Over the last decade, the world has become a better place as far as life quality goes. The USA, however, has continued to drop in rankings. Why will the USA never be in the top 10 countries?
Quality of life is measured by essentials like access to food, housing, sustainable employment opportunities, health care, and a good education. Non-tangible elements like individual freedom, political stability, job security, and the environment’s quality are also factored into.
In the overall rankings, the USA moved up to 15th place from 17th in 2019. However, according to the Social Progress Index, its ranking had dropped to 28th place from 19th in 2011. These metrics consider only data independent of economic factors and are based on well-being metrics. The decline continues despite the country’s overall wealth, military power, and cultural impact compared to the rest of the world.
Disparities in education and health care
Advanced education and medical technology are two areas that America ranks highly in. The quality of its universities and access to education always receive top rankings. Unfortunately, it ranks No.91 for its access to quality education, equivalent to an education in Mongolia or Uzbekistan.
Being among the world leaders in medical technology does, unfortunately, not guarantee access to quality health care for all its citizens either. Here the USA ranks No. 97 and is comparable to countries like Albania, Chile, and Jordan.
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, the quality of life has been affected in most countries globally. It remains to be seen how the metrics will change the rankings in the next Social Progress Index because COVID-19 data were not included in the last one.
On the date of writing, 26.7 million coronavirus cases have been reported from the start of the pandemic in the U.S. The country has also reported 456,000 deaths. More than half of American citizens also report experiencing worse mental health issues since the pandemic started.
Other areas affecting U.S. ranking
The U.S. continues to have high homicide statistics and traffic fatality rates, when compared to the countries at the top, which include Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, and Australia. When compared to other advanced countries, America also continues to have more discrimination against minorities, including violence.
Two other areas where the USA ranks low when compared to the top-ranking countries are sanitation, and access to the internet.
Ranking second-highest in the poverty rate among rich countries, America has many poor people living in its urban areas and they struggle with education and employment opportunities. These populations also have limited access to healthcare, which decreases their life expectancy.
Problems have been allowed to fester
Nicholas Kristof recently wrote in the New York Times: “The decline of the United States over the last decade in this index is a reminder that we Americans face structural problems that predate President Trump.”
Fighting poverty can prove extremely difficult, and it remains to be seen what the final tally will be on unemployment figures after the long-drawn lockdowns necessitated by COVID-19. The populations affected most by poverty are Black and Hispanic families in urban areas.
Providing better health care is another challenge that may be difficult to overcome. Even though America spends almost 17% of its GDP on health care – double the average of OECD countries – it still does not offer full health coverage for all its people. It also has fewer doctors and hospital beds than other economically advanced countries.
Basic literacy is another issue that needs addressing. U.S. schools have a high cost, especially from pre-primary to secondary schooling, yet Americans rank around average when compared to other OECD countries for their problem-solving and basic literacy. It is not surprising that early childhood education has lower attendance rates (just 55%) when compared to the OECD average of 84%.
The growing inequality among Americans is one of the major reasons why the country cannot rank in the top 10 countries by quality of life. Inequality and poverty also continue to fuel racial tensions. Meanwhile, many low -and middle-class families are still trying to recover from the Global Financial Crisis.
Institutions are breaking down and the government is struggling to get things done. Even though health and military spending is still high, it is in decline, and spending on infrastructure has stagnated.
Tax cuts and reforms have unfortunately not improved the livelihood of the average American, and the state cannot provide a modern welfare system like those seen in the top-ranked countries. These countries have extremely high taxes but continue to rank highly for their quality of life as their residents enjoy robust social benefits like subsidized parental leave, universal healthcare, access to free or cheap education, and quality public services.