Only A Few States Are Meeting The Sustainable Development Goals

As a country, we’re not coming close to meeting the international benchmarks. Only a few states are leading the way.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call on the nations of the world to meet grand challenges on poverty, education, health, and the environment. Currently, many of the 50 U.S. states are falling short.


The “America’s Goals Report Card” scores the states on seven SDGs, including issues like worker rights and healthcare. In most cases, the U.S. ranks poorly overall, though some individual states are approaching international standards.

Paid family and sick leave for all jobs.

For example, the U.S. remains the only advanced nation in the world that does not guarantee workers paid family leave. But several states do have their own leave policies, including Oregon and Rhode Island,  New York, Washington, Arkansas and New Jersey (the first two offer paid sick leave as well).

The interactive America Goals map lets you look results for each state, and ranks everywhere on the good-to-poor color scheme. States in the south more often than not appear in red (a poor ranking) while states on the northeast and northwest are most likely to be green (an okay ranking).

Jobs paying livable wages.

“On each of the measures, while as a nation we should be doing a whole lot better, there are some states that are doing extraordinarily well,” says Daniel Squadron, executive director of Future Now, a nonprofit that produces the scorecard.

Another example from the report: 22% of Americans say they forgo visiting a doctor because of healthcare costs–that’s the second highest rate among advanced countries (only Poland has a worse score). But several states like Hawaii, with a 7.4% rate on the same measure, are nearer the international norm. Southern states like Texas (18%) and Mississippi (19%) are nearer the national rate.

FutureNow was created last year by economist Jeffrey Sachs, Squadron, a former New York state senator, and Adam Pritzker, chairman of Assembled Brands, a marketing company. It looks to insert sustainable development metrics into public debate, and win pledges from political leaders to reach the targets. So far, 200 state representatives have signed on, mostly Democrats.


The SDGs take a broad view of national progress, challenging countries not only to be economically successful but also provide social services that reach most citizens. Development experts often score us better on economic growth and business dynamism than on softer measures, including happiness, wellbeing, and crime levels. We also fall down for equality. For example, almost 12% of workers don’t earn a living wage to cover a basket of basic needs; Germany’s rate is just 3.5% of its population.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.