The Measure of America 2008 – 2009

The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008–2009, the very first of its kind. It’s a human development report about the United States of America.

This report uses a Human Development Index that provides a single measure of well-being for all Americans. The disturbing results reveal huge disparities in the health, education, and living standards of different groups across the nation.

This is a fascinating book. It’s based on the United Nations Development Programme methodology for developing countries, putting a lens on ourselves to see how we measure up, using, for example, these three categories of measurement: access to knowledge, health, and livelihood.

Over the past 25 years or so, from 1980 to 2005, of the top 12 countries in the world, the United States started out as number 2, right below Switzerland, and has fallen all the way to the bottom, number 12, in 2005. It started in 1980.

So what is this concept of “human development”? Basically, the definition we use is that it’s the process of improving people’s well-being and enlarging their freedoms and opportunities. The idea draws heavily on the capabilities work of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and uses that as its conceptual framework. The model emphasizes the everyday experience of ordinary people. It includes the economic, social, cultural, political, and so forth, processes that shape the range of options that are available to people.

So human development is about two things. It’s about what people themselves can do to enhance their well-being and expand their opportunities. It’s also about how institutions of society constrain or expand the choices and opportunities that people have. Basically, human development is about what ordinary people can do and become.

The concept of human development is far-reaching. It includes things like political participation, personal and community security, and environmental sustainability—basically, a range of things. But the index measures just three factors. It measures education, health, and income. These three components are valued by people the world over as the building blocks of a good life and the ones that we would argue that Americans care about the most. These are the things that people are talking about around the kitchen table, that they are worried about when they are thinking of the future. They are areas where there is not too much debate around whether they are important or not. Everyone pretty much agrees that they are important.

WATCH the video presentation of this report here!

READ the transcript of the video presentation here!

Purchase a copy of  The Measure of America: American Human Development Report, 2008-2009 (A Columbia / SSRC Book) by Sarah Burd-Sharps, Kristen Lewis, Eduardo Borges Martins, and Amartya Sen (Hardcover – Jun 27, 2008) from

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Filed under Book Review, Economic Commentary, NEWS - USA, Social Commentary

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