The Measure of America: Economic Factoids

From the site Measure of America:

• The richest 20 percent of all U.S. households earned more than half of the nation’s total income in 2006.

• The top 1 percent of U.S. households possesses a full third of America’s wealth.

• Households in the top 10 percent of the income distribution hold more than 71 percent of the country’s wealth, while those in the lowest 60 percent possess just 4 percent.

• Nearly one in five American children lives in poverty, with more than one in thirteen living in extreme poverty.

• The poverty line for a family of four (two adults and two children) is an income of $21,027 before taxes; in 2006, more than 36 million Americans were classified poor by this definition.

• In every racial/ethnic group, men earn more than their female counterparts.

• In 1980, the average executive earned forty-two times as much as the average factory worker; today, executives earn some four hundred times what factory workers in their industries earn.

• In 2004, median net worth was $140,800 for whites, and $24,900 for nonwhites.

• The real value of the minimum wage has decreased by 40 percent in the past forty years.

These statistics, and more, are from The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009. The report is based on the United Nations Development Programme’s global Human Development Report, which has provided authoritative analysis and a ranked index for countries around the world for almost two decades. The report is produced by the American Human Development Project, a nonpartisan, non-profit initiative established to use and apply international approaches and tool for measuring human well-being to the United States.

According to the authors, The Measure of America represents the first time that the “human development approach” has been applied in the United States or any other industrialized nation:

Unlike the many existing measurements used to assess health, education, or income alone, the American Human Development Index (HD Index) combines these factors into one easy-to-understand measurement. This more comprehensive measure allows for a better understanding of the opportunities open to different groups of Americans.

The Human Development Report series advocates a shift away from a sole focus on economic growth as an end in itself and income as the final measure of a person’s well being. This approach considers both income and growth as important means for human progress, but also looks at other things people value that do not show up in growth figures such as a quality education, a long and healthy life, personal safety, a secure livelihood, and a say in decisions that affect one’s life.

The Measure of America website has lots of useful information on the subject of American well-being, including maps which show state-by-state comparisons for such measures as life expectancy and education.

The site is worth a quick look. You can also get information on ordering the 2008-2009 Measure of America report.

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