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Everyday Economy

Mon., April 20, 2009, 10:50 a.m.

How happy are we? Miserable

You may have heard of the Misery Index -- a measure developed during the 1970s that essentially adds the unemployment rates to the inflation to come up with a larger picture of the economy.

Now there's the Happiness Index, developed at It's a similar kind of thing -- it takes a state's non-mortgage debt, bankruptcies and unemployment rate and comes up with a measure of that state's fiscal happiness.

The bad news: Washington and Idaho are scoring low on the Happiness Index, at Nos. 42 and 43, respectively.

Top of the list is Nebraska, followed by other Midwestern states. At the bottom was Oregon, though the indexers cautioned that the fortunes of any given state could change:

There are some interesting trends that can be gleaned from the Happiness Index. Not surprisingly, many of the states that experienced a boom during the housing bubble have more recently fallen by the wayside with increased foreclosures and debt.

Just as the U.S. economy evolves, so too will the Happiness Index. Although Oregon currently falls at the bottom of our list, the state is well positioned for a boost in the future due to its potential for an influx of green jobs.

The opposite case can be made for Nebraska, which could fall from the top of the list with time. Its economy relies heavily on corn production, which is subsidized by the government to create corn ethanol - an alternative energy source. But the future of corn ethanol is uncertain.

Here's the full post.

Washington and Idaho both had high levels of non-mortgage debt (39th and 49th, respectively). But Idaho's score was driven upward by a higher rate of foreclosures, and Washington's by a higher unemployment rate.

The problem there is that the figures used in the index are a couple months old. The unemployment rate has gotten worse around here, and there's no sign that foreclosures are easing.

As for the Misery Index, it's at 8.12 percent for March, and has actually been declining over the past several months. That's because inflation has gone down, even as the jobless rate rises.

Here's the web site for misery.

How's your financial temperament these days? Miserable, happy, or somewhere in between?

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Everyday Economy is a blog and weekly page in the newspaper dedicated to the way people are living their financial lives. Shawn Vestal, a longtime Spokesman-Review writer and editor, is overseeing the project.