0.5% is the reduction in the death rate for every 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, according to research by University of North Carolina professor of economics Christopher J Ruhm.
"As we grind through the longest recession in 75 years, Americans across the land are not dropping like flies. In fact, there’s a virtual epidemic of people not dying."—Fortune, Oct. 28, 2009
Never mind the Wall Street suicides of 1929 or those sad black-and-white photos of Depression-era kids: For most Americans, the recession may actually stave off death.
According to research by University of North Carolina economics professor Christopher J Ruhm, recessions actually make people get healthier. We recessionistas drive less, smoke less, walk more and eat healthier more frequently, Fortune reported in October.
(The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent numbers show that the US death rate hit an all-time low in 2007—760.3 per 100,000 people.)
When SFR brought up the death rate to David Navarrete, a managing partner at Santa Fe's Berardinelli Mortuary, he groaned.
"This past year, the death rate has dropped considerably—not just in Santa Fe [but] throughout the Southwest," Navarrete says. "All the Catholic [mortuary] companies were having a slow year because of the low death rate."
Berardinelli is a Santa Fe institution: Founded in 1969, the mortuary serves approximately 600 local families each year, Navarrete says. And though it seems like the death business would be recession-proof, Navarrete says he's started to feel it.
"At first it didn't really affect us at all," Navarrete says, "but [over the past year] it began to affect the way people spent on their loved ones."
Berardinelli responded by laying off some employees (though Navarrete says most have been re-hired) and keeping its prices steady, even as casket manufacturers began charging 10 percent more to cushion themselves.
"It's not the right thing to do, to increase prices right now," Navarrete says.
He has noticed, however, that cremations have increased—6 percent just in the past three years. Part of that is because the Catholic church has accepted cremation as a funeral rite, Navarrete says, but it's also a less-pricey funeral option. But, he notes, it's still important to have a funeral—"some sort of goodbye, some sense of closure."
He means the good kind of closure, obviously—not the kind you get when someone bags up your relative's brain and returns it to you with her personal effects, as a lawsuit claims happened at an Española funeral home.