Exclusive: Despite Pandemic, NC Didn’t See More Teen Suicides

Data suggests school closures =/= excess suicides. Also: Pat McCrory, outsider? + we ❤️ vouchers + the GOP infrastructure “alternative”

Thurs., April 15, 2021

Happy (Would Have Been) Tax Day!

  • It still is, sort of, for your state taxes.

  • The federal deadline has been pushed back to May 17. The state has not officially deferred its deadline. You won’t be penalized for filing after April 15, so long as you file before May 17.

  • But the state will collect a token amount of interest. Nothing worth sweating, my accountant assures me.

  • Speaking of my accountant, can I tell you how nauseous the words “self-employment tax” make me?

But I’m too pretty for IRS jail.

Vaccine update: Through 11:59 p.m. on April 13, 25% of the state’s population (and 32% of the adult population) has been fully vaccinated.

A quick demographic breakdown:

Race/Ethnicity:

  • White: 24.8%

  • Black: 17%

  • AAPI: 22.4%

  • Indigenous: 10.6%

  • Hispanic (any race): 11.3%

Age:

  • 0–17: 0.3%

  • 18–24: 12.3%

  • 25–49: 19.7%

  • 50–64: 29%

  • 65–74: 67.3%

  • 75+: 71.6%

Gender:

  • Male: 21.1%

  • Female: 28%

Weather: Chance of showers in the morning, partly cloudy in the afternoon. High ~70.


Today’s Number: 20

Percentage of the American public classified as a “Journalism Supporter” in a new study from the Media Insight Project on trust in the media.

  • “The study finds that not all Americans universally embrace many of the core values that guide journalistic inquiry. And uneasiness with these core values of journalism is more connected to people’s underlying moral instincts than to politics.”

Based on their self-reported values, the project breaks people into four groups: Upholders (35% of the population), Moralists (23%), Indifferent (21%), and Journalism Supporters.

  • Upholders—think authoritarians—have less support for core journalism values but follow the news closely. A slight majority are Republicans.

  • Moralists actively seek out news and support journalism.

  • The Indifferent are skeptical about moral and journalism values and distrust the media.

  • Journalism Supporters place importance on fairness and care and show the strongest support for journalistic values. More than three-quarters are Democrats.


Today’s Image

What you’re seeing: Since 2017, the percentage of white Republicans who believe racial problems are rare and isolated has risen from about a third to a majority.

Source


+TODAY’S TOP 4

1. Pat McCrory, Outsider

I’ve talked about the former gov’s imminent Senate campaign twice this week, so I won’t belabor the point. But the rollout is worth a quick discussion.

First, this image:

Outsider? You mean this guy?

Or this one?

(Note: Pretty amazing that the governor of North Carolina solved a global recession that ended before he took office.)

I’ll give him this: McCrory’s website is slick, if vacuous. He’s presenting himself as Not From Washington, as opposed to announced candidate Mark Walker and expected candidate Ted Budd.

The outsider schtick clashes with the prominent “key findings” from a poll showcasing McCrory’s biggest advantage.

  • “McCrory starts out the campaign with a very strong image. Meanwhile, both Walker and Budd will have to raise significant money to increase their name ID to get in the game. McCrory has 89% name ID, with 58% favorable and 13% unfavorable.”

That poll—at least the version released to the public—didn’t include possible candidate Lara Trump. For good reason: She’d kick Pat’s ass. So would Mark Robinson.

  • “A poll obtained by The Hill on Tuesday shows Lara Trump with a double-digit lead over a crowded field of current and potential GOP Senate candidates in North Carolina. The survey … found her garnering 32.4 percent in an eight-way primary contest. She’s followed in second place by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson at 20.1 percent.” 

  • “Only two other potential candidates, former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, notched double-digit support in the poll, scoring 14.2 percent and 12.7 percent respectively.”

Reality check: If I were McCrory, I wouldn’t like what I’m seeing.

  • In his own poll, with near-universal name recognition, he only has 58% approval among GOP voters.

  • If she runs, Lara Trump will be a stand-in for the Trump brand.

  • Most concerning: Robinson is beating McCrory despite lower name recognition. If Lara Trump doesn’t run, he’s a more natural fit for the MAGA crew than McCrory will ever be.


2. Closed Schools Don’t Appear to Have Led to More Teen Suicides

A story in the Carolina Journal yesterday asserted that Governor Cooper’s school closures have “take[n] a toll on students’ mental health.” This thesis isn’t really controversial.

  • As the story notes—and I’ve covered—a CDC study showed an increase in mental health-related ER visits for children and teenagers from April to October 2020 compared with the previous year, though the study is more complicated than CJ mentions.

  • School closures disrupted kids’ lives, but disentangling that aspect from the larger trauma of the pandemic isn’t easy. (This study gets more into their impact.)

I took particular note of this paragraph because it intersects with some data I’m sitting on:

There’s also evidence that teen suicides have surged during the pandemic: For example, Las Vegas public schools decided to reopen for in-person learning early after seeing 18 teen suicides in nine months, doubling the rate during the entire year of 2019. 

The Las Vegas thing is true. I covered it here a few months ago. And it’s possible teen suicides surged nationally, though I’ve not seen any evidence confirming that.

But teenage suicides don’t appear to have increased in North Carolina last year.

  • In fact, in 2020 the state saw the fewest suicides among those aged 12–20 than it has since 2017, according to the Office of the State Medical Examiner.

  • Suicides among those 15–17—high school—increased by about 60% over 2019, but were down from 2018. In other words, that’s noise, not signal.1

  • Here’s the breakdown:2

The point: The school closure/mental-health story doesn’t lend itself to drive-by analysis. And even if every suicide can be linked to closed schools, are we sure keeping them open amid a pandemic wouldn’t have killed more kids?

Related: Preliminary CDC data show that more than 87,000 people died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending in September.

  • “Deaths from overdoses started rising again in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic—after dropping slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades—and it is hard to gauge just how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend, which grew much worse last spring.”

  • “Many treatment programs closed during that time, at least temporarily, and ‘drop-in centers’ that provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses, cut back services that in many cases have yet to be fully restored.” (NYT)

In North Carolina, we have a divergence between what the CDC predicts and what has been reported. (North Carolina tends to lag in its reporting—worse than any other state, in fact. In 2019, for instance, the state provisionally reported about 75% of its final OD deaths.)

  • Reported: 2,261

  • Predicted: 2,732

Fatal overdoses among North Carolina residents age 12–20 did appear to increase in 2020. I say “appear” because the data are categorized as “poisoning deaths.” It’s unclear if any are due to non-illicit substances (e.g., kid eats Tide Pods).

  • There were either 121 or 131 accidental poisonings among the 12–20 cohort in 2020, up from 94 in 2019 and 47 in 2016. (The spreadsheet I received either has a data entry error or a math error.)

  • As usual, almost all of them—118—were young people between the ages of 18 and 20, so closed schools probably weren’t the most important factor.


3. It’s a Day That Ends in Y, So the NCGA Wants More Vouchers

Yesterday, the state House voted along party lines to expand the school voucher—sorry, “opportunity scholarship”—program, which funnels public money to private schools, including schools that discriminate based on religious grounds and kids all kinds of Noah’s-Ark-was-a-real-thing nonsense. Republicans rejected as “unnecessary” an amendment requiring voucher students to pass the same test public school students take.

  • Last year, lawmakers expanded eligibility for vouchers as part of a COVID relief bill.

  • Each voucher provides $4,200 per student. Under the new law, that amount would rise to $4,610 in 2022–23 and $5,269. This is supposed to remedy vouchers not being big enough for lower-income parents to afford wealthier private schools. (Tuition for a 5th grader at Durham Academy is about $27,000 a year.)

  • The bill goes to the Senate, which wants to raise the voucher max to $6,500 a year.

  • Governor Cooper is likely to veto.

▶️ OTHER SCHOOL NEWS

  • School districts have asked the General Assembly for permission to begin earlier than usual so they can address problems stemming from COVID. The tourism industry is a hard no. (N&O)

    • Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick County: “I think it should be labeled child abuse to send anybody back to school before Labor Day.”


4. Republicans Finally Almost Have an Infrastructure Plan

A handful of them, anyway. Ten “moderates”—we’re calling Mitt Romney a moderate—say they will soon unveil an infrastructure proposal about a third of the size of President Biden’s that will be paid for through regressive user fees.

What it does: A lot less than the Americans Jobs Plan.

  • “The Republican alternative is expected to be less than half the size of the White House’s plan, according to party lawmakers, who in recent days have suggested its total price tag could ultimately cost between $600 billion and $800 billion.”

  • “Moderate GOP members of Congress also have pledged to narrow their focus to include only the elements they consider traditional infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, while jettisoning the corporate tax increases that Biden has endorsed in favor of other ways of financing the overall package.” (WaPo)

What will Biden do? If nothing else, listen.

  • “But Biden also has signaled an openness to compromising on the full thrust of the package, telling lawmakers at a meeting in the Oval Office earlier this week that his appeal to bipartisanship amounts to more than ‘window dressing.’”

  • Such a compromise would mean forsaking investments in climate change, which won’t sit well with House progressives.

▶️ OTHER NATIONAL NEWS

  • The Capitol officer who shot and killed insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt on Jan. 6 has been cleared. Kim Potter, who shot and killed Daunte West in Minnesota earlier this week, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. (WaPo)

  • The House will soon approve a bill granting Washington, D.C., statehood. Over to you, Prime Minister Joe Manchin. (WaPo)

  • Bernie Madoff is dead. (NYT)

1

2020 numbers are considered preliminary, which is why I’m saying things like “don’t appear to” instead of being declaratory.

2

This will probably be part of a larger reporting project.