U.S. quality of life ranks low, going lower

Study of health care, education, employment, housing and oppression of Black communities

By Jaimeson Champion

Published Jul 27, 2008 8:09 PM

U.S. imperialism’s proponents are fond of characterizing the U.S. as a land of “freedom and opportunity.” This myth is shattered by the findings in a recently published study that uses U.N. research methodology to analyze socioeconomic conditions in the U.S.

The study, published July 16, is titled, “The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009.” In it, researchers analyze the comparative ability of U.S. residents to access healthcare, education, employment and housing.

Of the 30 richest countries comprising the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. has the greatest proportion of children living in poverty. Despite spending more money per capita on health care than any other country on the planet, the U.S. ranks 42nd globally in life expectancy.

U.S. infant mortality ranks 34th globally, according to the OECD report. If the U.S. were able to achieve an infant mortality rate as low as top-ranked Sweden, 20,000 more babies would survive here each year.

The Measure of America study also breaks down the analysis by state and congressional districts and, in so doing, paints a stark portrait of vast wealth and opulence amassed in close geographic proximity to deep poverty and suffering.

For example, the 14th Congressional District on Manhattan’s Upper East Side ranks as the richest of the 436 U.S. congressional districts. Nearby, the 16th Congressional District in the Bronx ranks number 431.

California’s 20th Congressional District, which covers parts of Fresno, Kings and Kerns Counties, is ranked the 436th district, making it the worst off. Median household income there is $16,765, which is below the federal poverty line. California as a whole is home to 10 of the top 20 ranked congressional districts, many of them in the suburbs of Los Angeles near the 20th.

The study’s findings provide further evidence of institutionalized racism in the country’s health and education systems. African Americans in the U.S. today have a life expectancy as low as that of the average U.S. resident in 1970. The results show that access to health care, education and housing is markedly lower in congressional districts that are predominately African American and [email protected]

From Bad to Worse

The findings in this study are bleak indeed, but perhaps most troubling is the fact that the report is based on statistics from 2005. All the dismal statistics are drawn from the time before the mortgage crisis struck and the ensuing economic meltdown began.

The subprime mortgage crisis has resulted in foreclosure and eviction rates soaring to levels not experienced since the Great Depression. A disproportionate number of foreclosure and eviction victims are African American and [email protected], as institutionalized racism in the lending industry resulted in the most predatory loans being given to the most oppressed segments of the population.

As Amaad Rivera, co-author of “Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008,”  a recent study conducted by the group United for a Fair Economy, concludes that “the subprime lending debacle has caused the greatest loss of wealth to people of color in modern U.S. history.”

The data in the Measure of America study also show how deep was the oppression suffered by the predominately Black communities in the Gulf Region prior to Hurricane Katrina.

Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam, one of the funders of the study, said in a July 16 statement, “The American Human Development Index is unique because it reveals the interlocking factors that create or deny opportunity and determine life chances. The analysis is particularly revealing in places like the Gulf Coast region…. The report clearly illustrates the conditions residents were struggling with even prior to the hurricanes of 2005—limited access to education, lower incomes, and shorter lives—and argues for a comprehensive solution for recovery.”

The deepening economic crisis in the U.S. has resulted in drastic budget cuts in exactly the same areas that the Measure of America study analyzed using 2005 data. To say that the ability of the working class to access healthcare, education, housing and employment has decreased drastically since 2005 is an understatement.

In impoverished neighborhoods across the country, public schools are deteriorating, school programs are being cut, healthcare clinics are being shuttered, affordable housing is disappearing, and social services for the most vulnerable segments of society are being slashed with greater intensity. The capitalist class and its state are systematically transferring the pain and suffering wrought by the crisis of capital onto the backs of the workers and oppressed people.

The Measure of America highlights a trend that most workers in the U.S. are already painfully well aware of: the standard of living of U.S. working class is deteriorating rapidly. It is statistical confirmation of the fact that the large multinational working class is continually falling deeper into poverty, debt and despair, while a small group of super rich individuals amass unimaginable wealth.

Capitalism as a system has failed miserably for the workers and oppressed in the U.S., while U.S. imperialism has caused unimaginable suffering for billions of people around the globe. The so-called “American Dream” is becoming a nightmare for workers. The picturesque house with the white picket fence has a giant foreclosed sign in the front yard.

What is needed is a way out. More people will be looking for the possibility of a struggle to bring about a socialist solution.

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