NEW YORK -- An index devised by a group of social scientists at Fordham University reports that six social ills, including child abuse and the gap between rich and poor, are at their worst recorded levels and have dragged the nation's well-being to its fourth lowest point in 24 years.
The scientists also tracked their social well-being index against the Gross Domestic Product, the output of all goods and services, and concluded that the nation's economic prosperity and its social health, as measured by the index, are no longer linked.
The report, "The Index of Social Health," looks at federal government statistics annually on 16 different social problems, comparing each to the year in which it was least harmful, and combines the results to derive a figure on a scale of 0 to 100 that measures social health.
The report was first produced in 1985 with statistics back to 1970. The nation's best year, as measured in the report, was 1973, when the index stood at 77.5. Its worst year was 1991,
when the index was 38.1. In 1993, the year covered by this year's report, the index was 40.6, down from 42.5 in 1992.
"This is the first time that six problems have hit their lowest in one year," said Dr. Marc L. Miringoff, the study's author and director of the Fordham University In stitute for Innovation in Social Policy in Tarrytown, N.Y. "And these problems cut across the age and income span."
In addition to the gap between rich and poor and child abuse, problems measured at their index lows were children living in poverty, the number of uninsured, average weekly earnings and the amount the elderly are paying for health care, Dr. Miringoff said. In two other categories, drug abuse and homicide, the index also showed drops from 1993.
In a related study, Dr. Miringoff extended his social research in nine categories back to 1959 and compared these to the GDP. He found that until about 1975 the social health of the nation rose with wealth, but since then, wealth had increased while social health, as measured by the index, had fallen.
Six of the categories used to calculate the social index did improve in 1993: infant mortality, food stamp coverage, teen-age suicide, unemployment, poverty among the elderly and access to affordable housing. But these improvements were not sufficient to bring the index up.
"Behind these numbers there's a lot of insecurity, a lot of frustration," Dr. Miringoff said.