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MOA Co-directors Respond to A Portrait of Marin Public Debate

As co-directors of Measure of America, we are gratified by the lively exchange of ideas among citizens we have seen in Marin County, California over the last two months in connection with A Portrait of Marin, our first-ever county-level American Human Development Report. As always, we aimed to stimulate fact-based dialogue by providing easy-to-use, methodologically sound tools for understanding the distribution of well-being and opportunity.

Commissioned by the Marin Community Foundation, A Portrait of Marin looks at how Marinites are faring by place and by gender, race, and ethnicity using the American Human Development Index, a measure of life expectancy, education, and earnings. 

In other words, we combined official statistics on how long people are living, the proportion of children and young people who are in school, the highest academic degree adults have attained, and the salaries of typical workers into a single number that falls on a scale from 0 to 10.  GDP tells us how the economy is doing. The American Human Development Index tells us how people are doing.

The Index is based on a methodology developed at the United Nations that has been in use for over 20 years in 150 countries. This work became the international gold standard for measuring well-being because it provided a much-needed diagnostic tool for policymakers and the general public to understand where they were succeeding in creating opportunity and where more effort was needed. And rather than focus only on economic metrics, the human development approach offers a way to address health, education, and living standards in the interconnected way that people actually experience them and opens a space for developing comprehensive and lasting solutions to challenges in these areas.

Our experience from Mississippi and Louisiana to California has been, somewhat counter-intuitively, that people who find themselves in the top spots on the Index often argue that they don’t actually belong there. We are not asserting that people in high-scoring locales—from Ross in Marin to the Upper East Side of Manhattan—have no problems or poverty. A high score on the American Human Development Index does not inoculate a place or group of people from the challenges inherent in the human condition; hearts break, cancers take hold, and life disappoints in affluent and struggling communities alike. But there are very concrete differences that matter for people’s lives and life chances—such as a 13-year life span gap between high and low-scoring communities in Marin, or the fact that Asian Americans in New Jersey live, on average, an astonishing 26 years longer, are 11 times more likely to have a graduate degree, and earn $35,610 more per year than South Dakota Native Americans. Life is not perfect for Asian Americans in New Jersey, but the typical Asian American in New Jersey nonetheless has a far more robust set of capabilities for living to their full potential and investing in themselves and their families than the typical Native American in South Dakota. Likewise people living in Ross as opposed to people living in the Canal area of Marin.

We invite people who have not yet had a chance to read A Portrait of Marin to do so, and to explore the interactive mapping program that allows users to map several dozen indicators by census tract in Marin and across the country.

The State of the Union Is Unequal: 10 Things Presidential Candidates Should Know About Inequality

As the presidential campaign heats up, here are ten things the candidates should understand about why extreme inequality is toxic for America.

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The Supplemental Poverty Measure: A (Small) Step in the Right Direction

The Census Bureau recently released the supplemental poverty measure (SPM). By this gauge, 49.1 million Americans, or 16 percent of the population, live in poverty — more than the official poverty number of 46.2 million, or 15.1 percent of the population, reported in September.

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Could London-style Riots Happen in New York City?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently expressed concern that unrest in capitals around the world, from Egypt to England, could spread to the US. As we write, hundreds of protestors occupy Liberty Park near Wall Street. The riots in London were not just about material poverty, or even cuts in social services. Fundamentally, they were about extreme inequality and a sense of helplessness to change it. As Naomi Klein pointed out in “Daylight Robbery, Meet Nighttime Robbery,” they were about what those cuts represent: being cut off.

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Poverty Kills. Better Policy, Not Better Medicine, Is the Solution.

Which causes more deaths in the United States: heart attacks or failure to graduate high school? Strokes or racial segregation? Lung cancer or poverty? The surprising answer is that poverty and its attendant deprivations are deadlier than disease.

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Measuring a Better Life

How do you define a better life? The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 34 countries comprised chiefly of the world’s affluent democracies, is taking its turn to answer this ageless question with its Better Life Initiative. This interactive tool and index draws attention to the many ingredients of a good life, and in so doing attempts to move beyond GDP as the sole measure of a country’s well-being.

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Which California Are You?

California has long been a leader in implementing progressive policies and developing innovative programs to improve the lives and broaden the opportunities of its people. From education to environment, California has been at the forefront. But the Golden State is at risk of losing this edge, disinvesting in the very areas that California needs to compete in the 21st century and to ensure that its people have the tools they need to realize their full potential.

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A Roundup of Winter 2011, and What’s in Store for Spring

We’ve had a busy and exciting year so far, traveling all over the country to present findings from The Measure of America 2010-2011 and forging ahead with researching and writing the California Human Development Report. We made presentations at UNICEF, NYC, the Southern California Grantmakers’ Philanthropy and Public Policy Conference, Los Angeles, and also held a Congressional Briefing for policymakers and staffers on the Hill.

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Our 2010 Recap: Engaging with the Public

While we have our sights firmly set on California for 2011 for our next state report, here are a couple of news items from our 2010 recap.

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Join us at the launch of The Measure of America 2010-2011: Mapping Risks and Resilience, November 10 in Washington, DC & November 17 in NYC!

The new American Human Development Report, The Measure of America 2010-2011: Mapping Risks and Resilience will be launched at two free events open to the public.

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