This column was co-authored by Derek Monson.
Strong families are the foundation of healthy communities, upward economic mobility, and a robust civil society, but American families aren’t flourishing the way they once were.
Happening at the same time, community leaders and elected officials know that dependency, a poor business climate, substance abuse, unemployment, low educational attainment, and crime significantly harm our culture and well-being, but policymakers struggle to craft policies that offset these costs in the long-run.
To help provide a clearer idea of how social and economic factors affect human behavior in the states, economists Wendy Warcholik, Ph.D., and J. Scott Moody, M.A., have undertaken the Family Prosperity Initiative, a project of the American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF.) The cornerstone of this project is the Family Prosperity Index (FPI), the first and only data-derived Index which demonstrates quantitatively the link between economic and social well-being.
The FPI measures the strength and prosperity of families – and the nation – by combining the most important economic and social data into a single number and then ranking those states based on which states create the best environments for families to thrive. It fills in the gaps around other measures like the GDP, assembling all the pieces of the prosperity puzzle into a complete picture of the economy. No other measure takes into consideration both the economic and social choices of people in a single state to create a holistic measure of human behavior in those states.
To add even more scorching power to FPI’s already impressive fire, the ACUF is proud to partner with the Sutherland Institute, Salt Lake City’s premier conservative think tank devoted to strengthening free markets and civil society through community-driven solutions. The partnership seeks to further support the FPI’s impact on communities across the country and to further educate everyone from think tanks, policymakers, employers, civic and religious leaders and activists who want to prioritize where to spend their time and resources most effectively in order to advocate for policies that improve the prosperity of families and the communities where they live.
The Sutherland Institute has hit the ground running, producing a handful of sharply poignant promotional videos that help put a face to a vast array of issues that affect many Americans from coast to coast, on both national and local scales, and from all walks of life.
FPI takes into account the economic repercussions of issues like the opioid crisis, which has spiraled out of control, gripping our nation in hopelessness, fear, and meaningless deaths since the early 2010s. Also included in the study are variables like the rate of incarceration, which has proven to affect everything from graduation rates, violent crime rates, and unemployment for both spouses and dependents. Or marriage and divorce rates, which have a direct impact on how families - the engine that powers the American economy - are best able to make an impact.
The FPI outlines the direct relationship between these social and economic factors and illustrates a path forward, highlighting the need for civic and political leaders to take many of these social factors into consideration when working to better their communities economically.
With Utah resting comfortably at the top of the FPI – that is, the Beehive State is ranked first out of all 50 states overall and in each of the FPI’s six variables (except for economics, where they plow in at a still-formidable #2) – they can serve as a blueprint for states still struggling to reverse the effects of economic depression and the depletion of social structure, such as West Virginia, which drags its feet into the dead-last position in the FPI. With an increasing number of its citizens turning to welfare, opioids and committing suicide, hope for this impoverished state struggling with long running declines in its 200 year-old coal mining industry feels like a desperate Hail-Mary pass with the clock running out. With the FPI at our fingertips, however, West Virginia leaders are capable of making calculated and strategic decisions that will position the state toward tremendous potential successes.
The ACUF and the Sutherland Institute are devoted partners committed to revitalizing American families, communities, and culture by blurring the line between social and economic success. The FPI, an incomparable tool in ensuring this shift, is a priceless treasure for leaders across the country who agree that the American Dream is, in fact, worth fighting for.
Derek Monson is the Director of Policy at Sutherland Institute and Wendy Warcholik is the creator of the Family Prosperity Index and the original creator of the well-established State Business Tax Climate Index. Dr. Warcholik received her Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University.