There is a certain irony to the fact that Thanksgiving follows directly on the end of election season. Of course, we can all be thankful that the onslaught of campaign ads, robocalls, and nonstop news coverage is over. On the other hand, the dismal and often apocalyptic campaign rhetoric, suggesting that America faced an immediate choice between Venezuela and Nazi Germany, may have obscured just how much we have to be thankful for.
Yes, we face challenges both domestically and internationally. But the reality is that things are pretty good and getting better all the time. Consider:
Poverty is on the decline both worldwide and here at home. Over the last 25 years, the share of people around the world living in the extreme poverty fell from 36 percent to 10 percent (from 1.9 billion to just 736 million people). Meanwhile, here in the United States, the poverty rate has fallen for three years in a row. At just 12.3 percent, it is down a full 2.5 percentage points since 2015. This three-year run of decline in poverty is the longest stretch of annual declines in the poverty rate since the economic boom in the late 1990s.
The economy is doing well. Economists can debate the degree to which President Obama or Trump (or, more likely, neither) is responsible for the much-delayed bounce back from the Great Recession, but there is no doubt that we are currently in a period of sustained economic growth. The unemployment rate has fallen to 3.7 percent, a 49-year low. By comparison, unemployment averaged 5.77 percent from 1948 to 2018. In 2009, at the height of the recession, it topped 10 percent. Black, Latino, and female unemployment are at or near record lows. Moreover, wages have slowly started to inch upward after a long period of stagnation. And, if that’s not enough, the Tax Policy Center reports that roughly 80 percent of American households received a tax cut this year.
We are still safe. Despite the political obsession with crime and terrorism, we remain remarkably safe in this country. The violent crime rate has dropped by roughly 75 percent since the early 1990s. Violent crime declined last year after a slight uptick in the couple of years prior and remains at its lowest levels since the 1970s. And terrorism remains far more threat than reality. The chance of an American perishing in a foreigner-perpetrated terrorist attack on U.S. soil is 1 in 3.6 billion, somewhat smaller than their chances of accidentally drowning in the bathtub.
Americans remain unbelievably generous. It is the season of giving, and Americans remain among the most generous people on Earth. Last year alone, Americans contributed more than $410 billion to charity. On top of that, and perhaps even more tellingly, more than 77 million Americans spent almost 7 billion hours volunteering to help their neighbors and others in need. Whether it is dealing with disasters or helping the less fortunate day-to-day, we can count on our fellow Americans to step up.
The arc of freedom extends. America remains imperfect when it comes to the treatment of women, people of color, and other minorities, but we should never forget just how far we have come or that we are still trying to go further. Let us recall that we are little more than a generation removed from segregated lunch counters. It was only three years ago that gays couldn’t get married in every state. There are women alive today who can remember when they were barred from certain professions. For all the recent rise in hate and intolerance, diversity remains a strength of this country. The numbers bear that out: 14 percent of U.S. infants are now multiracial or multiethnic, up from 5 percent in 1980. We might lament the slow and uneven pace of change, but we cannot deny that we are a freer than we used to be and that tomorrow or the next day we will be freer yet.
Politics aren’t everything. Finally, let us remember that in the end, politics do not define our lives. This time of year, in particular, should remind us that we still have the friends, families, and loved ones who make our lives complete. They matter far more than the latest presidential tweet. So let us keep in mind that we really do have a great deal to be thankful for.
This first appeared in The National reivew (Online).