This Congressional District Ranks Dead Last for Well-Being

It’s in Kentucky.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 24: Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) listens as FAA Administrator Michael Huerta testifies before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations committee on Capitol Hill April 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee heard testimony on recent delays in the U.S. aviation industry due to sequestration and also on the topic of FAA oversight.
National Journal
Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
March 25, 2014, 9:35 a.m.

Chin up, Ken­tucki­ans.

new re­port on the “state of Amer­ic­an well-be­ing” found which con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts are feel­ing good and which are suf­fer­ing. Ken­tucky’s 5th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict ap­pears to be suf­fer­ing most. The dis­trict, rep­res­en­ted by Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Har­old Ro­gers since 1981, came in last out of the 434 dis­tricts that were eval­u­ated in the sur­vey. (The data for dis­tricts were col­lec­ted from Janu­ary 2012 through Decem­ber 2013.)

The sur­vey, con­duc­ted by Gal­lup and Health­ways, uses a “Well-Be­ing In­dex” that takes six factors in­to ac­count: life eval­u­ation, emo­tion­al health, work en­vir­on­ment, phys­ic­al health, healthy be­ha­vi­ors, and ba­sic ac­cess to health care. A steady de­crease in health care ac­cess, along with rising obesity rates and a de­clin­ing work en­vir­on­ment, all con­trib­uted to a lower na­tion­al well-be­ing score.

On the oth­er end of the spec­trum, the sur­vey gives some cre­dence to the ste­reo­type that Cali­for­nia is a state run amok with crunchy res­id­ents telling each oth­er, “Na­maste.” Cali­for­nia’s 14th Dis­trict, which en­com­passes an af­flu­ent part of the Bay Area south of San Fran­cisco, ranked No. 1 in terms of hav­ing the highest rate of well-be­ing. Rep. Jack­ie Spei­er, who was elec­ted to Con­gress in 2008, rep­res­ents the 14th Dis­trict. Six­teen of Cali­for­nia’s 53 con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts made the top tier of res­ults, and Cali­for­nia jur­is­dic­tions made up half of the top 10 list.

While the sur­vey didn’t meas­ure in­come, it’s worth not­ing that re­spond­ents in more-af­flu­ent areas ten­ded to re­port bet­ter well-be­ing than lower-in­come areas (a sep­ar­ate study from 2010 found that people’s hap­pi­ness can be cor­rel­ated with their in­comes — up to a point). For ex­ample, in 2011, the me­di­an in­come in Spei­er’s dis­trict was $77,880. In Ro­gers’s dis­trict, it was $29,675.

Oth­er high-rank­ing dis­tricts in­clude af­flu­ent areas such as Den­ver, Hon­olulu, the Dis­trict of Columbia, and North­ern Vir­gin­ia. Gal­lup found that res­id­ents in the top 10 dis­tricts ex­per­i­enced “high well-be­ing, mak­ing their lives health­i­er and more sat­is­fy­ing,” the re­port said. “These high well-be­ing loc­a­tions tend to ex­hib­it many shared char­ac­ter­ist­ics, in­clud­ing lower chron­ic dis­ease rates, lower in­cid­ence of obesity, more fre­quent ex­er­cise, less smoking, and a more pos­it­ive out­look on their com­munit­ies.”

Mean­while, sev­er­al low-in­come urb­an areas were stuck in the bot­tom 10 of con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts: Michigan’s 13th Dis­trict, which in­cludes much of De­troit; New York’s 15th Dis­trict, which com­prises the Bronx; Texas’s 18th Dis­trict, which en­com­passes Hou­s­ton’s in­ner city; and Flor­ida’s 24th Dis­trict, which in­cludes north­ern Miami.

Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an House mem­bers split the bot­tom 10 of con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts. Three of the top 10 best-feel­ing dis­tricts are rep­res­en­ted by Re­pub­lic­ans; sev­en by Demo­crats.

Ken­tucky’s 5th Dis­trict may be the most miser­able in the coun­try by this test, but Ken­tucky isn’t the worst-feel­ing state over­all. As Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Matt Ber­man wrote last month, that title goes to West Vir­gin­ia, which came in dead last for well-be­ing. (As he wrote, the state is “vir­tu­ally without peers in re­l­at­ive misery.”) Mean­while, North Dakota rock­eted up the list from 19th place to claim the No. 1 spot from Hawaii — likely thanks to the state’s boom­ing oil in­dustry.

Spokes­men from Spei­er’s and Ro­gers’s of­fices did not ori­gin­ally re­turn re­quests for com­ment.

UP­DATE, 5:40 p.m.: Ro­gers gave this com­ment over email:

While this study garnered the opin­ions of a hand­ful of people, it cer­tainly doesn’t ex­am­ine the great strides that we’ve made over the last three dec­ades in edu­ca­tion, health­care and job cre­ation. Ken­tucky dir­ect­or of re­search and stat­ist­ics, Ron Crouch in­dic­ates the num­ber of people with a col­lege de­gree in our re­gion is dra­mat­ic­ally im­prov­ing, along with eco­nom­ic op­por­tun­ity.
In light of los­ing thou­sands of coal min­ing jobs in our rur­al re­gion due to the ‘War on Coal,’ the people of south­ern and east­ern Ken­tucky have united in a grass­roots ef­fort since Decem­ber 2013 called SOAR: ‘Shap­ing Our Ap­palachi­an Re­gion.’ To­geth­er, Gov­ernor Steve Be­s­hear and I have led this bi­par­tis­an ini­ti­at­ive to rally thou­sands of lead­ers to in­vest their tal­ents and en­ergy in­to im­prov­ing our be­loved ho­met­owns. While no one real­izes our chal­lenges like the fam­il­ies who work and live here, we know that great op­por­tun­it­ies are on the ho­ri­zon.
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