Deeply Entrenched Weaknesses Plague US Economy Despite Strength

The US has 40 worst counties to live in, mostly in the South and Midwest, with low life expectancy, high poverty rates, and low educational attainment. These counties face significant challenges, including limited economic opportunities and health outcomes below the national average.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Deeply Entrenched Weaknesses Plague US Economy Despite Strength

Deeply Entrenched Weaknesses Plague US Economy Despite Strength

The United States boasts the world's largest and most resilient economy, but beneath the surface lie significant weaknesses, particularly in certain regions. The United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index (HDI) ranks the US 20th globally, trailing behind several European and Asian countries as well as Canada.

Why this matters: The persistence of these weaknesses in certain regions threatens to undermine the overall stability and growth of the US economy, and addressing them is crucial to ensuring a more equitable distribution of prosperity. Moreover, the consequences of inaction could lead to increased social and economic disparities, ultimately affecting the country'sglobal competitiveness.

Using an index inspired by the HDI, 24/7 Wall St identified the 40 worst US counties to live in based on three key measures: average life expectancy at birth, the share of adults with a bachelor's degree or higher, and the poverty rate. The data, sourced from the US Census Bureau's 2022 American Community Survey and County Health Rankings Roadmaps, reveals a stark picture.

Over half of the 40 counties are concentrated in the South, while 10 are in the Midwest, including eight in South Dakota alone. Every county on the list has an average life expectancy below the 78.5-year national average, with some falling a staggering 10 years lower. The poverty rate exceeds the 12.5% US average by over 20 percentage points in most of these struggling counties. Educational attainment is also dismal, with the share of adults holding a bachelor's degree ranging from 20% to less than 5%, compared to over 34% nationwide.

Quitman County, Mississippi, exemplifies the hardships faced by many on the list. The average life expectancy at birth is just 69.5 years, a full 9 years below the US average. The poverty rate stands at 30.2%, 17.7 percentage points above the national figure, and only 14.4% of adults have earned a bachelor's degree. Similarly, in Marlboro County, South Carolina, life expectancy is 71.4 years, the poverty rate is 27.8%, and a mere 8.3% of adults hold a bachelor's degree.

The widespread hardship in these counties can be attributed to various factors. Many are home to Native American reservations, which have historically suffered from limited economic opportunity. Others are concentrated in Appalachia, a region that has long relied on the declining coal industry, leading to long-term economic decline.

While the US boasts a $27.4 trillion economy, making it the wealthiest country in the world, the benefits of this prosperity are not evenly distributed. Communities across the nation are grappling with widespread financial hardship, lack of economic opportunity, and health outcomes that fall well below the national average. As the country looks to the future, addressing these deeply entrenched weaknesses will be crucial to ensuring a more equitable and prosperous society for all Americans.

Key Takeaways

  • The US ranks 20th globally in the Human Development Index (HDI), behind several European and Asian countries.
  • 40 US counties have low life expectancy, high poverty rates, and low educational attainment, threatening overall economic stability.
  • Most of these counties are in the South and Midwest, with 8 in South Dakota alone.
  • Poverty rates in these counties exceed the US average by over 20 percentage points, with life expectancy up to 10 years lower.
  • Addressing these weaknesses is crucial to ensuring a more equitable distribution of prosperity and global competitiveness.