The past century is full of progress paradoxes, with unprecedented economic development, as evidenced by improvements in longevity, health, and literacy. At the same time, we face daunting challenges such as climate change, persistent poverty in poor and fragile states, and increasing income inequality and unhappiness in many of the richest countries. Remarkably, some of the most worrisome trends are in countries with rapid economic growth and falling poverty. Not surprisingly, there is much debate about the sustainability of our future.

Economic growth and the traditional metrics used to assess it—GDP paramount among these—are necessary but not sufficient to guarantee inclusive and sustainable growth in the global economy. Well-being metrics, which build from large-scale surveys of individuals and capture the income and non-income determinants of well-being, provide a different picture of what is happening to people within and across countries—stories the economic numbers do not tell. By providing insights into the kinds of policies that will sustain human welfare in the future, these metrics are important complements to income-based data.

The U.S. has one of the wealthiest and most vibrant economies in the world. Growth has been steady for years, the stock market is booming, and unemployment is at record lows. Yet life expectancy is falling—unique among rich countries—due to preventable deaths such as suicide, drug overdose, alcohol poisoning, and other preventable causes among less than college-educated whites, the traditional bastion of the American working class (see Figure 1).

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