Obituary in NYT for an important social indicator tracker
sabez at u.washington.edu
Sat Mar 6 12:07:02 PST 2004
There is increasing recognition of the rot in this country, as evidence by
an obituary for Marc Miringoff today, who tried to get us thinking about
measuring social welfare in the US and tracking those measures. As Andrew
Grove said, "you get what you measure" and if we measured these factors
and displayed them the way we display the Dow, we might get them someday.
NYT March 6, 2004 Marc L. Miringoff, 58, Measurer of Social Health, Dies
By EDUARDO PORTER
Marc L. Miringoff, a professor who invented an index to better understand
the nation's social health, died Thursday night at his home in
Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He was 58.
The cause has not been determined, said his wife, Marque Miringoff.
Dr. Miringoff, an associate professor of social policy at Fordham
University, founded the Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy
in 1985. He achieved prominence through the development of a new report
card to measure the nation's well-being.
Dr. Miringoff argued that growth, inflation, interest rates and other
standard economic variables were insufficient to adequately capture the
state of the social fabric. So he compiled an alternative index, combining
data ranging from child poverty and infant mortality to crime, access to
health care and alcohol-related traffic deaths.
In a lecture in 2001, he noted that if progress were to be measured only
in terms of gross domestic product, the performance of the stock markets
and other narrow economic measures we would be "missing most of what makes
life miserable, interesting or good." His new indicator painted a novel
picture of the nation's prosperity, confirming that economic growth and
social progress did not always go hand in hand.
Dr. Miringoff's social index plummeted to a low of 38 out of 100 in 1993,
from a high of 77 of 100 in 1973, notwithstanding 20 years of per capita
income growth. Since then, the nation has recorded progress, according to
Dr. Miringoff's index, which jumped back to 54 in 2000 only to drop back
to 46 in 2001.
"It used to be that a rising tide lifted all boats, but at a certain point
during the 70's, social health and per-capita income split apart," Dr.
Miringoff said in an interview with The New York Times in 2000. "And this
may be the result of the new economy: the loss of steady, well-paid jobs
with benefits for less-skilled blue collar workers."
Since the 1980's, other groups have developed alternative indexes of
social health using different sets of variables. Dr. Miringoff's social
health index was adopted by state officials in Connecticut to measure
social problems and formulate policies.
But Dr. Miringoff remained concerned at what he saw as a lack of social
progress. "We really haven't created much in the way of a comprehensive
social policy in America for 30 or 40 years," he said in 2001, when he
peppered his audience at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism with
statistics. He said that 17 percent of American children lived in poverty,
and health insurance wages had worsened by 50 percent since 1970.
"The social health of the nation was declining even during the so-called
prosperity," he said.
Dr. Miringoff was interested in politics as well as academics. Bill Ayres,
executive director of the group World Hunger Year and a close friend, said
Dr. Miringoff met Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign.
Born in Brooklyn, Dr. Miringoff graduated from the State University of New
York at Albany in 1967. He received a master's degree in social works from
Rutgers University in 1969 and a Ph.D. in social welfare policy from the
University of Chicago in 1976.
Dr. Miringoff is survived by his wife; a brother, Lee Miringoff, the
director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion; and a sister-in-law,
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