This essay discusses the relationship between economic factors and societal well-being for the United States over the post-World War II period. We examine how changes in the distribution of wage income and poverty generate conditions that may contribute to negative mental health outcomes, thereby affecting societal well-being. At the outset, we point out that there are basic questions regarding the origins of mental health problems, now considered to be among the leading causes of disability. There is disagreement regarding the degree of psychological, cultural, biological, social, and economic factors that underlie mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, obsessivecompulsive behavior, stress, suicide, and criminal behavior. In many cases, these behavioral outcomes are the result of complex interactions of individual and environmental factors, making the determination of causality by anyone factor difficult. For example, does job loss trigger depression or is a worker more likely to be fired after the onset of depression? In this essay, we examine the contribution of economic factors to a wide variety of mental health disorders. Empirical evidence supporting this relationship is abundant. In Hadley Cantril's 1965 study surveying factors mentioned most frequently by Americans in discussing their hopes, approxi-
mately 65 percent of the respondents related personal hopes to economic factors. 1 Current research clearly ties behavior that is antithetical to success with social toxicity, bred by poverty, violence, substance abuse, and crime. These problems are especially severe for urban youth and are manifested in an epidemic of violent crime. This essay examines the theoretical and empirical aspects of the relationship between wage inequality, poverty, and mental health.