WASHINGTON -- There has been a disturbing increase in America's suicide rate, and our job-scarce economy may be one of the reasons why.
Historically high suicide rates are taking place among baby boomers in their 50s and 60s -- one of the age groups who've been among the long-term unemployed who can't find jobs and have stopped looking.
According to a report last week from the Center for Disease Control, there has been a 50 percent increase in suicides among this vulnerable age group. In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC cites the economy's high unemployment rate as one of the possible factors.
Overall, the CDC said, suicides among the middle-aged, between the ages of 35 to 64, shot up 28 percent. Notably, men were four times more likely to commit suicide than women.
Suicides have become the 10th-leading cause of death in the nation. In 2010 alone, more than 38,000 Americans killed themselves.
While further study is needed to figure out why suicides are increasing, psychologists are already pointing to some of the likely causes.
"We've had recent economic downturns, the war is winding down, so we're seeing a lot more of an increase in veterans, who have 21 suicides per day," psychologist Kelly Posner of the Columbia University Medical Center told CBS News last week.
The jobless rate among returning war veterans is high. More than 800,000 were unemployed this year, according to Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He said the statistic was "a sobering reminder of just how bad this economy is for our nation's veterans."
These and other figures are the latest manifestation of the Obama economy's human dimensions that all too often get ignored or underreported in the rush of 24-hour news.
Last week's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report that the economy created only 165,000 jobs in April, in a workforce of 160 million, dominated all the headlines. Many reporters called the number "solid" and said it showed the economy was coming back.
But more sobering voices were not as impressed by April's figures, or those that came before. Employment numbers have averaged 168,000 jobs a month over the past 12 months, the kind of weak job growth "you would expect to see in an economy expanding at a 1.5 percent to 2 percent annual rate," says The Washington Post's chief economic analyst, Neil Irwin, who isn't buying the White House's ballyhooed exaggerations.
"This kind of growth cannot boost the economy toward full employment in the near future. If this keeps up, no one will be singing 'Happy Days Are Here Again' anytime soon," Irwin writes.
"If you're living in Britain or most of continental Europe (where the unemployment rate is 12 percent) or Japan, the U.S. track record is one to envy, but we Americans have higher expectations for how our economy ought to perform," he adds.
Break down the BLS's April jobs figure, and it isn't what it's cracked up to be. Many jobs were in low-paying retail, hospitality and other service sectors. A third were in temp work. There was no net increase in manufacturing, which the White House has told us is on the mend. Construction lost 6,000 jobs and logging turned negative. So much for the purported building boom.
"This isn't a good economy. By a lot of measures it's terrible," Irwin says. Yes, we are in a kind of a slow-growth recovery that, "if it can go for several more years, will eventually get us out of the muck. But it is also slow enough that the human toll of the crisis will be long and enormous."
Last week, the nation got a chilling peek into one of the dimensions of that human toll in CDC's grim numbers. The fine print in the BLS statistics gave us another -- one that said we still have a long way to go before America is growing again at rates we saw in the '80s and '90s.
But that's not the message President Obama was preaching when he addressed the graduating class of Ohio State University in Columbus on Sunday.
Instead of encouraging these young people to go out into the world and build something, start a new enterprise, or enter the world of venture capital to finance the Apple and Walmart corporations of the future, he seemed to be suggesting that they become more involved in politics.
Obama quoted President George W. Bush, who told the graduating class of OSU in 2002 that "America needs more than taxpayers, spectators and occasional voters." Instead, Obama urged them to get more involved in the democratic process, saying that it "isn't working as well as we know it can," especially in the nation's capital.
What he means by that, of course, is that the government programs he wants to create, the fatter budgets he wants to enact, are stalled in Congress, half of which thinks we spend too much as it is.
We certainly need an active citizenry, but we also need people who dream of creating businesses that put millions of people to work and open new economic opportunities for future generations of Americans.
But I think we know by now that Obama is never going to be a cheerleader for capitalism, wealth creation and a rising tide that will lift all boats. He doesn't want these kids to go out and build a global corporation. His message is to go into public service, run for political office and get into government.
No one knows how many in the class of 2013 already have jobs lined up, but we know that roughly half of all college graduates today can't find work commensurate with their educational skills.
Yet, there was Obama telling these hopeful graduates that they faced "an economy and job market that are steadily healing."
The truth is that it's tough out there in Obama's hard-to-find job market, and it's likely to get worse.