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Reducing Suicide: A National Imperative
nomic4 cost of suicide encompasses four factors. (1) Medical expenses of emergency intervention and non-emergency treatment for suicidality. These medical costs are not borne by the health care industry alone, but by all of society through higher health care costs that are ultimately passed on to workers and taxpayers. (2) The lost and/or reduced productivity of people suffering from suicidality. (3) The lost productivity of the loved ones’ grieving a suicide. (4) Lost wages of those completing suicide, with the greatest absolute numbers of suicides occurring before retirement. Even if the analysis is restricted to the estimate of lost wages of suicide victims, the financial impact of suicide is enormous. By doing this analysis, the Committee found that for suicide in 1998 alone, the value of lost productivity was calculated to be $11.8 billion (in 1998 dollars). The basis of this analysis is described below.
Lost productivity was defined as the discounted present value of expected future age-, sex- and race-specific earnings. The average annual earnings by age, race/origin, and sex were estimated from the March 1998 supplement to the Current Population Survey (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1998). The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of about 50,000 households conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The March supplement CPS contains detailed information on income and work experience in the United States. In constructing our estimates of average annual earnings, we did not weight observations by their probability of being sampled for the CPS. This should not have much impact on the representativeness of our estimates, except in cases where there were a very small number of observations in a stratum (e.g., the average annual earnings of female Asian/Pacific Islanders, 85 years old and over was based on seven observations in this stratum). Even in such cases, the lack of sample weighting in estimating earnings is not likely to have a meaningful influence on the overall estimate of lost productivity due to suicide. Average annual earnings were estimated for the mid-point age of each of seven age intervals: 15–24 years old, 25–34, 35–44, 45–54, 55–64, 65–74, 75–84, and 85 and over. In addition, it should be noted that this estimate using the cross-sectional perspective probably underestimates the real economic loss from suicide for two reasons. First, real wages are likely to rise over time. Second the non-market productivity of older persons (for example in caring for a disabled spouse) has also not been included in this analysis of the cost of suicide.
We used five mutually exclusive categories of race/ethnicity: white non-Hispanic, black-non-Hispanic, American Indian/Aleutian/Eskimo
It is noted that a common estimate of the monetary value of lost life is how much people are willing to pay to extend their lives. Such an analysis was not undertaken here, in part because the intent to die in suicide complicates the assumption in such an analysis.