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15th November
2010
written by Pete Witte

Today’s post comes to us from Pete Witte, research assistant at the Alliance.

When I was a child, I loved Shel Silverstein’s poem, “Smart,” about a boy who took his father’s one dollar bill and – through a series of misguided trades – he wound up with five pennies.

Besides offering poetic charm, “Smart” also teaches a nice lesson: bigger (numbers of coin) doesn’t equal better (value).

The poem’s logic could apply to the national conception of growth and development as it relates to gross domestic product (GDP).

Here’s a new idea: Instead of simply aiming to grow GDP bigger—which can have the effect of leaving behind our least fortunate, such as people experiencing homelessness, but instead should seek to become better—developing and improving the well-being and access to opportunity for all Americans.

In short: America needs to consider other measures to conceptualize human development.

A recently released report, The Measure of America 2010-2011: Mapping Risks and Resilience, offers an alternative with the American Human Development (HD) Index.

The HD Index measures health, education, and income. Released by the American Human Development Project of the Social Science Research Council, the report presents easy-to-understand and compelling data broken down by geography at the national, state, and congressional district levels, as well as data by groupings of people (i.e. women and men, ethnic groups, etc.).

Some of the data findings paint a stark picture of disparities between groups of Americans, including:

  • The average U.S. infant mortality rate is 7 deaths in 1,000 births; the rate in Tensas Parish, Louisiana is 45 in 1,000;
  • Whites living in Washington, D.C. live an average of 12 years longer than African Americans living in Washington, D.C.;
  • In Nevada, 30 percent of 3- and 4-year olds are enrolled in preschool; In New Jersey, that number is 70 perecnt;
  • A mere 54 percent of adults over 25 have completed high school in the Houston area;
  • The median income among women is $11,000 less than men;
  • An African American worker in Maryland earns $16,000 per year more than the typical African American worker in Louisiana.

If you’re like me, these statistics lead to an obvious question: “So what now?”

And for me, the answer lies somewhere around acknowledging the disparity in opportunity. What’s eminently clear after reading this report, after serving as an urban planner, while learning about homelessness, while conducting research about housing and the economy and race and poverty is that not everyone is born into the same circumstances. And that disparity – that disparity of opportunity – can dramatically affect a person’s life.

And homelessness is no exception. Study after report after survey have found that the stability that a permanent home offers is the foundation for a person’s potential; it’s the basis for family, for employment, for recovery. And in the homelessness field, it’s up to us—advocates, social service providers, policy- and decision-makers, journalists and bloggers, and researchers alike—to continue to work toward promoting better opportunity for those that have fallen behind and those that are experiencing homelessness!, no matter the circumstance.

We can end homelessness. It’s not “smart,” it’s better.

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