A NEW United Nations report ranks Japan at the top of the Human Development Index - a yardstick that combines health, education, and economic data to judge the progress of world populations.
The United States comes in sixth, behind Canada, Norway, Switzerland, and Sweden, as well as Japan. But beneath the US ranking lies large racial disparity, according to the UN Human Development Report.
Measured separately, US whites would come in at No. 1, ahead of even the Japanese. Yet US blacks would lag far behind, at 31st, with about the same developmental level as Trinidad and Tobago. US Hispanics would lag even further, coming in just behind Estonia at No. 35 on the UN index.
The infant mortality rate for blacks in the US is more than twice what it is for whites, notes the report. Per capita US blacks earn about 60 percent of their white counterparts. Other developed nations may have even greater disparities between their white and ethnic minority populations, says the author of the UN study. The US is simply the only nation that publishes data broken down by race, making the comparison possible.
"Our hunch is there are worse disparities than this in the United Kingdom, for instance," says Mahbub ul Haq, special adviser to the United Nations Development Program and a former finance minister in his native Pakistan.
The lowest-ranking nation in the world is Guinea. Life expectancy at birth there is only 43.5 years - as opposed to 78.6 years in Japan. Real gross domestic product per person is $501 ($17,616 in Japan).