Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New York, the Unhappiest State

Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that New York was the unhappiest state in the nation. For now the city's denizens are trying to figure out whether or not it is true, and what it means. Link here.

New Yorkers are a tough crowd. They will probably see this as a badge of honor, a sign that they are cooler, hipper, and more in tune with reality.

Or else, people in New York City will decide that while they are very happy, those who live in the rest of the state are dragging down their happiness quotient.

I should mention that the survey took place over the last four years; some of the results were collected before the financial crisis.

Nonetheless, we all want to know why Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, and Arizona are the happiest states, while New York, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, and California are the most miserable.

The obvious answer: sunshine makes you happy. Unless you are in California, that is.

And we understand why states in the mid-west Rust Bowl, suffering the loss of manufacturing jobs, should be less happy. Along with Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania are among the least happy states. But that does not quite explain why Connecticut and New Jersey have joined New York among the unhappiest states.

The least we can say is that New York did not earn this honor for not having had enough therapy. In fact, New York has more therapists than any other state, with California coming in second. New England states, especially Massachusetts, also have a large number of therapists. Massachusetts is the seventh least happy state.

Perhaps the answer lies in economic realities. The least happy states, whether in the Rust Belt or in the New York metropolitan area, suffer from job killing economic policies: too many taxes, too many regulations, and too much unionization.

The Southern states that hold most of the top positions on the chart have low taxes, fewer regulations, and a far less unionized workforce.

Economic opportunity seems to contribute to the level of personal happiness. And enhanced economic freedom also seems to contribute.

As for New York State, surely the state, and especially New York City, suffers from a great division between rich and poor. As Mayor Bloomberg pointed out, some 40,000 people pay half the taxes in New York City.

This does not just mean that the city can ill afford to lose those people, but that the gap between rich and poor is especially sharp in the city.

Beyond all that, life in New York City is difficult for many people. When people from other parts of the country come to New York they are struck by the level of rudeness and disrespect, the utter disregard for the feelings of other people. Especially among the young and those who have recently arrived.

Given the city's extraordinary diversity, many people do not know the rules of social interactions. In the absence of clear guidelines many young people, newly arrived, imagine that there are no rules.

Thus, people make and break appointments with wild abandon. They return messages when they feel like it. They have no sense of duty about managing their relationships or even showing consideration toward strangers.

The New York dating scene is chaotic on good days. On bad days it is abusive and traumatizing.

People overcome these problems when they get married and have families. But then, New York is not a very friendly place for families.

In New York City it is prohibitively expensive to buy an apartment that is large enough for a family. And the public school system is such that those who can afford it send their children to private schools, at considerable expense.

If they cannot afford it, they are forced to move out of the city, to suburbs in New York State, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

All of these states count among the least happy.

When people are forced to make decisions based on economic necessity they are not making free choices. They cannot choose between the city and the suburbs; economic realities dictate the decisions.

When freedom is circumscribed people are not going to be happy.

1 comment:

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Here, I do not actually imagine it will have effect.