A funny phenomenon works overtime here in the United States.
It is what I call "the law of the highest-placed."
It plays out something like this.
When asked about quality of life issues in this country, instinctively we think of the experiences of those who enjoy the best of things. And, we somehow find it logical to regard those experiences as our national norms.
How are we doing with health care in the U. S.?
Really well! Did you hear about the incredible new robotic surgical procedures that maximize a patient's chances of survival?
How about housing issues?
Really well! So well that about our only problem in that regard is a possible "housing bubble" created by the amazing growth in property valuations and balance sheet equity.
Even if I am needing health insurance or more fit and affordable housing, the fact that a group of Americans have all that they need and more, somehow seems to help me believe that we are all doing very well and that it is just a matter of hard work and time before I and lots of others will "arrive" as well.
This perception also causes us to believe that our national quality of life is the best in the world overall and is not in need of reform or change.
Funny how this works to neutralize action to improve the quality of our national life for more of our people.
Community organizing for public policy change is hard slogging because of the power of this part of our national mythology. Media weighs in to promote the story. It also sells lots of little "packages of success" to the lower reaches of our economic strata, compounding the idea that things are really better here than anywhere on earth. Why would anyone want to complain, criticize or act for change?
One of the very significant results of "the law of the highest-placed" is that we simply ignore reality about a host of issues.
Against all of this, consider the following.
The United States ranks 27th overall in population below the poverty line, last among the 17 member states in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the first-world, developed nations).
According to The Economist Quality of Life Index, the United States ranks 13th in total quality of life, even though we have the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the fourth highest GDP per capita. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, we rank 8th overall today, as compared to 1st as recently as 1990.
According to the World Health Organization, the United States ranks 37th of 191 countries in health care system performance, last among industrialized countries, although we spend almost 15% of our GDP annually on health care--more than any other industrialized country. Year after year we get a very poor return on our national investment.
According to the Human Development Index, the United States ranks 27th of 28 countries in life expectancy at birth, which puts us behind Barbados. We rank 36th in infant mortality, a higher death rate than Portugal, Cuba, Aruba, and San Marino.
The US ranks 12th of 18 countries with 20.7% of adults lacking functional literacy skills (Human Development Index). The US ranks 10th with a total of only 87 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 having finished high school. This puts us behind such nations as South Korea, Norway, the Czech Republic and Japan (OECD).
According to Unicef (2002), the United States ranks 18th in educational advancement, with 16.2 percent of 15-year-olds falling below international benchmarks, compared with Japan at 2.2 percent, Canada at 5 percent, Britain at 9.4 percent, and France at 12.6 percent. At the same time we are spending more per student on average than any other country.
What about our environment? According to Columbia University's Environmental Sustainability Index, the US ranks 51st of 142 nations in environmental sustainability.
The United States has the largest prison population rate in the world (686 per 100,000 of the national population), followed by the Cayman Islands (664), Russia (638), and several former Soviet countries.
All of this is enough to at least cause us to pause and reflect about how we are doing, don't you think?
No doubt, the growing gap between the well-off and the not-so-well-off in our nation explains part of our challenge today.
The very worst thing we can do is to act as if none of this is true.
For people in the city the challenges are inescapable.
Surely our faith has some direction to offer us as we consider future plans, actions and responses to our national reality.
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