Heritage Report Stresses Economic, Cultural Factors in Assessing America’s Well-Being

‘2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity’ to be first in an annual series of such reports


The Heritage Foundation released a comprehensive report Wednesday detailing the implications of economic and cultural factors on Americans’ well being and proposed policy measures aimed at addressing lagging areas.

The 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity utilized regularly updated national data to observe trends based on cultural, social, and economic indicators over a 10-year span.

The Index cites "marriage, family, and civil society, welfare reform, reduced spending and economic growth and the opportunity of individuals in a free society to improve their circumstances" as issues lawmakers should be focused on.

"Policy should be formulated on the basis of sound principles and data. The indicators included in this Index help to identify obstacles to opportunity in order to help citizens and policymakers focus on cultural efforts and policy solutions that will best address these challenges," the report says.

A total of 31 indicators were assessed and determined to be either headed in the right or wrong direction. The report describes each indicator at length via infographics and expert commentary.

"It’s a good read, frankly," said Jennifer Marshall, vice president for the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at Heritage.

She said the experts from think tanks, the media, and universities who contributed to the Index "illuminated" the litany of data.

"We feel like these commentators bring in that context—the surrounding information that you need to make sense of this trend line and why it matters," Marshall said.

The report uses that information not only to substantiate its policy goals—recommending leaders pursue initiatives that would promote family values, welfare reform, limited government, and tax and education reforms—but also to provide context for society to understand the status of American culture, Marshall said.

"What they really do is point us toward places that we need to engage personally and in our families and communities and the various ways we’re interacting with our neighbors," Marshall said about the cultural trends highlighted in the Index.

The Index is the first of what Marshall said will be a series of annual reports.

"This will be a diagnostic tool of what’s going on in the pattern of these indicators more than it will be a policy evaluation or analysis," Marshall said.

In the 2014 report, commentary accompanies datasets in which researchers saw the highest trends. In later reports, Marshall said, commentators will put the analytical focus on indicators that have changed most during that year.

"What are the important things that are either so interesting that they demand commentary or so perplexing that they demand commentary," Marshall asked. "Those would be kind of some of the criteria we would use over time."

The Heritage Foundation was promoting the Index the week of its release, and an event or discussion could take place some time in August, Marshall said.