iOS app Android app More

New Social Justice Index Places U.S. Near Bottom


First Posted: 10/27/11 02:43 PM ET Updated: 10/27/11 03:54 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- A central concern for those in the Occupy movement -- that the economic system in the U.S. is rigged in favor of the well-off -- has been corroborated by a major new survey of developed nations.

When it comes to social justice -- defined here as the ability each individual has to participate in the market society, regardless of their social status -- the United States ranks near the bottom of 31 developed countries, the Thursday report from Bertelsmann Foundation found.

It's one thing if you live in a market economy where everyone has the same shot at success. It's quite another if fortune favors the fortunate. And the new survey found that when it comes to "equal opportunities for self-realization," the U.S. ranks 27 out of 31 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member states, well behind not just Northern European countries like Norway and Denmark, but even countries like Hungary, Poland, Italy and France. The only countries whose citizens fare even worse are Greece, Chile, Mexico and Turkey.

The new report comes just a day after the Congressional Budget Office validated another key precept of Occupy protesters: The income gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. grew precipitously from 1979 to 2007, the report found, with the top 1 percent of earners seeing their incomes spike by 275 percent.

The new survey on the developed countries also echoes the findings of OECD's own 2010 report on social mobility, which found that, contrary to America's reputation as the "land of opportunity," it is now much harder to climb the socioeconomic ladder between generations in the U.S. than in many other developed countries.

LOOK to see where the U.S. ranks on social justice, and read more about the report below:

The social justice index measured six indicators of "socially responsible" capitalism. In all of them, the U.S. was ranked in the lower half of the countries examined. It fared particularly poorly in four.

The U.S. was third to last in poverty prevention, trailed only by Chile and Mexico, due to its "alarming" poverty levels. Whereas in Denmark, only 1 in 27 children lives in poverty, for instance, in the United States that rate is above 1 in 5. And as the report puts it: "Under conditions of poverty, social participation and a self-determined life are possible only with great difficulty."

On the health index, the U.S. was ranked 23 out of 31 countries -- other countries did much better when it came to providing access to quality health care not simply based on socioeconomic status. And the U.S. infant mortality rate is unusually high, the report found.

When it comes to "intergenerational justice" -- a measure of how well or poorly the current generation is doing at passing along problems to the next generation -- the U.S. ranked 20 out of 31.

Nineteen of the 31 countries were also ranked higher than the U.S. when it comes to equal access to good-quality education -- "another essential factor in providing equitable capabilities and opportunities for advancement," the report said.

The U.S ranked slightly higher on indicators of "social cohesion" and "labor participation."

All in all, the U.S. ranked near Mexico in several indicators. By contrast, Canada was the top performer among the non-European OECD states. "Its high ranking can be attributed to strong results in the areas of education, labor market justice and social cohesion," the report concluded.

Northern European countries led the study in overall rankings, with the report concluding that the "universalist" welfare states there are "most capable of providing equal opportunities for self-realization within their respective societies."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had conducted the report. The report, conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation, focused on OECD nations.
* * * * *

Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page, subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, become a fan and get email alerts when he writes.

FOLLOW HUFFPOST BUSINESS
Subscribe to the HuffPost Money newsletter!