Report: Measured for Social Progress, U.S. Is a Second-Tier Nation

Top Countries for Social Progress (Source: Social Progress Index Released June 21, 2017)

Top Countries for Social Progress (Source: Social Progress Index Released June 21, 2017)

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 21, 2017

You can tell a lot about a nation by the kind of research reports it spews out monthly or quarterly. In the United States, we are bombarded with Federal government reports on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Durable Goods Orders, Retail Sales, Housing Starts and the like. If you want to know the price of gold or oil or thousands of corporate stock prices, you can get those numbers on a second by second basis on your laptop or mobile app.

Research releases in the United States that measure how the nation is doing in the area of social progress are far fewer and less timely. You’re not going to find such data released monthly or even quarterly. Take, for example, Federal studies that measure homelessness among students in public schools. The most recent research we could find from the U.S. Department of Education measured the data for the 2014-2015 school year. Clearly, it’s not something a rich nation wants to brag about. The report found that pre-K through 12th grade students in the U.S. who had experienced homelessness in the 2014-2015 school year totaled 1,263,323 – double the amount from a decade ago and a stunning 34 percent increase since the economic recovery began in the summer of 2009.

This morning the annual Social Progress Index and report were released, measuring 128 countries based on Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. The United States ranked 18 and was placed in a “second tier” status. The report noted: “Traditional measures of national income, such as GDP per capita, fail to capture the overall progress of societies.”

On the component measuring health and wellness, the report found that the U.S. “performs far below countries at the same level of GDP per capita, registering relative weaknesses on all indicators in the component.” On the component measuring tolerance and inclusion, the researchers found that the U.S. “ranks just 23 in the world across this component, placing it behind less prosperous countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Costa Rica.”

Denmark ranked number one in the overall Index with four other Nordic countries making it into the top tier. Canada also made it into the top tier and was the best performing G7 country. (See graph above.)

The study defines social progress as follows:

“Social progress is the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.”

The troubling findings in the report reminded us of warnings made by Senator Bernie Sanders throughout his campaign for President and in an opinion piece he penned for the Washington Post on January 9 of this year. Sanders wrote:

“How do we stop the movement toward oligarchy in our country in which the economic and political life of the United States is increasingly controlled by a handful of billionaires?

“Are we content with the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that we are experiencing? Should the top one-tenth of 1 percent own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent? Should one family in this country, the Waltons of the Walmart retail chain, own as much as the bottom 40 percent of our people? Should 52 percent of all new income be going into the pockets of the top 1 percent?

“While the very rich become much richer, are we satisfied with having the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on earth? Can a worker really survive on the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour? How can a working-class family afford $15,000 a year for childcare? How can a senior citizen or a disabled veteran get by on $13,000 a year from Social Security?

“What can be done about a political system in which the very rich are able to spend unlimited sums of money to elect candidates who represent their interests? Is that really what democracy is about?…

“Why is the richest country in the history of the world the only major country not to provide health care to all as a right, despite spending much more per capita? Why are we one of the very few countries on earth not to provide paid family and medical leave? With the five major drug companies making over $50 billion in profits last year, why do we end up paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs?

“How do we succeed in a competitive global economy if we do not have the best educated workforce in the world? And how can we have that quality workforce if so many of our young people are unable to afford higher education or leave school deeply in debt? Not so many years ago, we had the highest percentage of college graduates in the world. Now we don’t even rank in the top ten. What can we do to make sure that every American, regardless of income, gets all of the education he or she needs?”

The research findings from the Social Progress Index are yet another embarrassing black eye to the standing of America on the world stage — as billionaires move to consolidate their power in Washington.

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