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Safety and security fears hit US prosperity: Report

The U.S. may be the leader of the free world, but it is nowhere near the most prosperous, according to a new report out on Monday.

The Legatum Institute's international annual Prosperity Index ranks countries based on their economic strength, but also on seven other indicators: Education, health, governance, personal freedom, entrepreneurship/opportunity, social capital and safety/security. The U.K.-based institute says it aims to increase prosperity through "revitalizing capitalism and democracy."

Overall, the U.S. ranked only 11th in 2015, despite its strong economy, with its score dragged down by safety and security problems that are severe compared to other wealthy countries.

A protester on a bicycle thrusts his fist in the air next to a line of police in front of a burning CVS drug store during clashes in Baltimore on April 27, 2015.
Jim Bourg | Reuters
A protester on a bicycle thrusts his fist in the air next to a line of police in front of a burning CVS drug store during clashes in Baltimore on April 27, 2015.

Meanwhile, oil-rich Norway held its place as the world's most prosperous country for the 7th-year running.

"In light of (U.S.) events in the past year, such as the Baltimore protests or the Ferguson unrest, it is perhaps unsurprising that the indicator that measures group grievances has increased in the country. Also, since 2013, the U.S. has recorded some of the highest rates of property theft in the world: 17 percent of U.S. citizens report that they have been a victim of theft — close to the rate recorded in Nicaragua, Panama, and Brazil, which is 18 percent," the institute said.

World's most prosperous countries — Legatum Prosperity Index:

  1. Norway
  2. Switzerland
  3. Denmark
  4. New Zealand
  5. Sweden
  6. Canada
  7. Australia
  8. Netherlands
  9. Finland
  10. Ireland
  11. US

Furthermore, only 74 percent of U.S. residents felt safe walking alone at night — as low as in countries like Egypt and Serbia.

The U.S. was the only country ranked in the top 20 of the overall index to score outside the top 30 on safety and security.

"Against this backdrop of safety and security problems, candidates in the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign The U.S. may be the leader of the free world, but it is nowhere near the most prosperous, according to a new report Monday.

Nordics lead the way – except for employment

Norway held its place as the world's most prosperous country, followed by Switzerland and Denmark. The European Nordic nations performed strongly in general, with Sweden in 5th place, Finland in 9th and Iceland in 12th, just behind the U.S.

But despite the Nordics' strong overall scores — and much better safety and security than the U.S. — Legatum said that these countries' economic performance had proved "decidedly unexceptional" over the past seven years.

"The countries are being let down by their poor labor market performance. During the crisis they, along with many other advanced economies, suffered a sharp rise in unemployment. Yet, while other countries have seen unemployment fall — often to pre-crisis levels — it has either not budged or declined only slowly in many Nordic countries," the institute said.

While average unemployment is creeping lower in Europe, unemployment was higher in Finland last month, at 9.5 percent, than it was a year ago. Sweden, meanwhile, had unemployment of 7.2 percent in September, compared with 5.1 percent in the U.S. in that month and 5.3 percent in the U.K. in July.

Legatum ranked the U.K. in 15th place, just behind Germany. It praised the country's "economic transformation" since the 2008 global financial crisis, but noted that its performance for health indicators like cancer survival rates and healthy life expectancy were falling when compared with peers.

Outside of Europe, New Zealand was the top performer, in 4th place overall, followed by Canada in 6th place and Australia in 7th. The top-ranked Asian country was Singapore in 17th place, with China coming in at number 53 and India at number 99.

African nations lagged towards the middle and bottom of the rankings, with South Africa the top performer in the continent, ranking 75th overall. The Central African Republic was the least prosperous country in the world, followed by Afghanistan and Haiti.

World's least prosperous countries — Legatum Prosperity Index:

  1. Central African Republic
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Haiti
  4. Chad
  5. Burundi
  6. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  7. Syria
  8. Yemen
  9. Sudan
  10. Angola

Syria ranked 4th lowest, having plummeted since 2012 from the middle of the scoreboard. Its descent into near-civil war means the country is now ranked 3rd worst in the world for safety and security and 4th worst for personal freedom.

UBS forecast on Monday that the global economy would slightly accelerate in 2016, growing by 3.4 percent versus a forecast 3.1 percent this year.

"Just as our regionally determined upside risk scenarios tend to cluster around the hope of better U.S. growth, so our downside scenarios are more focused on the risks of a weaker China impacting the global economy and potentially associated with that some further downside to global commodity prices (given China's position as a large and generally inefficient consumer of commodities)," said a team of economists and analysts led by Paul Donovan in UBS's global outlook report.

— By CNBC's Katy Barnato. Follow her on Twitter @KatyBarnato.