The U.S. Cities Sustainable Development Goals Index

Posted by United Nations on February 26, 2019

The United States of America (U.S.) is often referred to as the land of opportunity. It is the world’s richest large economy, home to many of the world’s leading technologies and institutions of higher learning. Yet, for many in the U.S. these opportunities are unattainable. Gender, age, race and income determine how easily a person can access education, healthcare and economic opportunities. And compounding all of these vulnerabilities is geography. Where a person is born can have a huge impact on their ability to access social and economic opportunities, while also affecting the sustainability of the environment in which they live. This problem is particularly apparent in American cities and urban areas, which are home to 85.5 percent of the domestic population. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), universally adopted by the world’s governments in 2015, aim to set a framework for action on economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. This second, improved edition of the U.S. Cities SDG Index aims to help urban leaders identify the many sustainable
development challenges affecting their cities, including inequality of opportunity. The Index covers the 100 most populous cities (measured as Metropolitan Statistical Areas, or MSAs) in the U.S., accounting for 66 percent of the domestic population. It synthesizes data available today across 44 indicators
spanning 15 of the 17 SDGs that apply to urban areas. The data provide a more holistic and comprehensive assessment of the sustainable development challenges faced by U.S. cities than is available through other metrics. Results show that all U.S. cities, even those at the top of the Index, have far to go to achieve the SDGs; as many as 62 cities are less than half way there. Common challenges for all cities include eradicating poverty (Goal 1), healthy food and diets (Goal 2), health and
wellbeing for all (Goal 3), gender equality (Goal 5), providing affordable and clean energy for all (Goal 7), reducing inequality (Goal 10) and climate action (Goal 13). Progress on the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development will require local government leaders to examine inequality and disadvantage within their cities and communities. In nine MSAs in the sample of 100 MSAs studied (referred to as ‘the sample’ going forward), child poverty rates were 50 percent higher than that of the overall local poverty rate, while in more than half of the MSAs, the poverty rate amongst non-whites was twice that of whites. To tackle these systemic inequalities, local government leaders need to adopt long-term, targeted social policies and also invest in more disaggregated data to better identify specific areas for improvement.

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