In the last 35 years, the U.S economy has tripled in size, but the wages of average American workers have barely gone up at all. In fact, between 2000 and 2010, typical Americans saw their incomes fall by $2,200.
That’s one example of how economic growth doesn’t necessarily lead to human progress, and how common metrics like Gross Domestic Product can be deceiving. GDP—or the sum total of all transactions in the economy—reveals something about general economic vitality, but little about the quality of individual lives.
The maps here show America on a more granular scale, and go beyond a purely economic perspective. They cover all 436 congressional districts and, using metrics like earnings, life expectancy and education achievement, give each district a “human development” (HD) score. They were developed by Measure of America, an initiative of the Social Science Research Council.
Nationally, Asian Americans have the highest HD scores (7.2 out of ten), followed by whites (5.4), Latinos (4.1), African Americans (3.8), and Native Americans (3.6). Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Maryland have the highest HD scores among states. Alabama, Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Mississippi have the lowest.
From the 25 largest metro areas, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis–St. Paul, and New York have the best HD scores. The worst are Detroit, Houston, Tampa–St. Petersburg, San Antonio, and Riverside–San Bernardino, in California.
“What we are seeing is that some groups of Americans are surging ahead, enjoying longer lives, and reaching higher levels of educational attainment,” says Sarah Burd‐Sharps, co‐director of Measure of America. “Other groups are being left behind in terms of their health and education, and, across the board, earnings are stagnating for ordinary Americans.”
To see data for your district, check out the resource here. You’ll find that all the best performing districts are in major centers like Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and D.C. and that the lowest performers tend to be in the rural and urban areas of the South.
The differences between places are sometimes stark. For example, the average person in San Jose (California District 19) lives to 84 years compared to just 73 years for someone from Kentucky District 5, in the rural south east of that state. Similarly, median earnings are three times higher in New York District 12 (a tony part of New York) than they are in the diverse California District 34, in greater L.A.
America continues to be a highly diverse place, even more so as inequality widens. It’s time our metrics for assessing progress reflected that.