Report illustrates the markedly different opportunities and outcomes for California residents across geography, race and gender.

Los Angeles, CA
May 17, 2011

A new report released May 17, 2011 provides, for the first time, an easy-to-understand composite number that measures the well-being of Californians in the areas of health, education and income. A Portrait of California uses the internationally recognized Human Development Index to rank how Californians are doing against key benchmarks, broken out by demographic, geographic and other distinctions. This exhaustive report was prepared by the American Human Development Project, a nonpartisan initiative that seeks to move beyond an overreliance in the U.S. on GDP as a measure of well-being. 

Read the full report and find regional data here.

The American Human Development Index is calculated using standard government data that is weighted equally to come up with a composite score with 10 being the highest possible. These include life expectancy at birth and mortality rates to measure health; age of school enrollment and educational degree attainment to measure education; and median earnings to measure people’s standard of living/income. While California as a whole is doing better than the nation with a score of 5.46 vs 5.09, a great deal of variation exists across local geography, ethnicity and gender.

“The composite score for our state really only tells half the story. What is so critical about A Portrait of California is that it illustrates the widely divergent realities faced by California residents who, in many instances, live side by side,” said Peter Manzo, President & CEO of United Ways of California, which helped to fund the report. “For instance, the report can tell us how African Americans in the Bay Area compare to their white counterparts, or how Latinos in LA are doing, compared with Latinos in Fresno, or how women in Los Angeles have done compared to the well being of a typical American from 30 years ago.  The American Human Development Index gives us a more complete view of how people are doing. Health, education and income results and challenges affect real people in combination, yet too often we try to focus on one factor in isolation.”

A Portrait of California explores the state of human progress within California, ranking according to the American Human Development Index (HDI) the major racial and ethnic groups, women and men, native- and foreign-born residents, and the 233 neighborhood and county groups across the state for which there is reliable U.S Census data.

The report ranks the five most populous metro areas in the state—Los Angeles ( 5.52), Sacramento (5.66), San Diego (5.80), San Francisco (6.97), and Riverside-San Bernardino (4.58), as well as the San Joaquin Valley region (3.84). It also sorts the findings into “Five Californias,” which are not geographic designations, but rather groupings of California residents in terms of their life circumstances and rankings on the HDI.  These include:

Other key findings from the report include:




A Portrait of California also highlights things that Californians can do to lock in human development successes today while setting the stage for significant budget savings and improved well-being tomorrow. These include investing in public health campaigns and food subsidies for fruits and vegetables; investing in preschool and targeting the worst performing high schools that have the highest dropout rates; and taking steps to address gender equality and wage discrimination in the workplace.

Manzo further said: “United Ways throughout the state work to increase opportunities for Californians in the areas of health, education and income, so this report really hits home and reinforces why we do the work we do. It also underscores what we’ve learned from experience: You simply cannot address these core issues separately. Instead, to address any one issue effectively – education, for example - you have to see and address the links between all of them.”