Instead of dismissing Chico’s low ranking in Gallup’s well-being poll, we should learn from it

A lot of folks have been dismissive of Chico’s poor ranking in a recently released national survey, the Gallup-Healthways 2016 Community Well-Being Index. In case you missed it, the 18 other California cities on the list—including Modesto, Stockton-Lodi and Bakersfield (aka the armpit of the state)—came in ahead of Chico. Worse yet, our City of Trees wound up 183rd among the 189 regions reported in the survey.

The New York Times, in its California section last week, published a short article on Gallup’s findings, underscoring Chico’s standing. A reporter reached out to Mayor Sean Morgan, who took issue with the ranking. Morgan countered with the fact that this region is home to beautiful Bidwell Park and Chico State. He added that “the world’s best beer is brewed here.”

I’m not going to argue with the mayor about any of that. I also love the park, Chico State is my alma mater, and I like a great beer now and again. However, those things alone do not translate to an adequate level of well-being. Indeed, as Gallup found, residents here have indicated their overall well-being is unsatisfactory.

According to the pollster, this particular survey “measures Americans’ perceptions of their lives and their daily experiences through five interrelated elements that make up well-being: sense of purpose, social relationships, financial security, relationship to community, and physical health.” Chico ranked near the bottom in each of those categories.

To be fair, when the poll lists Chico, it’s actually talking about the city’s so-called Metropolitan Statistical Area. In this case, that area encompasses a population of roughly 225,000 residents. So, we’re really talking about Butte County here.

There are 382 MSAs in the country (not including the seven in Puerto Rico). So, Gallup’s well-being index of 189 regions covers roughly half of those designated areas. Redding, for example, is part of an MSA that basically comprises Shasta County. But you won’t find our neighbors to the north on this particular well-being index. That’s because Gallup reports only on those in which it completes at least 300 interviews with residents.

The results released last week were based on 354,473 telephone interviews with U.S. adults across all 50 states and the District of Columbia between Jan. 2, 2015, and Dec. 30, 2016. All of them were conducted by phone, including cellphones and landlines, both in English and Spanish. In the case of Chico’s MSA, the pollster conducted 338 interviews.

I’m not surprised about some of Gallup’s findings related to our neck of the woods, especially respondents’ financial security, which the pollster has found is “closely linked to their perceptions of their social relationships.” Last summer, I wrote about Chico ranking 48th on a list of the “50 worst cities to live in.” Financial news and opinion website 24/7 Wall St. made that determination based in large part on financial data showing that a) the median household income in Chico fell well below the national median and b) homes here cost 6.8 times the yearly household income (nationally, houses typically cost 3.4 times the median).

Based on my research, Gallup’s well-being survey appears legit. Instead of dismissing its findings, leaders in each community should investigate what steps can be taken to improve their constituents’ lives. After all, that’s what we elected them to do.