

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