Yes, it appears that our metropolitan area is among the least happy in the United States. I don't think that Mike was surprised by this, and I certainly wasn't. If anything, I am surprised that Erie, PA scored worse.
Anyway, the big question is this: Why? Why are we so unhappy? Well I've probably mentioned a while host of things in this blog before, but this is as good an idea as any to maybe do a consolidation of misery, if you will.
Why the residents of Northeaster Pennsylvania are so Unhappy
- We are physically unhealthy. According to many, many different sources, there is a direct link between physical well-being and mental health/attitude. Here's just one. It also creates a higher propensity for higher rates of disease. Here's a graphic showing breast cancer rates by Pennsylvania county. The source of the graphic is http://www.rural.palegislature.us . It's not a pleasant picture to see. We are also a literal hotbed for heart disease; here's what the CDC tells us about heart disease rates, historically, by US county.
- Corruption, corruption, corruption and more corruption. Here are just a few names: Dan Flood, Joe McDade, several county commissioners from both Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, two "kids for cash" judges...and the list goes on. Want to see how this all plays out? Well check out this excerpt from the end of the book The Quiet Don that says a lot (page 290): "Like Bufalino before him, Louis DeNaples relied on the support of a bevy of friendly, local and state federal elected officials in his bid for a slots license. Time and time again, people outside of Pennsylvania shook their heads in disbelief, each time questioning some new disturbing revelation asking how or why something like that could happen. How could the courts look the other way? Where is law enforcement?"
- Graft is institutionalized. We have a sitting school board president in Scranton who can actually vote for his own family income to increase, as his wife is a teacher (in the Scranton School District). This is the same director who presided over a national search for new school superintendent where the final candidate just happened to be a relative. Yes, only in Scranton political logic does a national search yield a relative for a position. So why is it so institutionalized? Well I have a theory: We tolerate it because we think, at some level, that if we look the way for someone else, they in turn will look the other way for us. Put another way, we have this pattern of tolerating bad behavior because we secretly hope to benefit from it ourselves.
- We rely too much on the government for things like employment. The largest employer in the area is the government. This means, in part, that it's not knowledge, education and ambition that is perceived as being the keys to success in NEPA; no, rather it's finding some public sector job, usually via some kind of connection, that is high on security but low on expectations. Don't believe me? Well go to a post office one of these days and ask an employee behind the counter a difficult question. Or ask my older brother, who is trying to get my younger, disabled brother some government services, only to be told that the initial application we filed is, and I quote, "not in the system" (translation: "I don't give a s#it").
- We likely over-pay for inefficient and ineffective government services. Here's an interesting graphic that shows who pays the most by way of Pennsylvania's personal income tax.The graphic is from the Commonwealth Foundation. It's probably not a secret that government is our neck of the woods is particularly ineffective, yet we tend to be among those paying the most for it. Overlay oppressively high wage taxation in Scranton and it begins to create an interesting picture (of despair).
Perhaps the real reason? I could go on with some of the more factual stuff, but the point is made. There is, however, one other point I want to make though: Mostly, I suspect that we are miserable because we make the choice to be miserable. More like "choices" actually. Many of us were raised by miserable parents, so learning about finding the simple joys in life were taught about as often as Mongolian language courses were/are in our high schools. I know that's true for me, and I suspect that's true for others as well. In fact, much of what I've noted above is a direct result of our choices to be miserable. For example, we are miserable, which breeds cynicism, which basically opens the door for all manner of political corruption. It's all a horribly vicious cycle, that, I hope, one day will break. The good news though is that there is hope: I can, for example, point to the good work being done by Friends of Lackwanna as being indicative of a change in the business as usual mode of things getting done in NEPA.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the late Warren Zevon.