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U.N. report on minorities: U.S. not measuring up.

NEW YORK -- We often think of our country as a melting pot, where varied ethnic and racial groups interact to the mutual benefit and advancement of all. Yet a recent United Nations report suggests that the United States is closer to being several different "nations" packaged together -- quasi nations that have achieved quite different levels of development.

Human development has traditionally been viewed as an issue for poor countries of the Third World.

But the United Nations Development Program's 1993 Human Development Report uses innovative statistical techniques to highlight the extent to which minorities and women are excluded from fully enjoying economic and social benefits in rich countries like the United States or Japan as well as poorer ones.

It was in 1990 that the UNDP first ranked nations using the Human Development Index. The HDI combines measures of life expectancy, education and basic purchasing power into one statistical indicator of human development that is more broad-based than such traditional economic measures as gross domestic product.

Nations with the highest incomes do not always enjoy the highest HDI ranking: The United States is first in GDP but ranks only sixth on the HDI, after Japan, Canada, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden.

But a typical HDI ranking reflects a national average that obscures inequalities within that society. When the 1993 report calculates specific HDI rankings for U.S. whites, blacks and Hispanics, startling differences emerge: "Whites rank number one in the world (ahead of Japan), blacks rank number 31 (next to Trinidad and Tobago), and Hispanics rank number 35 (next to Estonia)."

The report documents similar disparities in India, where some states rank as much as a third lower than others on the HDI; in Mexico, where the HDI ranking of the state of Oaxaca is 20 percent lower than the national average; and in Turkey, where rural females rank 25 percent lower on the HDI than rural males. Swaziland, a more homogeneous society, shows only minor differences.

When calculated to measure gender disparities, all countries' HDI rankings reveal that no country treats its women as well as it does its men.

Measuring the specific HDI rankings of ethnic, racial and other groups within a society can help identify sources of perceived injustice and potential conflict within a nation. But the real issue is whether -- once they are identified -- governments are willing to adopt policies to reduce such inequities between the haves and have-nots, between those who enjoy most of the benefits of human development and those who are excluded from many of them.
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Author:Collins, Carole
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jun 18, 1993
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