Well-Being Is Higher in Lancaster Than in Any Other U.S. Metro Area

According to data collected throughout 2011 for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Lancaster County, PA is the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) where well-being is highest, compared to all other U.S. metro areas.

My Facebook newsfeed has been overtaken by a photo of a USA Today sidebar listing the top and bottom 10 in this ranking. Big thanks to Michael McCrea for seeing the story and sharing a photo.

Gallup and Healthways interviewed 1,000 people a day over the course of last year to collect this data. Every person they interviewed is given a composite score of well-being, which is based on factors in six categories:

  1. Life evaluation
  2. Emotional health
  3. Physical health
  4. Healthy behavior
  5. Work environment
  6. Basic access

Together, these six categories contain 55 individual factors. A breakdown is available on the project’s methodology page.

In the case of Lancaster County, they interviewed 781 individuals, or 0.15% of our population. They then used the composite scores of those individuals to create a composite score for Lancaster County. (Read the overview report in PDF format.)

Metropolitan Statistical Areas are often not apples-to-apples comparisons. Lancaster County is a rarity among the country’s 361 MSAs in that the Lancaster MSA and Lancaster County are the same thing. York County for instance, is bundled with Adams County. The Philadelphia MSA includes both Camden, NJ and Wilmington, DE.

As an alternate way of breaking down the data, the 2011 Well-Being Index report also ranks the results by U.S. congressional district. By that measure, Lancaster ranks 7th. (Chester County must be dragging us down!)

What I find most impressive is that Lancaster managed to reach the #1 slot while being surrounded by bad influences. The 2009 version of this same study revealed that the York-Hanover MSA was the 4th most obese in the nation, and that area shares a large border with the Lancaster MSA. (The obesity statistics for 2011 have not yet been released.)

In fact, while Lancaster ranks at the very top of the list for the overall Well-Being Index, York-Hanover is down at 120th. Allentown-Bethlehem is 169th. Harrisburg-Carlisle and Reading look better, at 49th and 56th, respectively. (That info is found in the Pennsylvania-specific report, also a PDF.)

It is worth noting that compared to the year prior, Lancaster’s Well-Being numbers improved in each of the 6 categories listed above, except one:

Well-Being Index for Lancaster, PA

That’s right: healthy behavior. The bad news is it appears our behavior isn’t as healthy as it should be. The good news is that our behavior is the thing we have the greatest ability to change.

I’m sure our local business champions will be proud of the fact that our best-performing category is work environment.

For those interested, here are  the top ten MSAs on the 2011 Well-Being Index:

  1. Lancaster, PA
  2. Charlottesville, VA
  3. Ann Arbor, MI
  4. Provo-Orem, UT
  5. Boulder, CO
  6. Honolulu, HI
  7. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, CA
  8. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  9. Fort Collins-Loveland, CO
  10. Appleton, WI

What are your thoughts and reactions?

What Cities Are Comparable to Lancaster?

In the coming months, I would like to begin spying on towns that are a lot like Lancaster.

I want to monitor them remotely over the Web, to get a sense of what is going on in those cities that might inspire us here in Lancaster, or cause us to think differently about ourselves.

What cities do you consider to be comparable to Lacaster? Ideal cities will be of similar size, age, and climate.

I think there are a fair number of people in Lancaster with a sense of what is going on in Philadelphia, New York, and even more distant cultural centers like Los Angeles and Austin. Those people are thinking about how some of the things that are done in those cities might be done here.

I would like to contribute to the conversation by looking at what is going on in less well-known cities that are more similar to ours. Any suggestions of towns to use as that sort of benchmark?

Census 2010: Latino Growth

Expect more Census 2010 posts to come. For now, here’s Latino population growth as it has contributed to Lancaster city’s overall population:

Growth of Latino population in Lancaster, PA

As you can see, the Latino population of Lancaster city has increased from 21 percent to 39 percent over the course of two decades.

What does this mean? Look to the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board’s Latinos in Lancaster County Initiative for lots of great insight from researchers and from our community’s Latino leaders.

How many of America’s wealthiest people live in Lancaster County?

The greatest threat to democracy in the United States is the growing inequality of wealth. (The causes of that inequality, including the unchecked power of multinational mega-corporations, are important, too.) Thomas Jefferson recognized massively disproportionate distribution of wealth as a possibility. It is now reality.

The situation has gotten serious over the past fifty years, as Robert Lieberman points out in the current issue of Foreign Affairs:

The wealthiest Americans, among them presumably the very titans of global finance whose misadventures brought about the financial meltdown, got richer. And not just a little bit richer; a lot richer. In 2009, the average income of the top five percent of earners went up, while on average everyone else’s income went down. This was not an anomaly but rather a continuation of a 40-year trend of ballooning incomes at the very top and stagnant incomes in the middle and at the bottom. The share of total income going to the top one percent has increased from roughly eight percent in the 1960s to more than 20 percent today.

When we talk about the income of the top one percent, we’re talking about individuals making more than $1.2 million a year.

It’s hard to comprehend those kind of numbers. One percent of people getting twenty percent of the income? It’s worse when you realize that’s only income, not wealth. As of 2007, ten percent of the U.S. population held eighty percent of all financial assets.

I think most of us automatically think of the richest people in America as abstractions. We’ll only see their faces if we see their photos in Forbes. But what if these financial elite are our neighbors? How many of the “richest of the rich” live in Lancaster County?

In my research so far, it’s impossible to tell. There’s really only one definitive statistic: at least five thousand Lancaster County households are among the richest five percent of American households, in terms of income.

The latest research on actual wealth (as opposed to just income) to come from the U.S. Census Bureau is dated 2004, and even then the numbers are only broken down to the state level, not into counties. We know that in 2004, there were 86,000 individuals in Pennsylvania with more than $1.5 million in financial assets. If those individuals were evenly distributed throughout the state population, in 2004 there would have been 3,464 of them in Lancaster County. Further, if we want to consider only individuals worth more than $20 million, in 2004 there would have been seventy-six such individuals in Lancaster County.

Does anyone have any better data on these questions? If not, do my very rough guesses pass the “sniff test” for you? Are there thousands of multimillionaires among the half-million residents of Lancaster County?

Lancaster County Marriages: Who Needs ’Em?

Time magazine coverThe cover story in the current issue of Time, “Who Needs Marriage? A Changing Institution,” shares the results of a new Pew Research Center study on how, as a nation, our attitudes toward marriage have changed over the past fifty years.

There are a lot of statistics in the article that cannot be broken down to the local level, but there was one question I knew I could answer: What percentage of adults in Lancaster County were married in 1960, compared to 2008?

I asked this question because it was surprising to me to learn that, nationwide, only about half of all adults are currently married, down from more than two thirds in 1960. (We’re counting adults as individuals 20 years of age or older.) I was curious to know what those numbers were for Lancaster County, to compare how we stack up to the nation as a whole. Here’s the answer.

Table: Percentage of Adults Who Are Currently Married

United States Lancaster Co.
1960 68% 78%
2008 52% 62%

It’s uncanny how Lancaster County has remained exactly ten percent higher in this regard over the past half-century. We may be moving slower, but we’re following the same trend as the nation as a whole.

This leads me to a reader poll: Is marriage obsolete? When Time asked this question in 1978, “when the divorce rate was much higher than it is today,” 28% said it was. In this new study, that number has grown to 40%. What do you say?

[poll id=”14″]