Measure of America

Hmm, I wonder:

Despite spending $230m (£115m) an hour on healthcare, Americans live shorter lives than citizens of almost every other developed country. And while it has the second-highest income per head in the world, the United States ranks 42nd in terms of life expectancy.

These are some of the startling conclusions from a major new report which attempts to explain why the world\’s number-one economy has slipped to 12th place – from 2nd in 1990- in terms of human development.

The American Human Development Report, which applies rankings of health, education and income to the US, paints a surprising picture of a country that spends well over $5bn each day on healthcare – more per person than any other country.

The report, Measure of America, was funded by Oxfam America, the Conrad Hilton Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. It shows each of the 11 countries that rank higher than the US in human development has a lower per-capita income.

I can\’t see a download site for the report which is a little unusual for this sort of thing. If anyone finds one, let me know would you?

There\’s two things I\’d really rather like to find out.

Those countries score better on the health and knowledge indices that make up the overall human development index (HDI), which is calculated each year by the United Nations Development Programme.

The health scores used in that HDI weight equality of access to health care very highly. Glenn Whitman is the go to guy here. American health care is indeed highly unequal but that tells us nothing about the actual quality of it.

In fact, the report shows that 15% of American children – 10.7 million – live in families with incomes of less than $1,500 per month.

That doesn\’t ring true at all. That\’s $18,000 a year, which is about (around and about) the Federal Poverty line for a family of four. But there\’s one howling error in the way that US poverty statistics are calculated. They measure market income plus direct cash transfers. They do not include transfers in kind (food stamps, Medicaid, housing vouchers and the like) not do they include anything operating through the tax system. So they deliberately exclude the largest US anti-poverty program, the EITC.

So if they are using the Federal Poverty Line as their measure (something I don\’t know and one of the reasons I\’d like to be able to skim the report) then they\’re actually measuring the number of people who would be in poverty before they were helped (and that 15% number looks about right for the Fed Pov Line), rather than the number of people who still need help after they have been helped.

Hmm, interesting, eh?

Especially when we have figures that show that after the interactions of the tax and benefit systems that the bottom 10% of the US population enjoy lifestyles almost exactly the same as the bottom 10% of the Finnish or Swedish populations.

8 thoughts on “Measure of America”

  1. “Human development”??

    “I hate America, yet in every objective measure it’s the world leader.”

    “I know, let’s invent an objective-sounding measure, using criteria subject to enormous estimation and hand-picked to make America look bad!”


  2. I’m not going to offer any statistical rebuttal to the figures shown but simply expose other things “going on” that may help understand the old saying (Mark Twain, I think): : “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

    Historically, the modern times have seen, nearly everywhere, a great increase in life expectancy.
    The improvement was due to many factors but, from an “understanding” point of view, was in very large part the result of improvement in obstetric and pediatric knowledge and practice.
    Hardly any improvement in nutrition, safety, or health-care access can come close to the effect, statistically, of a person surviving birth and the subsequent myriad vulnerabilities of pre-adult life.

    Here factor a separate, more or less unique, aspect of theAmerican (U.S.) reality.

    The U.S. population is, approximately, one-eighth “black.” And the mortality rate for the black portion of the population is distinctly worse (by “worse,” I’m speaking from the viewpoint of someone regarding death as “bad”).
    Various factors contribute to the differentially worse final figure. But most of them cannot be easily (if at all) cannocted with quality of health care or its manner of provision. Actually, the drop in mortality among blacks for a variety of actually race-related health deficits contributing to lower life expectancy (sickle-cell characteristic, certain heart disorders, etc.) show (contrary to the intent of the piece under consideration) that life-promoting knowledge, therapies, and techniques are, indeed, quite widely available and utilized.

    But it must also be borne in mind that the population identified as “black” is associated with quite another statistical reality–one weighing heavily on mortality and life expectancy, especially (but not limited to) of
    that very population.

    That broad generality is the tendency to be involved–as perpetrators and as victims–of violent crime. The actual figures are startling to anyone not already familiar. The rate (both at which blacks commit and are victims of such crime, since proximity affords both the opportunities and the vulnerabilities) is roughly
    nine times (9 X !) the average among the (non-hispanic) white population. Figuring roughly, an eighth of the population killing–roughly–nine times the number, especially from among themselves–of the balance of the population
    (and especially from among a subset of that population heavily skewed to the younger–thereby drastically foreshortening more otherwise expected years of life–cannot but be a drastic “hit” on the mere numbers in a study.

    But there’s even more. What is true of the violent crime figures for the eighth of the population that’s black is (mutatis mutandi) also true–though only at about half the rate but for an even larger population subset, about 20%–for the “hispanic whites.”

    The point to be drawn is NOT that these populations commit so many violent crimes: it’s that mortality and life expectancy data are worse than useless in trying to determine (or illustrate) why or to what degree one or another health care “system” or “model” is superior to another–and most especially when the common usage of such data is the supposed exposition of “the facts” to help the receivers of such facts form judicious (ultimately political) opinions as to the most desirable method they’d want to have financing and delivering health care.

    Twain’s right. It is simply beyond belief that the complications (above-described but not exhausted) with the health-care-comparison information are due to ignorance, inadvertance, or haste. It is incessant and deliberate fraud practiced by clever, amoral seekers of tyrannical power to deal with and dispose of others’ lives and property as they deem fit. They cry out for “social justice.” But in a just world, they’d be horse-whipped and hung.

  3. A slight correction, please, to the above.

    In a just world, whether hung or not, they’d be hanged (after the horsewhipping).

  4. So Much For Subtlety

    Eva, you might see more obese people in the US than anywhere else, but evidence that being fat or even obese is bad for you is hard to come by.

    We have got healthier as a population the fatter we have got. Certainly the government’s BMI is too low – being less healthy than being mildly fat.

  5. dearime:

    Yes, in using it, Twain apparently actually credited it to Disraeli. I had only seen it third-hand, attributed to Twain, as I remembered, because I never read the piece in which it actually appeared. From the time I was eight, I had a bookcase of everything that Twain had written and, in the next 4 or 5 years, had read everything, some many times over. But the set didn’t include certain works that weren’t published until some later time and much of that, to this day, I haven’t read.

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