x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

US standard of living on the decline

The United States now trails many other developed countries in indictors related to standards of living.

The United States ranks 24th among the richest countries in life expectancy.
The United States ranks 24th among the richest countries in life expectancy.

WASHINGTON // The United States is ailing. Once an exemplary example for good living, the country now trails many other developed countries in a host of indicators related to standard of living, including health and education, according to a comprehensive nationwide survey. The American Human Development Project report, made public in Washington last week, identified vast disparities in life expectancy, income and education level depending on geography, race and ethnicity, among other factors.

And it underscored some striking lapses in what it calls "human development". Although the US ranks second in the world in per capita annual income (behind only Luxembourg), one in five children are living in poverty, the report found. And despite spending US$5.2 billion (Dh19.1bn) a day on health care - more than any other country - 47 million US residents lack health insurance. The country ranks 24th among the 30 richest countries in life expectancy.

The report also found that 12 per cent of residents lack the literacy skills required to complete a job application, read a map or understand food and medicine labels. How long you live can depend on where you live, as stark differences exist on health measures. People in Hawaii have the longest average life expectancy, at 81.7 years; those living in Washington, DC, by contrast, live nearly eight years less.

The same disparity holds true across ethnicities: African-American babies are more than twice as likely to die before one year old than white or Latino babies, according to the report. Modelled after the United Nations' Human Development Index, the report aimed at determining where the country is thriving and where it is lagging behind, and where freedoms and opportunities are being created and where they are being denied, said Raymond Offenheiser, the president of Oxfam, which helped pay for the report.

Other sponsors included the Rockefeller Foundation; the Conrad N Hilton Foundation; the Social Science Research Council and the Annenberg Foundation. The report, which is based on 2005 data, was billed as the first of its kind for a developed country. Sarah Burd-Sharps, one of the project's co-directors, and a former deputy director of the UN Development Programme's Human Development Report Office, said the US has relied too heavily on such measures as stock market reports, inflation rates and consumer spending to gauge the country's progress - none of which tell much about how things are getting better or worse, or for whom.

She said human development was "a process of enlarging freedoms and opportunities", and by considering a large range of factors, links appear that are more telling of the population's actual experience. Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate in economics and leading expert on global development, wrote in the foreword of the report: "The human development approach can be put to excellent use in America, both because that perspective is so important for the problems of this country and because the approach has been so widely neglected here."

* The National