The human development index, which I've discussed here before, incorporates measures of income, life expectancy, and educational attainment to quantify the overall development of countries. I've wanted to compare HDI ratings for US states to those for other countries, but it's been a surprisingly hard thing to do; no one seems to have used the formula for the UN's HDI and applied it to the states. But it strikes me as such an inherently interesting question: how do the levels of development of states compare to other countries? And how much variation is there in the development of different states relative to other countries? It seems to me like answering these questions would give us a more fine-grained understanding of how the US compares economically to other developed nations. But, despite various efforts to compare the development levels of states to each other, no one seems to have made the direct comparison between states and other countries.
But thanks to a reader of this blog, we can finally make such a comparison. Mark A. Sadowski has made an attempt to apply the UN's HDI formula for US states, and this map is based on his results:
Here's how Mark describes his methodology:
In constructing an UN HDI consistent index for the US states I did the following:(EDIT: Corrected the following bit too.)
1) To calculate the life expectancy index I merely used the state level data from the AHDP website.
2) To calculate the education index I had come up with estimates of state level literacy and combined enrollment rates.
a) The last time the Census collected state level literacy statistics was 1970. The last time they collected it on a national level was 1979. This was because literacy was essentially universal by the 1970's in the United States. For the UN HDI, any nation that has literacy rates above 99% or that does not collect such stats is allotted a score of 0.99 for that component. If one looks at the 1970 state level stats you will observe that the lowest literacy rate was for Louisiana or 97.2%. Based on even the lowest rate of decreases in the rate of literacy it is clear that by 1990 all the states in the United States probably would have had a literacy rate of 99% or higher by the UN's low standards. Thus all the US states were assigned an adult literacy index of 99.0.
b) The combined educational enrollment rate turned out to be more of a problem. The AHDP website lists such data but it is not consistent with the data reported in the UN HDI report. It is lower by a factor of 0.93. I suspect that the problem is not with the numerator (total enrollment) but with the denominator (population in relevant age group). Thus I estimated the state level gross enrollment index by multiplying the combined enrollment rates listed at the AHDP website by a factor of 1.075.
3) To calculate the GDP index I took state level real GDP per capita data from BEA and multiplied it by the US GDP deflator for 2005 (1.13039) in order to convert it to nominal GDP.
What did I learn from this exercise? The biggest differences in HDI by the UN standards occurred because of the differences in longevity. Twenty-two of the US states (plus DC) max out on the GDP index. All perform well by the low educational standards of the UN education index. On the life expectancy index in general the US states did not perform very well.
So how do states compare to the other countries of the world on the HDI scale? Well, the top state in Mark's analysis is Hawaii at .973. By comparison, Iceland has the highest HDI in the world at .968, according to this table from the UN (pdf) (which uses data from 2006). Only five countries in the world are at or above .960. Thirty-six US states are at or above .940, which is the HDI of Germany; the United Kingdom has an HDI of .942. The states in this range are essentially comparable to the wealthiest nations of Western Europe.
At the lower end of the scale, though, it's a different story. Mark finds that six states have an HDI below .920: Louisiana (.919); Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Alabama (.918); West Virginia (.911); and Mississippi (.901). The nations in this HDI range are typically either small East Asian countries or Middle Eastern petrostates: they include Brunei, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. A few peripheral European and Mediterranean nations are in that ballpark as well, including Slovenia (.923), Cyprus (.912), Portugal (.900), and the Czech Republic (.897). All of these countries are wealthy by global standards; nonetheless, it's clear that there's a group of states in the Upland and Deep South that, unlike states in the northern and western United States, has not achieved a level of development comparable to the largest Western European economies - and, as Mark notes, this is mostly due to relatively short life expectancies.
Thanks to Mark for compiling this data; I'll have another post based on Mark's work in a bit.