By Shaun Flanagan
Editors Note: This article originally appeared in Inside Sources
COVID-19, and the choices made to contain it, have impacted communities across the United States and highlighted the holistic nature of prosperity, testing America’s institutional, economic, and social resilience.
While the American Rescue Plan is designed to tackle the immediate crisis, the newly published 2021 United States Prosperity Index also reveals the U.S. was facing a number of significant institutional and social challenges that were already acting as a brake on prosperity before the pandemic hit. It is vital that these are addressed alongside the direct and indirect impacts of Covid to create a more prosperous America.
After decades of improvement, the U.S. has experienced a significant increase in violent crime in the last 10 years. More than half of U.S. states have experienced at least one mass shooting every year since 2013, and the rates of death and injuries from these types of events increased by 50 and 80 percent respectively. The U.S. now ranks just 122 out of 167 nations worldwide for mass killings and injuries (including terrorism). Ensuring that individuals and communities are safe and secure is fundamental to the future prosperity of America, as peaceful societies are the cornerstone of thriving nations.
A number of health challenges also undermine American prosperity. Although Americans were smoking and drinking less prior to the pandemic, compared to a decade ago, high and increasing rates of obesity continue to impact the overall health of the population. Notably, more than 40 percent of adults are now identified as obese, up from 33 percent in 2008—resulting in the U.S. ranking 59 globally for health, a warning sign for the nation’s future prosperity.
The mental health of Americans, which was already deteriorating, has been further impacted by the pandemic. The increase in the number of suicides and drug overdose deaths was well documented, already claiming tens of thousands of American lives each year. As a result, the U.S. had fallen 21 places in the global rankings for mental health over the last decade to just 149 out of 167. It is worrying that early estimates reveal that drug overdose deaths in the 12 months prior to October 2020 totaled 90,000, nearly 30 percent higher than a year previously. The emotional impact this has on the wider community is exacerbated by the financial impact, costing an estimated $80 billion per year according to the CDC.
In addition, America’s social networks have deteriorated. A decade ago, two in three Americans reported talking frequently to their neighbors. This has fallen to around one in two now—and at the start of the pandemic, one-third of people reported not having a community to which they belonged.
And, of course, the coronavirus has also significantly affected physical health outcomes. Adult mortality rates, which were already on the rise, have been further impacted by the hundreds of thousands of Covid-related deaths in the U.S. Between 2019 and 2020, the mortality rate for those aged 15-64 increased by 20 percent, and the likelihood of a 65-year-old dying before they reach the age of 85, which had been falling in recent years, increased substantially from 49 to 57 percent.
Despite these serious challenges, there is also much to be optimistic about. The U.S. ranks 18 for prosperity out of 167 countries globally. Furthermore, prior to the pandemic, prosperity had been rising continuously for more than a decade as a result of long-term improvements across many areas, providing a strong foundation upon which to reset and rebuild.
The U.S. can also draw inspiration and courage from how it has overcome significant challenges in the past. Following the global financial crisis, the country enjoyed the longest period of economic growth in its history, with both labor productivity and the value of exported goods increasing, and saw an increase in the proportion of the adult population who had a high school diploma or were degree educated, with 18 million more degree-educated Americans in 2019 than in 2009. It is also encouraging to see the American entrepreneurial spirit arise, with the number of new business applications in 2020 the highest on record, and this trend has continued into 2021.
As each state and county across the U.S. looks to reset and rebuild following the pandemic, the United States Prosperity Index acts as a guide. It reminds national, state, and local governments, business leaders, investors, philanthropists, and civil society leaders across the country of what builds and protects prosperity, and can help them to deliver targeted policy responses that can drive tangible improvements so that all Americans can thrive.
About Shaun Flanagan
Shaun Flanagan is the director of the Centre for Metrics at the Legatum Institute in London. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.