Friday, November 28th, 2014
Pants on Fire!
Facebook posts
"Over 300K home owner suicides attributed to foreclosures."

Facebook posts on Friday, April 25th, 2014 in a meme shared on social media

Social media meme says 300,000 suicides are attributable to foreclosures

A reader sent us this meme; we looked at whether its claim is correct.

A reader recently asked us to check a social media meme with a striking statistic about foreclosures and suicides.

It said, "1.4 million homes stolen by banks since 2008. Over 300K home owner suicides attributed to foreclosures. Why won't anyone defend these American property owners' rights?"

Have there really been 300,000 suicides linked to foreclosures? We decided to take a look.

We first checked with the group credited with creating the meme -- a news and opinion site called occupycorporatism.com -- but an email to the site’s general inbox was not returned.

So we next checked annual death statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most recent report came out in December 2013, covering statistics for 2010.

For 2010, CDC found that suicide was the 10th most common cause of death, with 38,364 cases. Here’s the number for the past nine years:

 

Year

Suicides

2010

38,364

2009

36,909

2008

36,035

2007

34,598

2006

33,300

2005

32,637

2004

32,439

2003

31,484

2002

31,655

Total, 2002-10

307,151

 

So the total number of suicides from 2002-10 is around 300,000. But for the meme to be correct, you’d have to believe that every single American suicide between 2002 and 2010 was caused by a foreclosure. 

Of course, that assumes there was a reliable way to measure this kind of causal effect. (The CDC reports don't address what caused a person to commit suicide.) And the meme is even further off-base it it intends to be referring only to suicides since 2008.

We asked several experts whether the meme's claim was even remotely possible.

"There is no basis for this claim," said Douglas Massey, a population-research professor at Princeton University.

"It isn't plausible that every suicide over a nine-year period could be attributed to foreclosure," agreed Janet M. Currie, a Princeton University economist who, along with Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University, has studied the health impacts of the rising tide of foreclosures in the United States. Tekin expressed similar skepticism when contacted by PolitiFact.

In their own research, Currie and Tekin found that a location with about 400 foreclosures in a year might see 24 more medical visits for mental health conditions, including suicide attempts. But that wouldn’t be enough to support the meme’s claim, Currie said.

Our ruling

The meme said that over 300,000 homeowner suicides are attributable to foreclosures. But that would mean every suicide over a nine-year period would have been caused by a foreclosure, and experts say that’s not credible. We rate the claim Pants on Fire.