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Decline Watch: Human Development Index highlights U.S. inequality

Decline Watch: Human Development Index highlights U.S. inequality

The United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index presents a very different picture of global wellbeing than the Legatum Prosperity Index discussed yesterday, though those smug Norwegians are still on top. 

The big headline from this year’s index is the secondary list, which adjusts scores for internal inequalities in health, education and income. On that scale, the United States drops from fourth place to 23rd. 

I spoke with the UNDP’s chief of communications and publishing for the report, about why the effect of inequality was so striking in the United States:

In high income countries, there are many countries in which the years of schooling that adults already have wouldn’t vary that dramatically among, region, among gender, or ethnic minorities. In the United States, the opposite is true. All those variables have a huge effect. The average years of schooling that adults over 25 have in greater Boston as opposed to that in the Mississippi delta is going to be really different. The level of disparity is very unusual among high-income countries. 

The inequality-adjusted Human Development Index is an attempt to try to portray that. The United States isn’t the only country that’s effected but it’s certainly one of the most seriously affected. 

Other seriously affected countries include South Korea, which falls from 15th to 32nd on inequality-adjusted HDI and Israel, which falls from 17th to 25th. 

I also asked Orme what the big takeaway of the report was for rising powers like Brazil, India, and China: 

The whole question of distribution has been central to their national debates and the analysis of their development models. Take Brazil, which had long been portrayed as the most unequal large economy of the world. Income inequality was quite acute. 

What’s interesting [in Latin America] is that if you look at the education and health distribution as well as income, the picture is a little different than what we’re used to seeing.   They, the Latin Americans, especially countries like Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Brazil, have been doing much better at extending education and healthcare to their populations, including the poor, in the last 10 years or so. Even income gaps are beginning to narrow slightly, whereas in most of the world, including Asia and the United States, the trend is toward increasing disparity and widening gaps in income.