Carol Graham (Brookings Institute) will give the Mershon Center’s Citizenship Lecture in a talk entitled “Unequal Hopes, Lives, and Lifespans in the USA: Insights from the New Science of Well-being” (cosponsored by the DSC).
The American Dream is in tatters. The metrics that I use to demonstrate this are distinct from those usually used to measure on inequality. I use well-being data to highlight inequality in beliefs, hope, and aspirations.
The high costs of being poor in the United States are more evident in stress, insecurity, and hopelessness than in material deprivation. Inadequate access to health insurance and stable employment play a role, but so do the increasing gaps between the lives of the rich and the poor. Such inequities lead to more inequality in the future, as individuals who do not believe in their futures are unlikely to invest in them. The markers are evident in income, education, and employment data; in differences in mortality, marriage, and incarceration rates; and in other signs of societal fragmentation.
This is a complex problem, and there are no magic bullets. My research – which includes matching our metrics of well-being and ill-being with the patterns in “deaths of despair” in the United States - highlights the important role of well-being metrics in identifying and monitoring trends in life satisfaction and hope, and in desperation and misery. I find, for example, remarkable levels of optimism among poor blacks but deep desperation (and rising pre-mature mortality rates) among poor whites.
I highlight policies – including experimental ones – in which hope is an important channel in determining and improving economic outcomes.
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