Red States’ Rank Low On U.S. Human Development Index

From Forbes Magazine JUN 19, 2013 @ 02:58 PM

Kenneth Rapoza , CONTRIBUTOR

Southern states rank low again in second American Human Development Index.
When it comes to well-being — as measured by health, education and income — the southern ‘red states’ continue to be in worse shape compared to their Yankee rivals, according to a study called the Measure of America, released Wednesday by the Brooklyn based-Social Science Research Council.

The state of the nation is often expressed through Gross National Product, daily stock market results, consumer spending levels, and national debt figures. If the stock markets up, everyone should be happy, says the general consensus. TV hosts are smiling. Movie stars are buying more bling and having babies with other movie stars. Miley Cyrus is spending all of her Hannah Montana money trying to find herself.

But these numbers provide only a partial view of how people are faring. Human development is defined as the process of enlarging people’s freedoms and opportunities and improving their well-being. The Human Development Index is an alternative to the market’s money metrics and instead measures the real freedom ordinary people have to decide who to be, what to do, and how to live in their prospective states.

The first Human Development Index was launched in 1990 by the United Nations and was the brainchild of Indian economist Amartya Sen and Pakistani economist Mahbub Haq. It has been an annual feature of every Human Development Report since, ranking virtually every country in the world from number one (currently Iceland) to 177 (currently Sierra Leone).

This is where we fare in the Measure of America.

In the heat map that ranks U.S. states on a scale of 0 to 10, 10 being a high level of well being, Democratic or so called ‘blue states’ dominate on the end of the scale while Republican strongholds rank the lowest.

The best state in the union? Connecticut, of course. When you’re the world’s headquarters to hedge fund traders, the wealth gets spread around. The state ranks 6.17. When considering education levels, 20% have just a bachelor’s degrees and 15% have advanced degrees. At least 53% graduated high school. And only 11.4% did not, which for the richest state in the country is still high, though the number includes much older generations and immigrants. Average life expectancy is 80.8 years old 81.8% of the state’s school aged population (3-24) are in school. Democrats control the joint.

On the low end of the scale it’s Mississippi. They rank just 3.81 out of 10 with an average life expectancy of 75, 76% of the student aged population (3-24) are in school and only 12% with a bachelor’s degree. Just 7% of the state have advanced degrees and 19% have less than a high school education. That state is run by Republicans except for one Democrat in the House of Representatives.

The highest ranking state south of Mason Dixon is Florida, with an index score of 4.82.

See the heat map here.

Not all blue states are rolling in the well-being. Michigan is the stand-out at 4.76 on the index. The state has a Republican governor and a mixed representation in the House, but the Senate is still blue. Neither party in Washington or in the state itself has been able to improve the quality of life in the state as Detroit’s auto labor woes continue.

The state saw the greatest decline in human development over the past decade and is the only U.S. state whose 2010 Human Development Index score is lower than its 2000 score.

Other Key Findings

  • Only six states—Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming—plus the District of Columbia finished the first decade of the 2000s with higher median earnings than they had in 2000 (in inflation-adjusted terms).
  • People living in the nation’s twenty-five largest metro areas tend to have higher levels of well-being and access to opportunity than the average American. Only four metro areas, Houston, Tampa–St. Petersburg, San Antonio, and Riverside–San Bernardino, have HD Index scores below the national average of 5.03.
  • The metro areas that perform best on the American HD Index are, starting from the top, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis–St. Paul, and New York. Workers in the top-ranked Washington, DC metro area make over $14,000 more than the typical American wage-earner, are more than twice as likely as other Americans to have a graduate degree, and live 2.1 years longer.

Ironically, while Detroit is dragging down Michigan, Washington’s political industry and its derivatives, from media companies based there to cover the Fed and Congress, to lobby firms, have helped increase its well being. Thank you, Mr. President?

The five metro areas with the greatest increases in their index scores from 2008 to 2010 did so largely on the strength of improvements in health and longevity: Baltimore, Washington, DC, San Antonio, Dallas, and Boston. San Antonio, although it ranked last in 2008 and second-to-last in 2010, is gaining ground at a comparatively quick clip.

Meanwhile, the five cities with declines in index scores from 2008 to 2010 were Detroit, Portland, Atlanta, Miami, and Tampa–St. Petersburg due to a loss of income for the majority people in those metro areas, the report states.

Data on the report is from 2010. This is their second report since the first one in 2008-09.

There are many ways to measure well-being. Most of it is on an individual level. For the purposes of the study, stagnant to declining incomes over a 10 year period, coupled with health issues and educational attainment, at least, make Republican stronghold states less apt to rank high on the index than the wealthier northeastern states. The index is not a measure of individual happiness.

So, yes, dear readers in ‘Bama, the fact that you can hunt a gator and buy an M5 probably makes you a lot happier than the 30 year old paying $2,000 a month for a 400 square foot hole in the wall in Brooklyn commuting 45 minutes to his job as doorman in the Upper East Side. Give yourself a high-five.

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