Is The United States Still The Best Country In The World? Think Again
Brooklyn College – Department of Business Management
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State University of New York (SUNY), Empire State College
June 24, 2015
This paper examines the rankings of the United States in key areas so that people can see for themselves how well the country is actually doing. Areas examined include: percentage of people living below the poverty line, children living in poverty, income inequality, median wealth per adult, happiness, GDP per capita, Corruption Perception Index, quality of education and health, democracy ranking, size of prison population, and stability as a nation. Sadly, the United States does poorly on many of the above measures. The 2015 Social Progress Index, which considers 52 different measures, ranks the United States 16th out of 133 countries. It is hoped that examination of the above statistics will make people aware of how much needs to be done if the United States wants to remain a world power.
Is The United States Still The Best Country In The World? Think Again – Introduction
Americans must stop convincing themselves that nothing is wrong and that the United States is still number one in the world. Let us examine our rankings in key areas and see how well the United States is actually doing on various measures of well-being. The first myth to be dispelled: we are no longer the world’s largest economy when adjustments are made for purchasing power parity. On the basis of purchasing power (and not by converting everything into dollars), China overtook the United States at the end of 2014. At the end of 2014, China accounted for 16.48% of the world’s purchasing-power adjusted GDP (or $17.632 trillion), and the US made up 16.28% (or $17.416 trillion) (Bird, 2014). The United States will continue to shrink if changes are not made.
Percentage of People Living Below Poverty Line: U.S. Ranks 35th best out of 157 countries
Chad, Liberia, and Haiti are tied for last place with 80% of the population living below the poverty line. Data is based on CIA World Factbook and is accurate as of January 2012 (http://www.indexmundi.com/g/r.aspx?v=69). Taiwan is in first place with only 1.16% of its population living below the poverty line. It should be noted that countries define poverty differently; in general, wealthier nations use higher standards of living to define poverty than do poorer nations.
More than 50 years ago on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) declared an unconditional war on poverty in the United States. He said: “The richest nation on Earth can afford to win it” (Page, 2014). Apparently, we lost the war: the official poverty rate was 19% in 1964 and had fallen to 12.1% in 1969. The poverty rate was 14.5% in 2013, but the number of poor people has been stuck at 45.3 million (http://money.cnn.com/2014/09/16/news/economy/median-income-poverty-rate-down-census/).
It should be noted that the demographics of the poor have changed. One key change is in the sharp drop in the number of elderly poor. In 1966, 28.5% of senior citizens (ages 65+) were poor; in 2012, only 9.1% were poor. This was due to Social Security and the fact that it was indexed to the cost of living. Poverty among African Americans has also dropped sharply from 41.8% in 1966 to 27.2% in 2012 (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/13/whos-poor-in-america-50-years-into-the-war-on-poverty-a-data-portrait/).
Children Living in Poverty: Rank = 34 out of 35
The United States ranks in 34th place out of 35 countries surveyed in children living in poverty. Poverty is defined by UNICEF as living in a household that earns less than 50% of the national median. The United States is behind all European countries as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand. We are only above Romania (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/04/15/map-how-35-countries-compare-on-child-poverty-the-u-s-is-ranked-34th/).
Approximately 25% of children in the United States live in poverty – the highest among all developed nations (http://www.povertyprogram.com/usa.php).
Income Inequality: U.S. is Fourth Worst in the World
The Gini coefficient (or index) is the most commonly used measure of income inequality. It ranges from 0 (a state of perfect equality) to 1 (where all wealth is held by one person, or a state of perfect inequality). Countries with the most serious problems of income inequality are Chile (Gini = .501), Mexico (.466), Turkey (.411), United States (.38), and Israel (.376) (http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/poorest-list/10-countries-with-the-worst-income-inequality/?view=all). [See also Max Roser (2015) – ‘Income Inequality,’ Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: http://ourworldindata.org/data/growth-and-distribution-of-prosperity/income-inequality/].
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