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How can economic indicators be relatively good, while our sense of well-being is so poor?

December 4, 2018 | Comment

By Dennis Archambault

The economy is good, though we haven’t fully recovered from the 2007-10 recession and are anxious about the impact of job losses at Ford and General Motors; home values are up; the region continues to diversify with immigrant populations; millennials are finding the region desirable; and the health care industry continues to be a major source of employment. However, our sense of “well-being” is poor, worse than comparable cities.

The Detroit Free Press https://www.freep.com/story/money/business/john-gallagher/2018/12/04/detroit-regional-chamber-state-region-report/2193863002/ and The Detroit News https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/columnists/daniel-howes/2018/12/04/headwinds-buck-regions-upward-trajectory/2196383002/ covered the story from a business perspective, citing a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index https://www.sharecare.com/static/well-being-index. That struck me as curious – business writers citing a well-being survey — not the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation county health rankings, which would offer mixed reviews for Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb county.

The Gallup poll, known formally as “State of American Well-Being,” defines the holistic concept as “more than just physical health or economic indicators.” Well-being includes five elements: “purpose, social, financial, community, and physical.” Of seven indicators listed in the Free Press article, all were related to economic development. The inclusion of well-being didn’t seem to be relevant. Or is it?

It seems as though business writers have, in this case, inadvertently linked health – albeit defined through a “well-being” framework – with economic vitality. Of course, mentally and physically healthy people are more productive and more engaged in the communities and social networks. We should all be concerned why the well-being index is low, and lower in Metropolitan Detroit than in other areas, in a robust economic period. What is population feeling and thinking? Unlike the RWJ County Health Rankings, this is driven by perceptions of respondents, not statistical data. Overall, we don’t feel well. And that isn’t a good indicator for population health.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs at Authority Health.

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