For those of us who spend far too much time following the news these days, it is easy to feel that everything is falling apart. Regardless of your political ideology, there is no doubt that this country is politically divided and facing serious challenges. To make matters worse, we are entering an election season. Politicians will be trying their best to convince us that we are one vote away from choosing between Nazi Germany and Venezuela.
Yet, as we gather with friends and family this Thanksgiving, it is worth remembering that, beyond the headlines, things are actually pretty darn good. As both individuals and a country, we really have more than enough to be thankful for.
Start with the economy. We can debate who — if anyone — is responsible, but we can’t argue with the fact that unemployment is down and wages are up. Unemployment is at the lowest level since 1969. There were 2.3 million more full time, year-round workers this year than last. And those workers are earning more. Median earnings for full-time workers rose by more than 3 percent last year. Since 2009, average hourly earnings for all employees is up 5.6 percent, while real average weekly earnings rose by 6.9 percent.
Inequality remains a big political issue, but poverty rates continue to decline. In 2018, the official Census Bureau poverty measure fell to just 11.8 percent, down a full half percentage point from the year before, and the lowest rate since 2001. Using other, arguably more accurate poverty measures shows even better results. Consumption-based poverty measures put the real poverty level at as low as 2.8 percent.
Of course, too many people still struggle, but we are doing our best to help them. Last year, Americans donated $427 billion to charity, and more than 63 million people gave their time and talent to help others — over 8 billion volunteer hours.
Politicians also like to conjure up images of crime and carnage. But we are safer today than we’ve been in decades. Violent crime has declined by 51 percent since 1993, while property crime has declined by even more (54 percent). The United States still imprisons far too many people — almost twice the incarceration rate of any country except the Seychelles. However, between falling crime rates and criminal-justice reform, 100,000 fewer Americans will spend this Thanksgiving in prison than did ten years ago.
Health care is another issue the politicians fight over, and with good reason. Our health-care system is deeply flawed for many reasons. Yet we are healthier than ever. Infant mortality has declined by 14 percent since 2007. Death from cancer has dropped from 168 per 100,000 people in 2000 to just 146 per 100,000 today. More Americans are exercising and eating healthfully, and smoking is at the lowest level since 1965.
Even in those areas where we still have improvement to make, we should not ignore how far we’ve come. Racism and other forms of bigotry are still far too prevalent, but let’s remember how much progress we’ve made. The alt-right and their fellow travelers are noxious and noisy, but they are still a tiny minority. The worst forms of overt discrimination have largely been consigned to the dustbin of history, and there is a growing push for still more fully realized justice and equality. Within my lifetime, both interracial and gay marriage were outlawed. Today all Americans are free to marry the person they love. Almost 9 percent of Americans have two or more races in their background. It may be halting and uneven, but we are making progress toward a more inclusive society.
Politics are not our life. The people we love, our faith, our families, the things we do that bring our lives joy and meaning — these things are far more important than politics. As George Will has pointed out: There are 357 million Americans; 350 million of them did not watch cable news or listen to talk radio yesterday.
So, as we begin to carve our turkey — which costs 4 percent less than last year — let’s tune out the politicians and their doom and gloom. It is a wonderful time to be alive. We really have so much to be thankful for.