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“We are becoming a third world country,” was the warning issued by Donald Trump on June 16, 2015, when he announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States.
The claim, which Trump repeated on other occasions during the almost year and a half of the election campaign, was based on US performance. in educational matters compared to other countries in the world and was dismissed as exaggerated by its critics.
However, in reality there are several indicators of well-being that place the superpower at the tail of rich countries and, sometimes, even at the level of substantially less developed countries.
It is a subject of debate in the country, where experts and citizens differ in their assessment of the situation of the poor in the country.
A study by the Pew Research Center notes, for example, that a majority of upper-middle-class Americans agree with the idea that “the poor today have things easy because they can receive government benefits without doing anything. In return”.
In contrast, two-thirds of low-income citizens agree with the statement that “the poor have a difficult life because the social benefits are not enough to help them live a decent life.”
BBC tells you what are some of the indicators that question the levels of development and welfare in the United States.
1. Life expectancy
The most recent report of the UN Program on Human Development (UNDP) indicates that the life expectancy of Americans is 79.2 years.
That fact it ranks at number 40 in the world, behind the set of developed nations but also below Latin American countries like Chile, Costa Rica and Cuba.
The country with the best results in the world is Japan, with 83.7 years, and the last on the list is Swaziland with 48.9 years.
This data, which refers to the national average, varies considerably when analyzed from the point of view of education and race.
M hile the life expectancy of a white man with a university education is 80 years, an African – American man with little education is 66 years , according to research published by the National Center on Poverty US (NPC its acronym in English).
“The issue in the United States is that welfare is incredibly stratified,” one of the study’s authors, Luke Shaefer, professor and director of the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solution Initiative, tells BBC Mundo.
“The country looks pretty good if you compare the upper part of American society with the rest of the rich countries, the theme is the incredible difference in well-being between the poor and the citizens with more resources,” he adds. The life of African-American men without higher education was equivalent to that of the citizens of Pakistan, Bhutan and Mongolia.
2. Infant mortality
The infant mortality figure – the number of children dying per 1,000 live births – is another classic indicator of social well-being.
According to the most recent UNDP report, which uses data from 2015, in the United States that figure stands at 5.6. This puts him in the 44th place in the world, again surpassed by the rich countries as a whole , as well as by Cuba, Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia.
In this case, in addition, social differences within the United States are also evident. According to Shaefer, for 2011 the infant mortality rate for African-Americans was similar to that of Togo and that of the island of Granada.
The welfare of children in the United States it also appears affected when the indicators of child poverty are addressed.
According to a Unicef study published in 2012, comparing the situation of children in 35 countries with advanced economies, the United States appeared in the penultimate place, s or so ahead of Romania .
The relative child poverty indicator, which measures the percentage of children living in a household whose income – adjusted to the size and composition of family members – is less than 50% of the national average income, placed 23 in this situation, 1% of American children.
3. Maternal mortality
Since the beginning of this century, the United States has registered an increase in maternal mortality figures, whose rate went from 17.5 deaths per 1,000 births in 2000 to 26.5 in 2015 , according to published research. by The Lancetmagazine in January 2017.
It is a phenomenon that goes against trends in the rest of the industrialized world where there was a decline in the same period. This was the case, for example, in Japan (from 8.8 to 6.4), Denmark (from 5.8 to 4.2), Canada (from 7.7 to 7.3) or France (from 11.7 to 7.8).
Moreover, the figure registered in the United States is higher than that of Costa Rica (24.3), China (17.7), Vietnam (15.6) or Lebanon (15.3).
In this case, there is also a clear divergence within the United States because maternal mortality among white women is 13, but among African-American women it is 44.
4. Homicide rate
Personal security, the possibility of safeguarding one’s own life, is considered as another basic element of social welfare.
According to the most recent report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), the United States. It records a homicide rate of 4.88 deaths per 100,000 citizens, which places it in 59th place in the world.
This figure contrasts with those of European countries such as Austria (0.51) or the Netherlands (0.61), but also with Canada (1.68) and even Albania (2.28), Bangladesh (2.51) and Chile (3.59, according to the 2014 data, the most recent).
In the study published by the National Center on Poverty, Shaefer indicates that if instead of taking the national data of homicides look at what happens in American cities of more than 200,000 inhabitants and with a poverty rate of 25%, the number of homicides rises to 24.4, (according to data corresponding to 2012).
This result places these cities in the United States in a situation slightly better than Colombia (26.50) and Brazil (26.74), but much worse than Argentina (6.53), Peru (7.16) or Uruguay ( 8.42).
5. Teen pregnancies
In addition to posing a risk to the health of young women, teenage pregnancies are often associated with different types of social problems.
According to World Bank figures for 2015, the US it registers a rate of 21 births of this type for every 1,000 women between 15 and 19 years of age, which places that country in 68th place worldwide, at the same level as Djibouti and Aruba, and well above the average in high-income countries that is 13.
This indicator contrasts with the records of other rich countries such as Japan (4), Germany (6) or France (9), as well as with others such as Tunisia (7). Sri Lanka (14) or Serbia (19).
When during the launch of his candidacy, Trump said that the US It was becoming a third world country, referring to data on educational performance.
It is the headquarters of dozens of the best universities in the world. But that does not mean that the average formation of Americans is equal to those of higher education.
According to a study carried out within the framework of the International Program for the Evaluation of Competencies (PIAAC, for its acronym in English), among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the first power had a performance that , in the best case, it was mediocre.
The research measured three different educational levels in terms of reading ability and numerical ability: people who had not completed high school, individuals with secondary education and others with at least two years of university education.
23 countries participated in the analysis: Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, EE .U., Belgium and the United Kingdom.
In the test on reading ability, among those who had not finished high school, Americans were among the five countries with the worst results ; while among those who had completed these studies were below the average of all.
In the case of people who had at least two years of university studies, Americans were above eight countries, tied with six others, but were overtaken by seven nations.
Additionally, the United States was the country that recorded the greatest gap between the results obtained by those who did not finish high school and those who have at least two years of university courses.
In the evaluation of numerical skills, Americans were consistently below the OECD average in the three educational levels studied. Moreover, the country was last among both those who did not finish high school and those who did finish it.
For those who have completed at least two years of higher education, USA it surpassed Spain and Italy and equaled five other countries, lagging behind 15 other nations.
The causes of the gap with rich countries
When explaining why the US it registers such important development indicators below other rich countries, Shaefer points to the peculiarities of the social welfare network.
“The United States has always had a less generous social safety net, social programs are aimed at the poor, instead of being universal benefits, as is the case in many of the other industrialized countries where, in addition, you do not have these enormous disparities in wealth that we have here, “he explained.
Shaefer published a book titled “Two dollars a day, living with almost nothing in the United States”, in which he followed American families who survived on less than US $ 2 a day per person, an indicator that is usually used to mark poverty in the developing world.
“What makes a difference in the United States is that many of them also have health insurance and food vouchers, but they do not have cash, and what do you do in the United States when you do not have cash to pay for electricity or the things you need to go to? a job interview? In 2011, there were 1.5 million families and more than 3 million children in the United States who lived like this, “he said.
However, this vision of poverty in the country and the failures of the welfare system is not shared by all.
A study by the Heritage Foundation questioned the suitability of the figures from the US Census Bureau, which estimated that there were almost 15 million children living in poverty in 2014 and pointed out that this figure did not take into account many of the social benefits that families of those children receive from the State.
Heritage noted that families with children officially listed in poverty statistics live in favorable conditions.
” The average poor household in the United States has air conditioning, a car or truck , cable television, a computer, a cell phone and (if there are children in the house) a video game system, they have enough to eat and they are not malnourished “says the study.
“They live in a comfortable home that is in good condition and have more space than the average non-poor in Germany, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom,” he adds.
Shaefer, however, questions this vision and warns that although many poor families in the United States reside in large houses that normally even have the pipes installed, they often do not have money to pay rent or basic services such as heating.
” If the poor in the United States have so many resources, then why are their results so bad? When we know that indicators such as life expectancy are clearly linked to income and the poor Americans have such a low rate,” he said.
“People say that the poor in the United States are rich by international standards, but clearly this is not true because their results are much worse than those of the rest of society,” he concluded.