The United States’ moved up to rank 13 (+4 ranks relative to SGI 2009).
Given Obama’s status as the first viable black candidate with a wide appeal over racial and social lines, his victory in the presidential elections in November 2008 was seen as a historic event, raising high expectations for a new political era in the U.S.
The elections were overshadowed by the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression. As a response, the new government passed a massive stimulus program, including tax cuts. This program contained signature elements of a progressive reform agenda with an emphasis on energy, health care and education.
The quality of democracy in the USA has improved in relative comparison (+6 ranks relative to SGI 2009).
The electoral process is in many ways open and fair, but media access for parties is often a function of money. The media sector is overwhelmingly private and diverse. While traditional networks pursue a policy of pluralism, more recent entrants do not.
The emphasis on civil rights has been somewhat compromised by anti-terror legislation following 9/11. Political liberties nonetheless remain well protected.
Administrative and executive action generally has been firmly and often narrowly bound by law. It is subject to judicial review, with courts having broad authority to overrule executive action on statutory or constitutional grounds.
The US ranks 15th in the SGI’s economy and employment category.
In spring 2008, the Bush administration implemented a modest stimulus program, based heavily on tax credits, and then sought to stem the financial panic with measures bailing out financial institutions. The Obama administration continued the bail-out policy, passed a more comprehensive fiscal stimulus package and engaged in unprecedented industrial policy action.
The overall impact of these proactive policies on the nation’s economy and employment remains unclear. For the moment, economic indicators display mixed results. The labor market situation dramatically worsened (-12 ranks relative to 2009). However, enterprise policy is still considered the OECD’s best. Budget deficits are today highly unsustainable.
A significant gainer relative to the SGI 2009, the USA is ranked 14th in terms of social affairs.
In March 2010, Congress passed a historic and complex health care reform package, which can be expected to create winners and losers and carry unintended consequences. Public opinion remains sharply divided on the issue.
Inequality has reached record highs. The richest 1% of Americans in 2005 had a 19% share of the nation’s income. In particular, cash benefits for working-age people and children are dramatically lower than in most OECD countries.
Government family support programs are far less generous than those in other industrialized countries.
Debates over immigration have focused on controlling the very large flows of illegal immigration and dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country.
The USA faces numerous external security threats. Despite the fact that it accounts for almost half the world’s military expenditure, the country is struggling with managing several conflicts simultaneously.
The Obama administration has changed the tone of foreign and security policy, reaching out to the Muslim world as a partner rather than an enemy.
“Home-grown” terrorism and organized crime pose major challenges to law enforcement. It is unclear whether anti-terrorism agencies or law enforcement’s organizational resources and structures can effectively combat criminal syndicates and terrorist groups.
The US record on sustainable resource usage is decidedly mixed.
The country’s performance on environment policy is near the OECD’s bottom. The Obama administration took steps in the right direction, ranging from support for building insulation to incentives for renewable energy and the construction of a smart grid.
The USA has an excellent profile in terms of research and innovation, and shows strengths in education indicators. Despite the effects of recession, the country’s R&D base remains strong due to a mix of vibrant private and public institutions.
The main concern in education policy is the quality of primary and secondary education, which is often judged mediocre. High school graduation rates, although displaying growth between 1996 and 2006, remain low at about 70%.