I have been meaning to write about this for sometime. The 2005 report of the United Nations Human Development Index has been out for over a month. The United States has fallen to number 10 in the list of best countries for its citizens. We were 8th in 2004 and 3rd a mere six years ago. The Human Development Index (hereinafter "HDI") is a complex system of measurement various life factors in three main categories:
1. a long and healthy life,
as measured by life expectancy at birth and other health indices
as measured by the adult literacy rate and
the combined gross enrolment ratio for primary,
secondary and tertiary schools
3. Decent standard of living
as measured by GDP per capita in
purchasing power parity (PPP) US dollars.
Top 10 countries
High human development
link to HDR
10 United States
I think the crisis for the United States is deeper than what is indicated in the reports. The US placement is bolstered by strong performance in the third category of GNP per capita. In that category, the US trails only Luxembourg, Norway and Ireland(!), but even these results are misleading because in the country with high development the US stands alone as having a severe gulf between the wealthy and poor. Even though the US has a high per capita income, that wealth is not evenly distributed. If there were another way to put the national wealth statistic into perspective, then we would probably be further down the list along with countries who we rival in other other indices. For example, our infant mortality rate lags behind developed nations. We are behind nations such as Chile and Costa Rica in infant mortality and life expectancy.
Also, in regard to poverty, there are several stories that I have read recently which indicate that there are no signs of improvement.
Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20 percent of households. (source CIA World Factbook) Also, since the year 2000, the American billionaire club has gained 76 more members while the typical household has lost income and the poverty count has grown by more than 5 million people. cited by author Holly Sklar
Four decades after a U.S. president declared war on poverty, more than 37 million people in the world's "richest" country are officially classified as poor and their number has been on the rise for years. Poverty in the United States is more widespread, by far, than in any other industrialized country
. This article also relates that the US poverty figures are finessed to make it appear that poverty is decreasing.
The figures used for the 2005 HDI are from 2003. Our status relative to other developed nations has been in sharp decline since around 2000. Wages and spending power are decreasing for most Americans while healthcare costs are skyrocketing. There are several statistics that indicate sharp decline in our quality of life, but no one is paying attention. The alarm bells are ringing but America's dreaming.