Soundings

Dave M. O'Neill
Quality-of-Life Index
Summer 1999

How do you measure quality of life? The Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research developed a "report card" of 17 indicators to measure New York City's economic and social well being—which gives at least a rough approximation. The study, which I helped conduct, covered the years 1991 to 1996, and I've updated our findings where solid numbers are available. Since 1993, when Rudy Giuliani became mayor, the city gets good grades.

Economic Well-Being. New York City's poverty rate peaked at 28.9 percent in 1993 and fell to 26.2 percent by 1996. Average real-wage rates have spiked upward since 1993, while unemployment has dropped from 10.3 percent in 1996 to 6.6 percent as of May 1999. The employment rate has risen in the city from 51.8 percent of the population in 1993 to 54 percent in 1998—the highest it has been for more than a decade.

Health and Welfare of Children and Youth. Rates of teenage pregnancy, HIV-positive newborns, infant mortality, and unnatural death for young people have all significantly improved since 1993. That year, there were 144.6 pregnancies per 1,000 teens; in 1996, the number fell to 131.5 per 1,000. Infant mortality was 9.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1993; by 1997 the number had plummeted to 7.1 per 1,000. The number of newborns with HIV fell from 9.5 per 1,000 babies tested in 1993 to 7.5 per 1,000 in 1996. The reported number of unnatural deaths of individuals five to 24 years old also has fallen over the last several years—influenced by the reduced crime rate. Less happily, the four-year graduation rate from high school has dipped from 51.5 percent in 1994 to 48.4 percent in 1997. Two other indicators—the percentage of kids in foster care and the percentage suffering abuse and neglect—have changed little since 1993, though the absolute number of children in foster care has been falling, while that of abused and neglected kids has been rising.

Health and Well-Being of Adults. The yearly number of new AIDS cases has fallen more than 50 percent since 1995 after increasing in 1993 and 1994, and the number of deaths from AIDS fell 64 percent from 1995 through 1997. The suicide rate among elderly males fell slightly from 1994 through 1996 and appears to have dropped again in 1997. Homelessness bumped up a bit from 1994 to 1997, after diminishing in 1993 and 1994.

Safety and Security. Here, of course, we have had the dramatic 50 percent decline in the city's crime rate and 68 percent dip in the murder rate since 1993. In addition, we derived a more general measure of the city's security: the percentage of housing units near boarded-up buildings. This percentage also fell more than 50 percent between 1993 (15.5 percent) and 1996 (10 percent).

Thirteen of these 17 indicators—admittedly only a blurry and unscientific picture of an incredibly complex reality—have been moving in the right direction and just two have worsened. New York City has been improving almost across the board.

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