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Living in a Third World country (aka The United States)

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How can this be?

I'm sure many of you are asking whether this is true.

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I'll get to that in a few minutes.

But first, I need to put this post in context.

A fellow OSer, our dear friend John Knight, recently argued that the United State has the "highest per capita income in the world" (see the original comment on my friend's postand consequently one should not question the possibility that citizens living in the U.S. may be worse off than folks living in other industrialized countries. In his words "You folks are idiots; so willing to believe anything negative about this country." Lovely comment, don't you think?

Notwithstanding the fact that the United States does not have the highest per capita income (defined as the Purchasing Power Parity or PPP) (see here also) in the world, the average or mean value only provide a partial account of what's going on. To get a better picture, it is necessary to calculate the various percentiles (that is 5%, 15%, 50% or the median, 85%, etc.), the variance (the variation observed in the data) and the skewness (the shape of the distribution) among others.

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By computing these values, it is easy to find out that there are vastly more people living in poverty in the U.S. than most other industrialized countries, as discussed here, here and here. Using the Human Development Index, which accounts for the PPP and the GNP, the United States still performs worse than a significant number of industrialized countries, as seen here, here and here.

It is estimated that about 60% of Americans will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75 (yesterday, the NYT reported that 1 out of 8 Americans is now on food stamps). According to a recent study, the United States has some of the highest relative poverty rates among industrialized countries, which is explained by the high median income (see above) and high level of inequality (larger variance and percentiles) (I found another study on this topic - Table 2, p. 14); you can now notice how we can already dismiss the "highest per capita income" argument raised by John Knight. Not surprisingly, people living below the line of poverty reside in rural and inner city areas (a topic discussed further below).

Can it be that bad, so much so that Americans actually live in Third World conditions?

Unfortunately, the answer is Yes. Another OSer and this blogger seem to think so too.

Don't believe me? Check out these pictures.

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Someone's home in Texas:

http://geography.wr.usgs.gov/science/images/coloniasVan.jpg

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Dominique is an Associate Professor in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University. His research work aims at reducing the negative effects associated with motor vehicle crashes. When he's not developing mathematical and (more...)
 

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