The overall well-being among Illinois residents has seen a slight improvement over the years, according to data from the American Human Development Index (HD Index) updated this month by Measure of America.
The HD Index factors in three issues Americans feel strongly about and also gauges human progress: health, education and income. The index tackles the question of how Americans are doing as opposed to how is the economy faring, which is something the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and other economic indicators seek to answer.
Illinois earned the 16th best HD Index score out of the 50 states, according to the “The Measure of America 2013-2014”. The report also includes an interactive map that lets users examine quality of life trends.
Connecticut came in at the top, followed by Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and Maryland.
The worst human development score went to Mississippi. Also among the bottom were Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia.
In no state, or the 25 major metropolitan areas highlighted in the report, did African Americans and Latinos have well-being levels above those of whites or Asian Americans.
And while Illinois – and the nation – experienced an overall bump over recent years in educational attainment levels and life expectancy, wages decreased.
The report noted that the downward trend in personal earnings in Illinois, and other parts of the country, started even before the financial collapse. Illinois was among 39 states to see stalled or declined wages from 2000 to 2005.
Kristen Lewis, co-director of Measure of America, said using GDP and other economic indicators as a shorthand for discussing human progress often leads to a misleading picture.
For example, since 1974, GDP has nearly tripled, Lewis explained. As a result, some may expect ordinary Americans to have more access to financial resources and a better material standard of living. But in reality, median personal earnings have not budged for decades, she said.
“You get this really misleading picture when you look at these big economic indicators as opposed to looking at indicators that directly measure very important building blocks of a good life,” Lewis said.
According to the report, the state’s individual median earnings was $30,462, which is down from $31,475 in Measure of America’s 2010 report and $33,056 in 2008. The most recent figures show national median earnings at $28,899.
The 2013 HD Index update includes the most recent 2010 data available from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other government sources.
“You would think that this kind of critical data about people’s well-being would be produced on a more or less constant basis the way we can know the stock market numbers and things like that, or GDP every quarter,” Lewis said.
But the information needed to update the HD Index comes out after a long delay, specifically in regards to health data, Lewis said.
Measure of America, which is a nonpartisan project of the Social Science Research Council, was founded in 2007. It adapted the United Nation’s HD Index and put out its first report in 2008. The HD Index was also updated in 2010.
For the current report, Illinois earned an overall HD Index score of 5.31. The ranking is based on a scale from zero to 10.
In comparison, the country as a whole had a 5.03 rating.
Illinois’ current index score is up from 5.27 in Measure of America’s 2010 report. The state has also seen an improvement from its 2008 score of 5.24.
In regards to health, people in Illinois can expect to live for 79 years, according to the report. That is a slight uptick from 78.1 years cited in the 2008 report and 78.6 years in 2010.
The life expectancy at the national level is 78.9 years.
Illinois earned a 5.39 in education, which was the 11th best score. The District of Columbia had the best education index score of 6.48, while Nevada had the worst at 3.96.
Nearly 80 percent of people ages 3 to 24 in Illinois are enrolled in school, the report showed. In comparison, the nationwide percentage is 77.6.
And about 87 percent of the state’s adult population had a high school diploma, the data revealed. Nearly 31 percent of Illinoisans earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and a little more than 11 percent hold a graduate degree. Illinois scored better than the nationwide figures in all three categories, according to the report.
Overall, people living in the nation’s 25 largest metro areas, which are home to 40 percent of Americans, had higher levels of well-being and access to opportunity compared to the national average.
Just four of the 25 metro areas earned an index score below the national average, including Houston, the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, San Antonio and the Riverside-San Bernardino region.
The Chicago metro area had the 12th highest overall index score.
People in the Chicago area can anticipate living 79.3 years and the region's median wage is $31,757, according to the report.
A little more than 86 percent of the adult population in the Chicago area earned a high school diploma. About 34 percent hold a bachelor’s degree and approximately 13 percent completed a graduate degree. Overall, school enrollment was just shy of 80 percent.
Asian Americans do particularly well in the Chicago area, according to the report.
Chicago was among the top five metro areas for Asian Americans’ overall well-being and No. 2 for bachelor’s degree attainment. Nearly 64 percent of Chicago-area Asian Americans have completed a bachelor’s degree, which is much higher than the national average, Lewis said.
In all 25 metro areas cited in the report, educational attainment and life expectancy continued to increase in the Great Recession. Lewis credited the increase to long-term investments made by states, cities and individuals.
“That’s why investments in people are so durable and so important, because they really allow you to continue to grow and be poised for when the economy picks up again,” Lewis said.
African Americans, however, are not faring as well. The Chicago area was ranked 20th for the overall well-being of African Americans and 21st in regards to health.
At the national level, African Americans' life expectancy is 74.6 years. And although African Americans lived three years longer in 2010 compared to 2000, their life expectancy is about four years less than the national average, the report noted.
In Chicago, there is a 14-year life expectancy gap among Asian Americans and African Americans.
Chicago’s trend of Asian Americans living the longest followed by Latinos, whites and then African Americans is the same at the national level and in all the states, Lewis said.
“It’s not as big a gap everywhere, but ... that gap exists in all of the states and across the country,” she said.
Overall, the report’s data raised more questions than it provided answers.
For example, “why are we having this huge life expectancy gap between two ethnic groups within one city,” Lewis asked.
Dr. Charles Barron, medical director at Access Southwest Family Health Center in Chicago, said chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, are key contributors to the shorter life expectancy among African Americans. The population in general also faces challenges accessing health care and health-related education, he said.
The Chicago metro area has a large population of African Americans without health insurance, he explained.
In general, African-American women with children have more access to health care compared to men. And traditionally, black males “just don’t come to the doctor,” Barron said.
Chronic disease prevention and education is key, he said. Individuals with diabetes, for example, may not seek medical care until they are feeling unwell, and by then it could be too late, he noted.
Barron collaborates with churches and local organizations to hold community health fairs and educational seminars, particularly targeted at African-American males.
“We have to definitely put more money and more resources into outreach in the communities and underserved communities,” he said. “We have to get out there and really meet them where they are and understand what issues and barriers that they actually have, and we have to attack them aggressively and put resources into it.”
Lewis said the HD Index is a tool people can use to hold their elected officials accountable for progress. And shining a light on human development indicators is critical, she stressed.
“If people don’t really understand the extent of the disparities, they don’t really know what’s really happening,” Lewis said. “If you don’t know what the problem is, you really can’t fix it.”