Human Development Index among red and blue states

It’s easy to get confused by the endless red-state blue-state rhetoric during this election season (which is to say, the past six years). It’s worthwhile to take a look at how people live across the divide.

In this week’s New Republic, Jonathan Cohn’s Blue States are from Scandinavia, Red States are from Guatemala explores the historical roots of this great American divide. Cohn argues that there are affectively two countries in the United States. In one, government is seen as a mechanism to ensure that as many people as possible have their basic necessities taken care of. This is expensive. In the other “country”, government costs very little and provides very little.

What are the consequences of this divide? As Cohn points out “by nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states…The four states with the highest poverty rates are all red: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. And the five states with the lowest poverty rates are all blue. Since it’s difficult to measure “nearly every measure” the next best thing is to look at the American Human Development Index developed by the Social Science Research Council, and inspired by the global HDI commissioned by UNDP. The AHDI takes into consideration things like health, education and overall standard of living.

The following is a list of the states (and DC) with the highest AHDIs and the states with the lowest AHDIs.

American Human Development Index 2010/11
12 Highest 12 Lowest
Connecticut  6.30 
 North Carolina  4.64
Massachusetts  6.24  New Mexico  4.56
Washington, D.C.         6.21  Montana  4.49
New Jersey  6.16  South Carolina         4.36
Maryland  5.96  Tennessee  4.33
New York  5.77  Kentucky  4.23
Minnesota  5.74  Oklahoma  4.15
New Hampshire  5.73  Alabama  4.09
Hawaii  5.73  Louisiana  4.07
Colorado  5.65  Mississippi  3.93
Rhode Island  5.56  Arkansas  3.87
California  5.56  West Virginia  3.85

With the exception of two swing states, every single one of the top AHDI states is blue. There are zero red states at the top – the highest ranked red state is Alaska, coming in at number 17.

The strangest thing about our red-blue divide though is that the poorest states are the ones that complain the most about the redistribution of wealth. As pointed out in a previous post, these poor (red) states are also the greatest beneficiaries of said redistribution. Blue states have been subsidizing red states for decades.

We have a clear division among states in terms of the role of government and its effectiveness. Although it may offend many, one system is superior to the other. If you had the choice between living in Scandinavia or Guatemala, the choice is clear.


2 thoughts on “Human Development Index among red and blue states

  1. Dear deer Cyriac,
    You talk a lot about the elections, how voters might swing this way and how the polls lean that way. I would like to ask why people are allowed to vote?

    There is no youtube video of me but I assure you that I am offended that the caller in the example provided (by you!) has the same number of vote as I do. Please dedicate your next discussion to this.

    Coming to think about it, I don’t get to vote at all. And who favours the deers the most, blue or red states?

    1. I’ve seen the following quote, or something close to it, be attributed to everyone from Gandhi to Churchill to Harry Truman and the Pope: the true measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.

      That woman is clearly one of our weakest links, and yet…

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