Health & Science

Texas Lags in Measure of "Human Development"

It’s a cliché that money doesn’t buy happiness. But then how do you measure happiness? How do we know if America is on track? The Human Development Project has created a new index to track overall well-being and opportunity, not just economic activity. KUHF health science and technology reporter Carrie Feibel took a look at how Houston and Texas are doing in the latest ranking.

A small group of economists created the Human Development Index in 1990. They deliberately set out to create an alternative to Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. Sarah Burd-Sharps is a development expert at the Social Science Research Council in New York.

She says GDP is simply too limited to accurately measure human happiness or national progress.

“During the recent BP oil spill, JPMorgan Chase predicted that GDP would go up as a result of that spill. Why? Not because you know the country was benefiting tremendously overall from one of the worst environmental disasters in our history, but because a lot of temporary workers were being hired. So GDP often really misses out on what are the critical factors that people need to seize opportunities and to live to their fullest potential.”

Burd-Sharps says GDP doesn’t include unpaid work, like caring for a child or aging parent. It doesn’t measure health, education, or life expectancy.

So she and another development expert, Kristen Lewis, have measured the things that GDP doesn’t.

Their new report, the Measure of America, ranks the 50 states according to different criteria. Texas has the second largest economy in the country, after California. And yet in terms of human development, Texas ranks 38 out of 50 states. Why? Well, education for one.

“So in Texas, 1 in 5 adults does not have a high school diploma. So that’s one area of severe challenge.”

The problem is most acute among Latinos. California and Texas together educate about half of the nation’s Latino schoolchildren. But many of these students are not finishing their degrees.

“What studies have found is that Latino kids in both states in fact, TX and CA, are disproportionately being schooled in schools that are large, that are overcroweded and that are low in resources. And drop-out rates are very high.”

Poor graduation rates can drag the whole state down, making it less economically competitive. The report also looked closely at the 10 largest urban areas in the country. Houston ranked last.

Again, low educational rates were the key. But there were other issues, like health. Here’s development expert Kristen Lewis:

“A baby born today in LA can expect to outlive a baby born in Houston by about 3 years.”

That’s because health is tied to poverty. For example, low income people are more likely to live in dangerous neighborhoods with substandard housing.

To see more data about the human development index and use the interactive maps, visit Measure of

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