Much of U.S. politics focuses on the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer. But does anyone care that the fat are getting fatter?
The U.S. adult obesity rate so far this year is on pace to surpass all annual average obesity rates since Gallup-Healthways began tracking it five years ago.
Health costs are going to bankrupt us. At the current annual 6% growth rate, our total healthcare bill will go from $2.5 trillion per year -- which it is now -- to almost exactly $4.5 trillion in 10 years. If you add the stubs of the increases over the 10-year period, above the running $2.5 trillion our debt-burdened nation can’t afford, it totals a staggering $10 trillion.
To put this in perspective, the sum of our coming healthcare costs are three times the size of the subprime meltdown that brought America and the world to its knees. While we survived the subprime mess, healthcare costs will honestly break the nation.
Things look even worse when you compare America’s per person healthcare spending to comparable societies. We spend more than $8,000 annually per person, where Canada and Germany each spends roughly $4,500 per person, and the United Kingdom spends about $3,500, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development -- and residents of those countries all live longer.
So is our American healthcare system superior? You tell me.
Americans obviously understand that this is a huge problem. Nearly a quarter of us say cost is the most urgent health problem facing the U.S., surpassing healthcare access for the first time since 2006. Obesity remains the No. 1 health condition named.
Keep in mind that all of the hoopla about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, has little to do with reducing the bloated and growing $2.5 trillion expense. Obamacare attempts to address the insurance issue -- who pays for what -- but it doesn’t go after the core problem: Americans are too fat and unhealthy, and the vast majority of our health problems are preventable.
That’s right -- the Centers for Disease Control concluded a few years ago that of all of America’s chronic health problems, a whopping 70%, are preventable. And what is the common thread among these chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease? Being obese puts people at higher risk for developing all of them.
Rather than go on and on about whether the ACA website works or not, or who wins and loses politically in 2014 and 2016 because of a disastrous rollout, shouldn’t the media be trumpeting this headline: 70% of Health Problems in America Are Preventable?
I just figured the overall weight of Americans, and it’s right at about 56 billion pounds if I assume 180 pounds per person. As a nation, in my view if we collectively lost about 10 billion pounds of excess weight, we might reduce our healthcare costs by a third. And we wouldn’t need all of these wasted political conversations, because we could balance the budget. Even better, the fix would be free -- it wouldn’t require a new law, sequestration, or a shutdown.
That’s because the real fix doesn’t lie within political battles over insurance coverage. It lies within a sudden new culture of American fitness -- and that begins with eating less and exercising more.
Much of U.S. politics focuses on the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer. But does anyone care that the fat are getting fatter?
Just about anything good that happens to a company, or a country, comes from engaged employees -- and there are pitifully few of them around the globe. Engaged employees are committed to their work and their employers. Most importantly, they create the best customers, which drives growth in all of the millions of businesses big and small.
Here’s the problem: Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, conducted in 142 countries, finds that only 13% of employees worldwide are truly engaged in their jobs. The report couldn’t be more alarming -- nor a worse report card for global workplace leadership. It calls into question the very practice of management.
And the report has more bad news: 63% of employees worldwide are not engaged in their jobs. They don’t hate their jobs, and aren’t necessarily negative --- they’re just there. And an additional 24% are actively disengaged -- they’re not only negative and miserable, but they come to work and spread their misery up and down the halls. Our report says that active disengagement is an immense drain on entire economies, even highly developed ones. Gallup estimates that active disengagement costs the U.S. alone more than half a trillion dollars per year.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
One of Gallup’s biggest findings ever has been that the success or failure of an enterprise is primarily determined by whom you name manager. If millions of businesses around the globe started to name the right people manager tomorrow, and ensured that those managers encouraged employees’ development and focused on their strengths, engagement worldwide would skyrocket.
Just imagine if the percentage of engaged employees doubled to 26%. Think of the huge economic gains that would follow. I firmly believe that if we doubled engagement around the globe in the next five years, human conditions would improve far more from that effort than from any humanitarian aid, diplomatic initiatives, or military interventions.
Nothing would change the world -- and make it safer and more prosperous -- than having twice as many employees achieve the great dream of all of the world’s citizens: to have a good job. Not just a job. Not just mere satisfaction in a job. But a job where a person feels an important sense of mission or purpose -- that what they do has meaning, so that their life matters.
If you don’t fully appreciate the power of good jobs, or their impact on global prosperity and peace, think back a couple of years. When Tunisian food vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire after the government took his food cart -- his very livelihood -- thus igniting the Arab Spring, did he yell "Death to America" or "Allahu akbar”? Neither. He cried out, “I just want to work!”
The White House and Wall Street keep telling us that the economy is improving, and they point to the unemployment rate and other economic indicators.
This is starting to worry me.
The 7.3% reported unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is an illusion, because it doesn't include a shrinking workforce, which reflects the deeply discouraged unemployed who have simply given up on seeking work, as well as the grossly underemployed. According to Gallup, real unemployment plus underemployment is 17%, which means roughly 20 million or more citizens wish they had a full-time job with a consistent paycheck. But we don't hear the president or many Wall Street leaders saying, "More than 20 million people are miserably unemployed or grossly underemployed -- so things can't be too good."
What’s more, the percentage of American adults holding full-time jobs as a percent of the total adult population is only 43.5%, as measured by Gallup’s Payroll to Population employment rate (P2P).
Now, the economy grew at 2.5% in the second quarter of this year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is surely better than the pathetic and anemic 1.1% first-quarter growth. But in my view, a blended 1.8% means the economy is barely keeping up with population growth, and the economy added only 169,000 jobs in August. No one could be excited about these numbers. From where I sit, we need a minimum of 4% growth for the American economy to boom again.
But don’t take my word for it. If you want to know the truth about the American economy, ask Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who shocked the world in mid-September when he announced that there would be no change in the Fed’s $85 billion-per-month asset purchase program. The Fed wouldn’t be continuing its “quantitative easing” if it thought the economy was improving substantially -- in fact, Bernanke’s surprise announcement belies the White House and Wall Street’s rosy claims.
Or better yet, ask the American people. Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index fell seven points in the last two weeks, which means that Americans’ confidence in the economy is now much worse than it was in May and June. The American public is clearly seeing and feeling something quite different about the economy than what they’re being told. Cheerleading from the White House and Wall Street is falling on deaf ears.
Who are you betting on? Washington and lower Manhattan? Or the American people? I’m putting my money on the wisdom of the masses.
By Jim Clifton, Gallup Chairman and CEO, and Deepak Chopra, M.D.
If economics aspires to be a science -- “the dismal science” as it was traditionally called -- it must recognize that the most relevant economic data are human. The rise and fall of GDP, mean household spending, and consumer confidence are useful statistics, but ultimately the “units” of the American economy are bodies and souls. What’s going on with them?
Even as the stock market soars, the unequal distribution of wealth, which reached an all-time U.S. high in 2012 (with the top 1% enjoying an increase of nearly 20%, while the other 99% saw income grow just 1%), also implies inequality in physical and mental well-being. We are breaking recent records there, too. It is well-documented that the greatest burden on the U.S. economy is skyrocketing healthcare costs.
At $2.5 trillion annually, America’s healthcare bill is three times the size of the defense budget and nearly twice the size of the whole Russian economy. It is also roughly twice the size of the entire Indian economy, and India has a billion-plus population.
When you compare America’s per person health care spending to comparable societies, things look even worse. The U.S. spends more than $8,000 annually per person on healthcare, where Canada and Germany each spends roughly $4,500 per person, while the United Kingdom spends about $3,500, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. Yet even as we lavishly outspend those countries, Americans have shorter life spans and generally worse health outcomes. In other words, citizens in comparable societies live longer but spend half the money we do on healthcare or less.
What’s afflicting our bodies to such an extent that the medical system may not be able to manage a turnaround? One big answer: epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes. Obesity is the primary cause of Type 2 diabetes and a major contributor to chronic disease in general, including hypertension and coronary artery disease. If the United States solved the obesity problem, its economy would arguably roar back, unburdened by unsustainable healthcare costs. The news that our obesity epidemic has, in the case of school children, stopped rising and shown signs of improvement is a start, although long overdue.
But the country can’t reliably tackle obesity, which is correlated with low income levels, or turn the economy around, if many of its citizens are depressed. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index just uncovered that being unemployed, dropping out of the workforce, or working part time while wanting full-time work are the strongest predictors of having depression. Unemployed adults and those not working as much as they would like to are about twice as likely to be depressed as Americans who are employed full time.
Clearly our society has a crisis of body and soul -- often both, since depression significantly raises a person’s risk for disease almost across the board. Economists don’t realistically figure these human factors into their predictions, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Well-being also declines because of a host of things that, in our view, are specific to America, including: chronic stress, uncertainty over keeping a job, anxiety over lost pensions, pressure to increase productivity (already the highest in the world but constantly pushed to rise even higher), and the longest work week in the developed world paired with the least vacation time.
The cure for the worst things is a full-time job. Gallup workplace data show that the ultimate job is one in which you get to do what you do best every day, your manager encourages your development, and your opinion counts. When and if every American can have this “therapy” of full-time meaningful employment, then depression, stress, and anxiety will subside, and the average person will become much more motivated to tackle chronic health problems like obesity. The human factor can never be over-emphasized if we intend to get the economy roaring again, but more importantly, if we intend to take well-being seriously and not simply raw economic data.
Some of the smartest people I know often tell me, “Businesses aren’t going to start growing again until consumer demand comes back.” Really? So we should just sit around and wait until economic growth magically returns?
Growth doesn’t just happen, and it’s not necessarily driven by demand. Growth comes from innovation and from entrepreneurs who create demand. Just look at the iPhone. Apple’s Steve Jobs didn’t create it because there was an insatiable demand for this world-changing device. People didn’t even know what an iPhone was until Apple put it on the market, and now they can’t buy enough of them -- and Apple has a nearly $500 billion market capitalization.
How much demand was there for Facebook before Mark Zuckerberg created it? Zero. Most consumers didn’t know what social networking was before their friends started signing up for Facebook.
Examples are everywhere of entrepreneurship and innovation driving demand: the dot-com bubble of the 1990s, for instance, which lifted America out of a recession and ignited one of the country’s great bull runs, producing Amazon, Google, Yahoo, and literally thousands of other businesses. The Internet itself didn’t spring up from consumer demand. Nor did the transistor, the automobile, the airplane -- you get the picture.
What will fix America’s current super-stalled economy, what will drive demand here and much-needed exports, and what will charge our dead labor market are entrepreneurship and innovation. As I have written before, there’s an oversupply of innovation in America and an undersupply of rare, truly gifted entrepreneurs. To fix this, we need to make identifying entrepreneurs as intentional as we do finding kids with genius IQs, or recruiting the next football, basketball, and baseball stars.
Gallup is in the final stages of completing a first-ever assessment of rare entrepreneurial ability. We have already discovered that the real entrepreneurial freaks of nature -- the Mark Zuckerberg types -- are only three in 1,000. These brilliant and insanely driven people have no limits to what they can build -- they are the potential game changers who can pump life into the economy and create good jobs.
The quick math on this: Among 30 million students in U.S. middle schools and high schools, there are approximately 90,000 who have rare genius-level entrepreneurial talent. America needs to find them all. These 90,000 potential Jeff Bezoses are national treasures who will not only someday jump-start the American economy, but will take it to new, world-leading highs.
What’s more, we can broaden the base beyond the exceptionally talented. Gallup’s research indicates that five in 100 people can build a small to medium-sized business of significance. These people aren’t as rare as the big builders, but as small business drives most of America’s growth and job creation, they can save our country’s economy and its very soul. There are 1.5 million students with the potential to build all-important small to medium-sized business. We need to find every one of these entrepreneurs, too.
We need a dragnet -- a nationwide dragnet for rare business builders.
Here’s the breakthrough I want to share with you: Gallup just tested 3,000 high school students in the Nebraska cities of Lincoln and Omaha, and found 150 young people who have the talent to build small to medium-sized businesses of significance. What’s really beautiful about our finding is that it is race- and gender-neutral; girls scored the same as boys and there were no significant differences in potential among blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians. This is profoundly inspiring news for one of the most multicultural nations on earth, much less a country that is making huge strides in equality for women. Think of the massive talent pool we have, just waiting to be unleashed on our stalled economy.
If America and its cities can create a coast-to-coast dragnet -- a sweep to find the top potential entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurial freaks of nature -- and then put them in internship programs and pair them with successful and gifted mentors, everything will change. Yes, demand will magically reappear, because these entrepreneurs will create new products that no one demanded or even thought of before, and this will create new economic energy where none previously existed.