Monitoring State Fulfillment of Economic and Social Rights Obligations in the United States

Abstract

This article adapts the economic and social rights fulfillment index (SERF Index) developed by Fukuda-Parr, Lawson-Remer, and Randolph to assess the extent to which each of the 50 US states fulfills the economic and social rights obligations set forth in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It then extends the index to incorporate discrimination and examines differences in economic and social rights fulfillment by race and sex within each of the states. The overall SERF Index score varies between states from below 70% to almost 85%, with wider variation on some of the six substantive rights that comprise the overall SERF Index score. The findings reveal limited sex discrimination but pronounced race discrimination.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The substantive economic and social rights articulated in the ICESCR (United Nations 1966) are the right to work (Articles 6–8), the right to social security (Article 9), the right to food (Article 11), the right to housing (Article 11), the right to health (Article 12), and the right to education (Article 13). Each of these rights has multiple dimensions. For example, the right to work includes “the opportunity to gain his living by work he freely chooses or accepts” (Article 6, paragraph 1) and “just and favorable conditions of work” (Article 7, paragraph 1).

  2. 2.

    See Abramovitz (2011) and Albisa (2011) for a detailed discussion of both official and popular resistance and opposition to economic and social rights.

  3. 3.

    Although the United States has signed but not ratified the ICESCR, here we invoke “soft law” and the United States’ rhetoric of social justice in referring to its obligations.

  4. 4.

    The UNDP’s HDI is further limited in that it only takes into account two of the substantive rights guaranteed under the ICESCR, enjoyment of the right to education and the right to health.

  5. 5.

    Given the fitting procedure for the APF’s equation, a few countries may have indicator values just above the APF. In such cases, the transformed indicator scores are set to 100%.

  6. 6.

    While the performance indicator scores of states in the United States are sensitive to the value of β selected, state rankings on a given performance indicator score seldom are, given the observed Y p values and the observed per-capita GDP range across states. In the case that Y p is reached at an income level below that observed in any state in the United States, setting β > 0.5 reduces state performance indicator scores in those states that fail to fully fulfill the right aspect concerned, increasing the range in scores across states. It does not, however, affect the ranking of states. In the case that Y p is reached at an income level above that observed in any state in the United States, the performance indicator scores of states are unaffected since in that case, no penalty is imposed. The only context in which state rankings on a given performance indicator score could change when a value of β > 0.5 is selected is when Y p occurs within the observed per-capita income range across states. In the current analysis, this only occurs with regard to the absolute poverty indicator relevant to states in the United States (see the following section), and here, the performance indicator scores are only affected for the five states with per-capita income levels above Y p for the absolute poverty indicator.

  7. 7.

    A detailed discussion of indicator selection for each right as well as the specification of frontiers, setting of X min, X p, and Y p values, and data sources used can be found in Annex A of Randolph et al. (2009).

  8. 8.

    Tables detailing state performance by substantive right and the corresponding transformed indicators are included as Annex B in Randolph et al. (2009)

  9. 9.

    The plots and R 2 values exclude the District of Columbia, which has a high outlier value on GDP per capita. If the District of Columbia is included in these analyses, the relationship between the SERF Index and GDP per capita becomes more negative, whereas the SERF Index remains insignificantly related to the American Human Development Index.

  10. 10.

    Annex C in Randolph at al. (2009) details the findings for sex discrimination by substantive right indices and their component indicators. Here, we highlight some of the more interesting results.

  11. 11.

    Table 6 includes the results for whites, blacks, and Hispanics, the racial/ethnic groups with the most complete data. Annex D in Randolph et al. (2009) also includes results for American Indians and Asian and Pacific Islanders, although data on these racial/ethnic groups are missing for many states. The discussion that follows, however, highlights notable findings for these latter groups as well.

  12. 12.

    Some race-specific data values by state were estimated from surveys, such as the American Community Survey. When the sample size for a minority group was too small to give a reliable race-specific rate for a state, the rate for that minority group was set to missing on that particular indicator.

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Correspondence to Susan Randolph.

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Randolph, S., Prairie, M. & Stewart, J. Monitoring State Fulfillment of Economic and Social Rights Obligations in the United States. Hum Rights Rev 13, 139–165 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-011-0211-1

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Keywords

  • Human Rights
  • Economic and Social Rights
  • International Law
  • Human Development
  • Welfare and Poverty
  • Discrimination
  • Country Study: United States