As more people watch their home equity erode, put off retirement because their nest eggs are taking a dive, and bike or bus to work to save gas money, many are thanking their lucky stars that they still have a job to commute to.
Unstable times breed worry and stress, so there should be worry and stress aplenty right now. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to a Gallup poll in August, and with the national unemployment rate up to 5.7% in July -- make that 7.3% in California -- millions of gainfully still-employed people who thought they were safe and secure might fear a Dickensian poorhouse closing in on them.
You'd think that the health of the nation would suffer as well, what with emotional stress and less money for medical appointments, gym memberships and healthful food. And in certain ways, health does worsen in times of economic uncertainty. Medical science has accumulated a solid body of research showing that poverty and unemployment lead to higher rates of obesity and more cases of diabetes, asthma, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, some cancers -- the list goes on.
But strange as it may seem, bad times can also be good for health. Forget individual health for a minute. This is about the macro picture, the health of entire societies. And there statistics show that as economics worsen, traffic accidents go down, as do industrial accidents, obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking. Population-wide, even deaths from heart disease go down during recessions.
"Deaths go down when unemployment goes up," says Christopher J. Ruhm, professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who for the last few years has been publishing counter intuitive and controversial papers on the economy and health. Put total mortality numbers on a spreadsheet, he's found, and the population's physical well-being improves as just about every measure of economic health dips.
No money for steaks, cigarettes, alcohol and gas makes one healthier. You may be miserable but you will be around longer!