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Posted: September 25, 2009

30 ways things are getting better all the time

From the economy to the environment to education, there are reasons to smile

Jeff Thredgold

The "dismal science" of economics typically focuses on "bad" news. We clearly face many significant challenges -- no argument here.

But there are also many favorable developments taking place within the U.S. economy. This is our semi-annual update of "Happy Talk."

• The recession is over! The consensus of forecasting economists expects U.S. economic growth during this year's third quarter to be at a solid 3 to 4 percent real (after inflation) annual rate, with slightly weaker (but positive!) growth in the fourth quarter and during 2010.

• Violent crime dropped slightly during 2008 versus the year before. Violent crime overall is down 55 percent since 1993, with violence by teens down 71 percent. School violence has declined by half from a decade ago.

• The number of American volunteers rose 2 percent to 61.8 million in 2008. Among young adults, the number of volunteers rose nearly 6 percent.

• Air pollution declined 25 percent over the past 30 years even as the population and the economy grew. Water quality also continues to improve. More progress will occur in coming years as companies see rising value in "going green."

• The Dow average has rebounded 50 percent since its low in early March 2009. The Nasdaq is up 68 percent from its low.

• The global economy seems to have returned to a modest growth pace after suffering its first recession since WWII.

• Most companies that have suspended their 401(k) matches in recent quarters plan to reinstate them.

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

• Energy-efficient appliances, cars, buildings, and other technologies that already exist could lower U.S. energy usage 30 percent by 2030.

• 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.

• Productivity of U.S. workers rose an average of 2.6 percnet annually during the past 10 years, the largest gains in 40 years. Rising productivity is a long-term key to higher standards of living.

• Traffic deaths per 100 million miles traveled during 2008 were the lowest on record.

• The Consumer Price Index (CPI) has actually declined 1.5 percent during the most recent 12-month period, helping to stretch consumer incomes.

• The number of people using public transportation hit a 52-year high during 2008.

• Conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have been just slightly above 5 percent in recent weeks, some of the lowest levels on record.

• New cancer cases and deaths are falling for the first time since the government began compiling a report on long-term trends.

• Average U.S. life expectancy has reached 78 years (men 75, women 80), the highest ever. This compares to 76 years in 1995, 68 years in 1950, and 47 years in 1900.

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

• The U.S. trade deficit with the world averaged $28 billion monthly during the past six months, down more than half versus an average of $61 billion monthly during 2008's first half.

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

• A record 50.5 million foreigners visited the U.S. during 2008.

• The number of miners killed on the job in the U.S. fell to 51 during 2008, the lowest since recordkeeping began nearly a century ago.

• 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.

• A record 29 percent of men have earned a bachelor's degree or higher, versus 26 percent of women, also a record. This compares to a combined 7.7 percent in 1960. A record 84.6 percent of adults over age 25 now have at least a high school diploma, versus 24.5 percent in 1940.

• Donations to charity set an all-time high in 2007, with more than $300 billion donated by individuals, foundations, and corporations. As a percentage of GDP, Americans gave twice as much as the next most charitable nation: England.

• 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.

• Women earned nearly 60 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded in recent years, versus 43 percent in 1970 and 24 percent in 1950. Women earned a similar share of master's degrees.

• Flexible work schedules are now the norm for 43 percent of workers, up from 29 percent in 1992 and 13 percent in 1985. This allows greater flexibility for more people, especially those with children.

• Police officer deaths from gunfire during 2008 were the lowest in more than 50 years.

• The U.S. role of dominance in the global economy in recent years has been as clear-cut as at any time since the 1950s.

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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
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