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First, the good news

The dismal science of economics typically focuses on bad news. We clearly face many significant challenges.  However, there are also many favorable developments taking place within the U.S. economy. Here's some good news:

Consumer-owned stocks rose by $4 trillion in the past 12 months.

U.S. economic growth has now been positive for 11 consecutive quarters.

Electricity produced by solar panels and wind power in the U.S. rose by 109 percent and 31 percent, respectively, last year.

Conventional thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.92 percent in recent weeks, the lowest level in 60 years.

For the first time, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty…on less than $1.25 a day…fell in every developing region from 2005 to 2008.

The country’s net petroleum imports peaked at 60.3 percent in 2005 and dropped to 49.3 percent in 2010. North Dakota this year is expected to supply more oil for domestic use than Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. role of dominance in the global economy during the past decade was as clear-cut as at any time since the 1950s.

High school graduation rates, while still too low, rose by 3.5 percent to 75.0 percent between 2001 and 2009.

Smoke-free laws in restaurants, bars, the workplace, etc. reduced the rate of heart attacks by an average of 17 percent after one year in those communities where the bans were adopted.

The number of violent crimes fell by12 percent last year versus the prior year.

U.S. exports to China have risen roughly 24 percent per year since 2001, making China the fastest growing market for U.S. goods.

The divorce rate dropped by one-third between 1981 and 2008, and is at its lowest level since 1970.

Sixty of the world’s top 100 universities are located in the U.S.

Productivity of U.S. workers rose an average of 2.4 percent annually during the past 10 years, some of the strongest gains in 40 years.

Average U.S. life expectancy has reached 78.2 years (men 75, women 80), the highest ever.  This compares to 76 years in 1995, 68 years in 1950, and 47 years in 1900.

Arrests of undocumented migrants trying to cross the southern U.S. border have plummeted to levels not seen since the early 1970s.

Even as U.S. economic output (GDP) has climbed by more than 210 percent since 1970, aggregate emission of six principal air pollutants has plunged by 60 percent

Roughly 80 percent of companies that suspended or reduced their 401(k) matches during the past 2-3 years have reinstated them.

America produces more steel today than 30 years ago, despite the shuttered plants and slimmed-down work force.

Roughly 47 percent of science and engineering degrees of those ages 25 to 39 are held by women, compared with 21 percent among those 65 and older.

Obesity rates, after surging in the ‘80s and ‘90s, leveled off during the past decade.

Roughly 30 percent of trash was recycled or composted in the latest year, versus 16 percent in 1990.

During the early 1960s, the five-year survival rate from cancer for Americans was one in three.  Today it is two in three…continuing to climb…and the highest in the world

Donations to charity rose 3.8 percent in 2010, with $291 billion donated by individuals, foundations, and corporations.  As a percentage of GDP, Americans gave twice as much as the next most charitable nation, England.  In 1964, there were 15,000 U.S. foundations.  By 2001, there were 61,000.

Men’s contribution to housework has doubled over the past 40 years, while their time spent on child care has tripled.

The U.S. accounted for 34 percent of the funds spent globally on research & development (R&D) during 2010.

When comparing economic size and population, the average U.S. worker is 10-12 times more productive than the average worker in China.  Americans won 30 Nobel prizes in science and economics during the past five years. China? Just one.

The number of American volunteers rose 2.6 percent to 63.4 million in 2009.

The value of a university education for American men and women in terms of future earnings power is nearly twice that of those in the average rich nation.

The infant mortality rate in the U.S. hit a record low in 2009.

Just 19.3 percent of adults said they smoked last year, down from about 21 percent in 2005 – and versus nearly half of the adult population in the early 1950s.  Tobacco sales to minors fell to an all-time low in 2010.

Women now make up a record 46 percent of global MBA candidates.  More than 70 percent of students surveyed name the U.S. as the top MBA study destination.

The U.S. Justice Department said the number of juvenile offenders declined 26 percent between 2000 and 2008.

More colleges are trimming tuition, with more also offering three-year degrees.

Forty-five of the 50 states recorded net job gains during the most recent 12-month period.  Every state had previously dealt with recession at some point during the past three years.

A recent poll of more than 12,000 global business figures conducted by the World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. as the world’s most competitive economy.

The upward “mobility” of the typical American remains the greatest in the world.  Why?  The U.S. economy “rewards” the combination of hard work and educational achievement more than ever before and more than any other country in the world.

For every dollar of U.S. economic output generated today, we burn less than half as much oil as 30 years ago.

Since 2006, the percentage of incoming freshmen who abstain from alcohol has jumped from 38 percent to 62 percent.

Women now exceed men in holding advanced degrees in the U.S.

U.S. traffic deaths per 100 million miles traveled during 2009 were the lowest on record.

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Jeff Thredgold
The Tea Leaf is a weekly economic and financial update by Jeff Thredgold, economist for Vectra Bank Colorado. He has been writing an economic update every week for the past 31 years and is the only economist in the world to have received the designation of CSP, or Certified Speaking Professional. Republished with permission from the Tea Leaf by Jeff Thredgold, whose site address is www.thredgold.com/html/leaf.html.

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