by The 5P Foundation

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Prosperity is a multifaceted concept that encompasses economic well-being, quality of life, and overall development. In this article, we’ll explore how North America fares in terms of prosperity compared to other regions across the globe.

Geographical Wage Gap in North America

North America, particularly the United States and Canada, has been a hub of economic activity and innovation. Let’s start by examining the geographical wage gap within North America itself.

  • Historical Trends: After the Great Depression, income per capita in the U.S. regions (such as the Mideast) was significantly higher than the national average. However, over time, this gap narrowed, reaching its smallest differential by the mid-1980s. Recently, there are signs of a potential reversal, with per capita incomes in New England, the Mideast, and the Far West increasing relative to the average American wage

The Vitality Index: A Holistic Approach

While wages are crucial, prosperity extends beyond income. The Brookings Institute developed the Vitality Index, which considers various factors to provide a more comprehensive view of well-being. Here are the components of the Vitality Index:

  1. Median Household Income (45% weight)
  2. Poverty Rate (24% weight)
  3. Life Expectancy (13% weight)
  4. Prime-Age Employment-to-Population Ratio (9% weight)
  5. Housing Vacancy Rate (5% weight)
  6. Unemployment Rate (4% weight)

Mapping Prosperity: County-Level Insights

Let’s visualize prosperity across North America using recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The following map shows the Vitality Index by county:

Vitality Index Map

  • Observations:
    • The Mideast region has seen significant improvements in vitality over the past 26 years.
    • The Great Lakes region, heavily reliant on manufacturing, experienced a notable decline in vitality during the same period.

Cost of Living Considerations

While the Vitality Index provides valuable insights, it doesn’t directly account for cost-of-living variations. Adjusting median household income for cost of living is challenging due to data limitations and regional nuances. Factors like labor demand, local public goods, and amenity value influence living costs.

Global Comparisons

To put North America’s prosperity in context, let’s compare it to other regions:

  • Europe: Europe and North America are the “freest” regions, with high levels of prosperity
  • Latin America: Latin America is generally “mostly free” but faces challenges.
  • Middle East and North Africa (MENA): This region tends to be “unfree” in terms of prosperity.


North America’s prosperity journey is dynamic, influenced by economic shifts, social factors, and regional policies. As we continue to navigate global challenges, understanding prosperity holistically allows us to create more equitable and thriving societies.

Remember, prosperity isn’t just about numbers—it’s about the well-being of individuals, families, and communities

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