The Geography of Well-Being

A new index takes a holistic look at America’s inequalities.

The report, “Geographies of Opportunity: Ranking Well-Being by Congressional District,” is an in-depth look at how residents of America’s 436 congressional districts are faring in three fundamental areas of life: Health, access to knowledge, and living standards.

Keep your best friend out of the gardenThe report stems from the Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America project. The hallmark of this work is the American Human Development Index, a supplement to GDP and other money metrics that tell the story of how ordinary Americans are faring.

Making sense of the story

  • The top ten congressional districts in terms of human development (HD) are all in the greater metropolitan areas of LA, NYC, San Francisco, and DC.
  • Life expectancy remains extremely uneven across the country. In sections of Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky, life expectancy remains at 73 years of age, about the same as it was for the nation as a whole in 1980.
  • Life expectancy is far greater in the Northeast corridor, along the West Coast of California, in retirement areas along Florida’s southern coast, in Seattle, suburban Dallas, and around Denver and Boulder, Colorado. In these places, people can expect to live up to eight years longer than the national average.
  • The areas of highest knowledge access are concentrated in parts of L.A., the San Francisco Bay Area, and Seattle in the West; the Boston-New York-D.C. corridor in the east; Orem and Provo in Utah; Dallas and Houston in Texas; the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul; Denver and Boulder; and in the suburbs of Detroit.
  • The gap in earnings is considerable and divides exist not only between regions and metros but within. One of the districts with the lowest earnings ($20,100 annually) is California’s 34th, which covers downtown L.A. That’s just a few miles from California’s 33rd, where a median income of $51,300 puts it in the top ten earning districts in the country.
  • The higher the proportion of foreign-born residents in a congressional district, the longer the district’s life expectancy.
  • African Americans fare particularly poorly on health indicators. Whites outlive African Americans by 3.6 years; African Americans have higher death rates from a variety of causes, chief among them heart disease, cancer, homicide, diabetes, and infant death.

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Source: The Atlantic