- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

Americans are upbeat about their health, community life, personal relationships and financial situations, says a new Reader’s Digest survey designed to regularly measure social well-being.

Americans are “more than shoppers and buyers,” William Beaman, Washington bureau chief for Reader’s Digest, said at a press event yesterday.

While surveys such as the Consumer Price Index and Consumer Confidence Index reliably track spending patterns, they can’t answer questions about families’ core quality-of-life issues, he said.

The new twice-a-year Reader’s Digest Family Index, created in conjunction with the Gallup Organization, is intended to fill this gap by looking closely at families’ attitudes about their finances, health, communities and personal relationships, Mr. Beaman said.

The information is certain to be of interest to policy-makers and politicians, Mr. Beaman said, adding that the Bush administration and many Democratic presidential campaigns have already asked to be briefed on the findings.

For instance, the new survey, which was taken this past spring of more than 2,000 adults living in related-family households, found that Americans gave their highest ratings to their health and community life: Overall health was rated as plus-100 on a scale of minus-200 to plus-200; community life was rated as plus-99.

Personal relationships with family and friends also scored a high average rating of plus-90.

The fourth domain — financial situations — had the lowest overall score of plus-66, no doubt a result of the recession and sluggish economy, according to the survey.

Still, most Americans rated their current financial situations as “at least ‘good,’” and many said they expect things will get better in a year, it said.

The Reader’s Digest survey confirms two constants about Americans — that they are deeply religious and genuinely optimistic about the future, said Karlyn Bowman, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a District-based conservative think tank.

However, paradoxes also emerge, she said. For instance, American families support having a strong U.S. military but they dislike sending troops overseas. Or, they like the idea of women joining the work force but they worry that having two working parents is bad for children.

A detailed report on the new survey will appear in the February issue of Reader’s Digest, Mr. Beaman said.

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