American Inequity—In Graph Form!

The American Human Development Project has put together a fascinating report, “The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009,” which uses United Nations human-development rankings to evaluate the state of the nation, highlighting health, access to knowledge and standard of living.

As the report explains, this is the first time this has been done for “an industrialized nation.” The results show a wide gulf in development scores between different regions and races. As the map shows, the South comes out the worst (and the deepest blue states come out the best). Meanwhile, African Americans have nearly half the living index of white citizens.

The site is fascinating to poke around in. You can calculate your own individual living index (my comes in at 8.14, a reminder I don’t personally have too much to complain about), and you can also explore all kind of data and summaries.  Among the factoids, you can find the following food for thought:

The U.S. ranks #24 among the 30 most affluent countries in life expectancy – yet spends more on health care than any other nation.

The U.S. infant mortality rate is on par with that of Croatia, Cuba, Estonia, and Poland; if the U.S. infant mortality rate were the same as that of top-ranked Sweden, 21,000 more American babies would live to celebrate their first birthdays every year.

Households in the top 10 percent of the income distribution hold more than 71 percent of the country’s wealth, while those in the lowest 60 percent possess just 4 percent.

A poor child born in Germany, France, Canada, or one of the Nordic countries has a better chance to join the middle class in adulthood than an American child born into similar circumstances.

Leonard Doyle of The Independent has a punchy response to the report, saying:

The American Human Development Index has applied to the US an aid agency approach to measuring well-being – more familiar to observers of the Third World – with shocking results. The US finds itself ranked 42nd in global life expectancy and 34th in survival of infants to age. Suicide and murder are among the top 15 causes of death and although the US is home to just 5 per cent of the global population it accounts for 24 per cent of the world’s prisoners.

Despite an almost cult-like devotion to the belief that unfettered free enterprise is the best way to lift Americans out of poverty, the report points to a rigged system that does little to lessen inequalities.

“The report shows that although America is one of the richest nations in the world, it is woefully behind when it comes to providing opportunity and choices to all Americans to build a better life,” the authors said.

Yeah, what he said.