Alabama has a wide range of standard of living and quality of life. Big cities like Birmingham, Huntsville, and Mobile have grown significantly in recent years while regions like the Black Belt have seen factories close, government agencies leave, and hospitals shut down. Some may hyperbolically say that life in some parts of the state is almost as bad as living in a third-world country. But is that really true?
StrategyWise, a data analysis company based in Birmingham, used the United Nations’ Human Development Index and applied it to individual counties and zip codes in Alabama and determined how those numbers compare to other countries around the world.
The highest-rated county in Alabama is Madison, with a HDI of 0.877 that corresponds to Spain. According to the United Nations’ list, Spain currently ranks 26 out of 188 countries. Shelby County came in second, matching Italy with a score of 0.874, followed by Lauderdale and Baldwin Counties, which both matched with the country of Brunei (0.85).
Wilcox County is the lowest-scoring county in Alabama, matching the country of Saint Lucia with a score of 0.73. Also at the bottom of the list are Greene (Sri Lanka, 0.75), Monroe (Venezuela, 0.763), and Fayette (Iran, 0.765).
StrategyWise went a step further and applied the Human Development Index to each zip code in the state too. Mountain Brook (zip code 35223) has the highest HDI rating of anywhere in the state – 0.95, matching it with Norway, the country with the highest HDI rating in the world. Chelsea (35043), Brownsboro (35741), Maylene (35114), and another Mountain Brook zip (35213) rounded out the top five, and all draw comparisons to Australia with HDI ratings of 0.93-0.94.
The lowest scoring zip code in the state is Trenton (0.61) in Jackson County, which compares to the country of Tajikistan.
Luckily, nowhere in Alabama is on the same level of any developing or third world countries.
“Everywhere in the state you can get relative access to K-12 education, healthcare, clean drinking water,” said Dr. Tom Smith, senior economist at StrategyWise and a professor of finance and economics at Emory’s Goizueta School of Business. “Alabama has its challenges, but it’s considerably better than most third world countries by a lot.”
The United Nations developed the Human Development Index to “emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone.” The Index measures key dimensions of human development: healthcare (assessed by life expectancy at birth), education (measured by expected years of schooling for children and average years of schooling for adults), and standard of living (measured by gross national income per capita).