U.S. falls on social progress index


The bad news is that the United States ranks 27th on the latest Index of Social Progress. The worse news is that we are moving in the wrong direction.

The report, produced every five years, measures 40 factors, including the ability of nations to meet the needs of their citizens for health and education, human rights, political participation, improved women’s status, military spending and environmental protection. In 1990, the U.S. was ranked 18th.

Professor of Social Work Richard Estes presented these findings at the Fifth International Conference of the International Society for Life Quality Studies this summer.

Using data provided by national governments to the United Nations and the World Bank, Estes determined that Denmark and Sweden lead the list of 163 nations. The United States is on the same level with Poland and Slovenia. Afghanistan is at the bottom.

The failure to make progress on the wave of a historic economic boom in the 90’s is explained in part, Estes says, by the passage of welfare reform. “The wealth was concentrated in upper income brackets and never reached the poor. Welfare reform meant giving the poorest less [time-limits on eligibility, work requirements with no child-care support] than they had before.

“Chronic poverty is the greatest threat to social progress in the United States. More than 33 million Americans—almost 12 million of them children, [with the rest] elderly and persons with disabilities—live in poverty,” he said. “Contrary to public perception, the majority of poor in the U.S. are members of established families who work full-time and are white. No other economically advanced country tolerates such a level of poverty.”

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Originally published on September 18, 2003