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Americans remain more glum despite an improving economy


THE US economy looks pretty good by most measures: Jobs are plentiful, growth is picking up, prices aren't rising too quickly, and unemployment is on track this year to hit the lowest level since 1969.

But Americans aren't happy.

In fact, Americans are more glum now than they were during the Great Recession, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. While most Americans do feel the economy is improving, the data shows, they don't think their overall well-being is going up.

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It could be a warning sign that Americans are concerned about more than "the economy, stupid".

The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index started in 2008 as a way to assess how Americans are doing beyond the usual financial and economic metrics. Every year, Gallup interviews more than 160,000 adults in the United States and asks them about their sense of purpose, their social relationships, their financial security, their health and their connectedness to their community.

In a surprise to the researchers, 2017 turned out to be the worst year for well-being on record. The overall index score was even lower than during the financial crisis, and, for the first time in the decade that Gallup has done this poll, no state in the country showed a statistically significant increase in well-being.

"It was a real eyepopper for us," said Dan Witters, Gallup research director for the Well-Being Index. "What we found was an unprecedented decline in well-being nationally." The unhappiness showed up across the country: Twenty-one states had statistically significant declines in well-being in 2017 versus 2016. It was "by far the most states we've seen drop in a single year," Mr Witters said, and the decline appeared in almost every region, except the Rocky Mountain states.

What's driving the gloominess now is very different than what Gallup and Sharecare, a health and wellness company, saw during the Great Recession. In 2009, a year when 15 states showed declines in well-being, money and financial worries were at the top of the list. Today, emotional and psychological factors dominate. People are not content in their jobs and relationships, and depression diagnoses are at an all-time high in the United States.

Some blame politics and polarisation for causing people to feel more anxiety and bitterness toward work colleagues and family. "I think one reason people may be anxious is because the government itself seems to be in disarray," said Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution. "We don't know what is going to happen next. There's no clear path toward stabilising either the country or the world."

The index also breaks down its findings by race, income and gender. Almost every demographic group dropped in well-being in 2017 - except for wealthy, white men. Women, African Americans, Hispanics and lower-income households (those earning less than US$48,000 a year) all saw substantial drops in their perception of their well-being.

Loneliness is now a serious societal problem that's affecting health and well-being: Forty per cent of American adults now say they are lonely, double the share of people who said that in the 1980s, according to AARP.

"The 2017 list of fears clearly reflects political unrest and uncertainty in the wake of Donald Trump's election as president," the researchers concluded.

Financial fears also ranked highly in the Chapman poll. "People are feeling more economically insecure, even if they have a job and a salary," said Rachel Schneider, author of "he Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty.

"The unemployment rate may be down, but it doesn't measure how many people don't feel confident they will get the hours they need or a full-time job with benefits," said Ms Schneider. "There's also real fear about how fast the world is changing and how stressful it is." WP