Most people would agree that a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent material standard of living are the basic building blocks of well-being and opportunity. They are also the building blocks of the American Human Development Index as well as the U.N. Human Development Index upon which it is modeled. These three core capabilities are universally valued around the world, and measurable, intuitively sensible, and reliable indicators exist to represent them—two critical considerations in the construction of a composite index.
A Long And Healthy Life
The most valuable capability people possess is to be alive. Advancing human development requires, first and foremost, expanding the real opportunities people have to avoid premature death by disease or injury, to enjoy protection from arbitrary denial of life, to live in a healthy environment, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, to receive quality medical care, and to attain the highest possible standard of physical and mental health.
In the American HD Index, life expectancy at birth stands as a proxy for the capability to live a long and healthy life. Life expectancy at birth is the average number of years a baby born today is expected to live if current mortality patterns continue throughout his or her lifetime. The most commonly used gauge of population health the world over, life expectancy at birth represents one-third of the overall American HD Index.
The American Human Development Project calculates life expectancy for the 50 states, the 435 congressional districts, women and men, and major racial and ethnic groups from mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, and population data from the CDC WONDER database.
Access To Knowledge
Access to knowledge is a critical determinant of long-term well-being and is essential to individual freedom, self-determination, and self-sufficiency. Education is critical to people’s real freedom to decide what to do and who to be. Education builds confidence, confers status and dignity, and broadens the horizons of the possible—as well as allowing for the acquisition of skills and credentials. Globalization and technological change have made it extraordinarily difficult for poorly educated Americans to achieve the economic self-sufficiency, peace of mind, and self-respect enabled by a secure livelihood.
Access to knowledge is measured using two indicators: school enrollment for the population age 3 and older, and educational degree attainment for the population 25 years and older. A one-third weight is applied to the enrollment indicator and a two-thirds weight is applied to the degree attainment indicator. Both indicators are from the American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.
A Decent Standard Of Living
Income is essential to meeting basic needs like food and shelter—and to moving beyond these necessities to a life of genuine choice and freedom. Income enables valuable options and alternatives, and its absence can limit life chances and restrict access to many opportunities. Income is a means to a host of critical ends, including a decent education; a safe, clean living environment; security in illness and old age; and a say in the decisions that affect one’s life. Money isn’t everything, but it’s something quite important.
A decent standard of living is measured using median personal earnings of all full- and part-time workers 16 years and older from the American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.
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