If You Think You’ve Got It Bad, Consider Moving to Zimbabwe

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This week the United Nations released the 2010 Human Development Index (or HDI), a comprehensive examination of the condition of 169 countries around the world based on Health, Education and Income.  Not surprisingly, the United States came in 4th place overall (behind only the Norwegians, Aussies and Kiwis).  Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, in another former English colony, life is very different.

Here’s the big picture: on a scale of 1000, the United States scores a 943 on Health, an 891 on Education and an 872 on Income.  Zimbabwe scores a 428 on Health, a 521 on Education, and a 12 (as in “twelve”) on Income.  And sadly, while almost every country in the world sees some improvement each year, Zimbabwe’s condition has worsened since gaining independence in 1980.  The country’s total HDI (again on a scale of 1000) has fallen from 240 in 1980 to 140 in 2010.  Compare that with the U.S. HDI, which is 920.

What do those big numbers mean?  Well, look at it this way: in the United States, only 8 children out of 1000 will die before age 5; in Zimbabwe, that number is 96.  American kids go to school for over 12 years; Zimbabweans receive less than 8 years of schooling and only 1% of the population goes to college. Three quarters of all Americans have access to the Internet; only 1 in 10 of Zimbabweans have access to a computer.   The average annual income for an American is about $50,000; the average Zimbabwean makes about $200.  In the United States, you’ll live about 80 years; in Zimbabwe, you probably won’t celebrate your 50th birthday.

Just a little data to chew on this holiday season, before slicing the turkey.