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6 Uncomfortable Truths About Life in the United States

by Amanda Machado Jul 21, 2015

1. The only country that incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than the U.S. is North Korea.

The International Centre for Prison Studies estimates that we have more than 2.2 million people behind bars, or around 716 people per 100,000 citizens, which is far higher than Russia, China, and Iran. To put this in even more perspective, the number per 100,000 citizens in European countries: 78 in Germany, 103 in France, and 99 in Italy. Even worse, 60% of U.S. prisoners are non-violent offenders. The numbers demonstrate how the United States contributes a completely disproportional amount of prisoners to the global environment: we are responsible for around 22% of the total amount of inmates in the world, even though we only account for 4.4% of the world population.

2. Though we spend more money on health care than any other country in the world, our life expectancy in some areas of the South is lower than the life expectancy in Nicaragua, Algeria and Bangladesh.

Though our life expectancy overall has improved (Americans live around eight years longer now than they did in 1970), our rate of improvement is far slower than other countries, and in some counties is on-par with countries far less developed than we are. We also rank last among rich countries in overall health performance, according to a 2014 survey by the Commonwealth Fund that looked at measures like equity of care and efficiency.

This suggests that Americans overspend on technology, without achieving higher results. For example, Americans have the highest rate of MRI exams. And yet in Austria, where the MRI exam rate is around half of ours, the life expectancy is still two years longer than ours.

We also rank low among developed nations for the amount of doctors we have: only 2.5 per 1,000 people (in 2005). In most of Europe, that number is far above three. In Cuba it was 6.7 in 2010. A 2015 report suggested that by 2025 our country would need between 46,000 and 90,000 more physicians than we have today.

3. Out of all developed nations, we have the highest teen pregnancy rate.

The Guttmacher Institute found that the pregnancy rate for American girls is 57 out of every 1,000 girls, far higher than most developed countries. Many argue that this derives from the failure of our abstinence-only education programs. The majority of European countries use comprehensive sex-ed. The result? A teen pregnancy rate of 5.3 per 1,000 in the Netherlands, 4.3 per 1,000 in Switzerland and 9.8 per 1,000 in Germany.

4. Even though we account for 4.4% of the world’s population, we use 18% of the world’s energy.

And one-third of the world’s paper and around a quarter of the world’s oil, coal and aluminum.

5. We are the only developed country that still executes prisoners.

111 UN member nations have expressed their agreement with a moratorium on the death penalty. And yet the US stands alone among developing countries in continuing the practice.
We can’t argue that we’ve kept the death penalty because it works: several articles have shown how capital punishment in the U.S. has been significantly racist, economically costly, and ultimately inefffective in deterring future crime.

6. We are one of only three nations in the world that does not guarantee paid maternal leave.

Though 70 percent of children live in families where both adults work, the United States still has made little effort to provide paid maternal leave for American families. The small company we keep? Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. A 2010 survey found that 76 of registered voters supported some form of paid leave. Other studies also show that when maternity leaves are short and unpaid, immunization and health visit rates go down and infant mortality rates go up. An OECD study on nineteen countries from 1979 to 2003 also found that paid parental led to significantly greater productivity.

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