Browsing through The Measure of America* I find tables showing the "American Human Development Index," organized by Congressional District. Number 1 of 436--the "most humanly developed," I guess-- is the New York 14th, the silk-stocking Upper East Side of Manhattan, home of Bernie Madoff and a gaggle of unemployed bankers. Number 2 is the Virginia 8th, Arlington-Alexandria, mother church of the military-industrial complex. Numbers 3, 4 and 5 are all California: California 14th, Anna Eshoos' Silicon Valley seat; California 48th, the Irvine Ranch, once host to Chris Cox of SEC fame, and California 30th, entertainment central, Henry Waxman's LA West Side.
But flip over to the other end--who is at the bottom of the list? No, not deep south, not high plains: turns out the lowest HD index in the country belongs to another California district, the 20th, the west side of the Central Valley, where a full 47.4 percent of adults report that they did not finish high school. Only 6.5 percent report at lest a bachelor's degree; only one point six percent report a graduate degree. Education appears to be the real killer here: the California 20th acctually leads the next-to-last finisher (Kentucky Fifth, the Appalachians) in life expectancy at birth (77.1 v. 72.6) and the health index (4.61 v, 2.77--Virginia 8th has 7.05).
The 20th is actually rich, in a sense: rich farmland, abundant crops, and lots of government slosh: cotton price supports and (most of all) cheap water.
The desolation of the 20th is partly an artifact of redistricting butchery: our leaders in their wisdom decided it was a Good Thing to put all these potential Democrats in one place. Per the Almanac of American Politics, Rep. Jim Costa was willing to spend $1.9 million to gain the seat in 2004. The median i eaarnings are $16,767.
*Sara Burd-Sharpes, Kirsten Lewis and Eduardo Borges Martin (2008).