Many of the measures most commonly used to assess a given country’s level of development are strictly economic. They include indicators such as gross domestic product, GDP growth, and GDP per capita. While useful, these measures are also narrow in scope and reveal little about a country’s development or development potential.
To address these shortcomings and provide a more comprehensive measure, the United Nations Development Programme created the Human Development Index. The HDI estimates a country’s development using three dimensions – health, assessed by life expectancy at birth; education, assessed by mean years of schooling; and standard of living, assessed by gross national income per capita. And in the United States, these measures are moving in the wrong direction. (Here is a look at the poorest town in every state.)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, average life expectancy at birth in the United States fell by 2.7 years from 2019 to 2021 and now stands at 76.1 years – the lowest it has been since 1996. Additionally, the Brookings Institute recently reported that overall undergraduate enrollment fell by 15% from 2010 to 2021 and has continued to decline in the years since. Meanwhile, the number of Americans living below the poverty line climbed by 7.9% in 2021, the largest single-year increase since the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009.
But while the U.S. as a whole is backsliding, there are parts of the country that stand out for exceptionally high levels of human development.
Using an index inspired by the HDI, 24/7 Wall St. identified the best U.S. counties to live in. Over 3,000 counties and county equivalents were ranked based on a combination of three measures – average life expectancy at birth, the share of adults with a bachelor’s degree, and the poverty rate. To avoid clustering, only one county per metropolitan statistical area was included.
The 40 counties and county equivalents on this list are spread across the country, including five in the Northeast, nine in the Midwest, 11 in the South, and 15 in the West. In each, the share of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher exceeds the 33.7% national bachelor’s degree attainment rate and life expectancy at birth is at least 2.5 years longer than the national average. Additionally, only two of these places have a higher poverty rate than the 12.6% national rate.
While these three key measures are independent, they are also closely correlated. Americans with a bachelor’s degree are less likely to face serious financial hardship and more likely to have healthier lifestyles and improved health outcomes. Additionally, poverty is associated with negative health outcomes and increased risk of premature mortality. (Here is a look at America’s healthiest cities.)
Click here to see the best counties to live in.
Click here to see our detailed methodology.
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