The American Human Development Project


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The American Human Development Project is a non-partisan, non-profit initiative of the Social Science Research Council that aims to stimulate fact-based dialogue about human development issues in the United States. The project introduced the human development approach to the U.S. through its modified American Human Development Index.

American Human Development Index

The American Human Development (HD) Index is a single measure of well-being and opportunity for the United States that allows for "apples-to-apples" comparisons among regions, states, and congressional districts; between women and men; and among racial and ethnic groups.

The American HD Index is expressed as a number from 0 to 10, and measures the same three basic dimensions (i.e., longevity, access to knowledge, and standard of living) as the standard HD Index as used by the United Nations Development Programme, but uses alternate indicators to better reflect the U.S. context and to maximize use of available data. The American HD Index uses life expectancy calculated from official U.S. government mortality data to measure longevity, a combination of educational attainment and school enrollment to measure knowledge, and median personal earnings to measure standard of living. The scores and rankings of the American Human Development Index are therefore not comparable to those of the global United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index. The purpose of the American Human Development Index is to allow for comparisons within the U.S. - not for comparisons between U.S. population groups to those in other countries.

American Human Development Reports

The American Human Development Report is a biennial report on human well-being in the United States produced by the American Human Development Project. It follows the human development concept, which refers to the process of expanding the well-being of individuals to develop their full potential, by increasing opportunities in the arenas of health, education, and income. Similar to the global Human Development Report, published annually by the United Nations Development Programme, and the National Human Development Reports (NHDRs), the American Human Development Reports serve as advocacy tools to spur lively debates and mobilize support for action and change.

The Measure of America, 2008-2009

The Measure of America: American Human Development Report, 2008-2009 was written, compiled, and edited by Sarah Burd-Sharps, Kristen Lewis, and Eduardo Borges Martins, and includes forewords by Amartya Sen and William H. Draper III. The book is the first-ever human development report for a wealthy, developed nation. It introduced the American HD Index disaggregated by state, by congressional district, by racial/ethnic group, and by gender, creating ranked lists for each. Funding was provided by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Oxfam America, the Social Science Research Council, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Annenberg Foundation. It was jointly published by the Social Science Research Council and Columbia University Press.

The Measure of America, 2010-2011

The Measure of America, 2010-2011: Mapping Risks and Resilience was co-authored by Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kristen Lewis, and includes a foreword by Jeffrey Sachs. The second in the American Human Development Reports series, the 2010-2011 edition features updated Index rankings of the 50 states and 435 congressional districts; reveals huge disparities in the health, education, and the standard of living of different racial and ethnic groups from state to state; and shines a spotlight on disparities within the ten largest metropolitan areas in the country. The report was funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and The Lincy Foundation, and is a joint publication of the Social Science Research Council and New York University Press.

The Measure of America Wins the 2011 International Institute for Information Design Award

In October 2011, The Measure of America Series was selected as the overall category winner in the area of Social Affairs for the Institute for Information Design Award. This project was awarded for having helped policymakers shape crucial policy and fiscal decisions, and we are extremely proud of the positive, tangible impact this project has had on communities across the nation.


United States average: 5.17.
Rank State Human Development Index
1 Connecticut 6.30
2 Massachusetts 6.24
3 District of Columbia 6.21
4 New Jersey 6.16
5 Maryland 5.96
6 New York 5.77
7 Minnesota 5.74
8 New Hampshire 5.73
9 Hawaii 5.73
10 Colorado 5.65
11 Rhode Island 5.56
12 California 5.56
13 Virginia 5.53
14 Washington 5.53
15 Illinois 5.39
16 Delaware 5.33
17 Alaska 5.27
18 Vermont 5.27
19 Wisconsin 5.23
20 Pennsylvania 5.12
21 Arizona 5.11
22 Utah 5.08
23 Florida 5.07
24 Iowa 5.06
25 Kansas 5.06
26 Nebraska 5.05
27 Oregon 5.03
28 Michigan 4.99
29 North Dakota 4.92
30 Maine 4.89
31 Ohio 4.87
32 Georgia] 4.86
33 South Dakota 4.82
34 Wyoming 4.80
35 Nevada 4.78
36 Indiana 4.74
37 Missouri 4.68
38 Texas 4.67
39 Idaho 4.65
40 North Carolina 4.64
41 New Mexico 4.56
42 Montana 4.49
43 South Carolina 4.36
44 Tennessee 4.33
45 Kentucky 4.23
46 Oklahoma 4.15
47 Alabama 4.09
48 Louisiana 4.07
49 Mississippi 3.93
50 Arkansas 3.87
51 West Virginia 3.85

State Human Development Reports

A Portrait of Mississippi

Mississippi ranked last among U.S. states on the American Human Development Index in 2008-2009. The Mississippi State Conference NAACP commissioned the American Human Development Project to apply the methodology of the national report to the state level. A Portrait of Mississippi: Mississippi Human Development Report 2009 was released on January 26, 2009. The report revealed that some groups in the state enjoy well-being levels similar to those in top-ranked Connecticut, while others experience levels of human development typical of the average American nearly a half century ago. The report contains policy recommendations to address disparities by geography, race, and gender.

A Portrait of Louisiana

Louisiana ranked near the bottom of the American Human Development Index, and has gained attention in recent years in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. On September 17, 2009, the American Human Development Project released A Portrait of Louisiana: Louisiana Human Development Report 2009, the first major research effort into health, education, and income in the state to use post-Katrina data. Among the findings, the report concludes that acute human vulnerability persists, as do profound disparities between certain groups, especially between blacks and whites. The report was commissioned by Oxfam America and the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, with funding from Oxfam America and the Foundation for the Mid South.

A Portrait of California

Released on 17 May 2011, A Portrait of Californiaprovides an in-depth look at the well-being of people living in the largest and most diverse state in America.

The report presents Human Development Index values for the five largest metro areas in the state as well as for eight economic regions and 233 neighborhood and county groups covering the entire state. American HD Index values for each major racial/ethnic group, for women and men, and for both native and foreign-born Californians were calculated using mortality data from the California Department of Public Health and earnings and education data from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau. Following in the mold of state-level reports on Mississippi and Louisiana, the report makes extensive use of Census Bureau-designated Public Use Microdata Areas (referred to as "neighborhood and county groups"), in order to highlight disparities in well-being at the local level.

Preliminary findings provide evidence that some groups in California experience some of the highest levels of well-being and access to opportunity in the nation—indeed, in the world—while others are facing distressing challenges when it comes to the basic building blocks of opportunity. For instance:

  • People in the section of Orange County that runs from Newport Beach to Laguna Hills have a life expectancy of about 88 years—fifteen years longer than life expectancy in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles (about 73 years).
  • In the Los Angeles communities of Bel Air, Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades, nearly all adults (97% and higher) have completed high school, whereas in nearby Vernon-Central, only a little more than one-third of all adults have completed this basic educational qualification.
  • Median personal annual earnings range from about $15,000 in the Los Angeles neighborhoods around East Adams and Exposition Park to nearly $73,000 in the Santa Clara communities of Cupertino, Saratoga, and Los Gatos.
  • Statewide, men have median personal earnings of $34,099, whereas women bring home significantly less: $25,188.

The California state report is supported by the California Community Foundation, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Draper Foundation, the California Endowment, The Lincy Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, United Way of California, and the Weingart Foundation.

County Human Development Reports

A Portrait of Marin

Released on 18 January 2012, A Portrait of Marinprovides a thorough investigation of well-being in Marin County, CA and highlights actions that Marinites can take to lock in human development successes today while setting the stage for significant budget savings and improved well-being tomorrow.

Some residents of Marin are enjoying extraordinarily high levels of well-being and access to opportunity, while others are experiencing levels of health, education, and standard of living that prevailed in the nation three decades ago. At the top of the rankings is Ross (HDI: 9.70), with the Canal area of San Rafael scoring the lowest (HDI: 3.18), below that of West Virginia, the lowest ranked state. Rankings are provided for the major racial and ethnic groups, men and women, native- and foreign-born residents, and Marin’s fifty-one census tracts for which there are reliable U.S Census data.

Select findings from the report illustrate these disparities:

  • The average Ross resident lives nearly 8 years longer than the average Californian and an astonishing decade longer than the national average.
  • While 88 percent of white children are enrolled in preschool, only 47 percent of Latino children are.
  • The distribution of income in Marin is exceedingly lopsided; the top fifth of Marin taxpayers take home about 71 percent of the county’s total income. The bottom fifth earns 1.3 percent of the total income.

The Marin County report was commissioned by the Marin Community Foundation (MCF).

Articles and Other Publications

External links

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