Snohomish Times News
Home | Business News | County News | Entertainment | Local News | Photo Gallery | Prep Sports | Roads Traffic News | Snohomish News Archive | STSPN.COM

Do Foreboding Headlines Reflect Real Trends

Published:06/29/2008 Column
Do Foreboding Headlines Reflect Real Trends    Print Snohomish Times    
Snohomish VIC Looking at Ave D and First
Snohomish River and Historic First Street

Data doesn't back claims about living standards, environment, economy

"Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out Of Control," says a recent Associated Press headline. It seems to be a common media message these days. But is it really that bad? The litany of misery that the AP story lists is impressive: "Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism." Never mind that half that list is just plain wrong (polar bears are not, as it says, "adrift"; their numbers in fact are rising. Home values have fallen, sure, but they're not "abysmal" especially not for those who can now afford to buy. And so on. You get the idea.) Yet, that theme is repeated in newspapers across the country, and by the big TV networks. It seems, based on recent confidence data, that most Americans agree. The IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index stood at 37.4 in June, its lowest ever. Americans see rising oil prices and the ongoing housing crunch, and feel indeed as if things, as the media would have it, are "spinning out of control."

 Well, they aren't. Yes, it's true, a doubling of oil prices in the last year and double-digit drops in home sales and prices aren't exactly happy times. Many people, especially the middle class and the poor, are feeling the pinch. But a little perspective is in order. The long-term trends are positive overwhelmingly so. They are so positive, in fact, it's remarkable they're not commented on more. Here are but a few examples:    
Life Spans.
The average person born today can expect to live more than 78 years. That's up from 75 just 20 years ago. Infant mortality has plunged to about 6 per 1,000 live births, a 25% drop since 1990, with the best gains among minorities, especially African Americans.
Despite widespread complaints and our health care system does need reform we have never been healthier nor had more effective medicines. Once common and much-dreaded diseases such as malaria, typhoid, diphtheria, polio and measles are today quite rare. HIV looked at one point like it would kill millions of Americans. Today, thanks to better and cheaper drugs, many people live with the disease. We do have one big problem: We've become so rich that obesity, not starvation, is a leading cause of disease among Americans including the poor.
We keep hearing that American incomes are "stagnant." Really? The official data show that average real pre-tax income per worker hit a record $48,957 in April, 11% above what it was when President Bush entered office. Real family incomes are growing slowly. But that's because families have been shrinking in size since the 1960s. As for the "troubled middle class," their real incomes are rising too, and according to a recent study by Congress, the tax burden on middle income families has been declining for six years.
The mainstream media played this up recently, but only because it fell by nearly $2 trillion in the first quarter. Stand back and a different picture is revealed. Americans' net worth what they owned less what they owed was $55.97 trillion. That's down from the peak of $58.196 trillion in the third quarter of 2007, but still $15.3 trillion above where it was seven years ago. Put another way, a bit more than one-quarter of all the wealth created in America since our founding was created in the last seven years. The future looks bright, despite the decline in home prices. One of the leading drivers of American wealth is productivity growth. Since 2000, non farm business productivity in the U.S. has expanded by 21% roughly 3% a year one of the strongest sustained spurts in efficiency in postwar history.    
People constantly worry about jobs, but we've created 9.2 million jobs since 2001, the year of the last recession. Unemployment today is 5.5%, below the 6.1% average since 1980, but slightly higher than the 5.2% average since 1990. It's not either excessively high or excessively low, given the economy's general weakness.
The economy grew an average of 2.7% from 2001 to 2007 despite having sustained the largest stock market crash in its history, a recession, the first major attack on U.S. territory since Pearl Harbor, and the start of a multi front war. As of the first quarter of this year, the economy was still growing albeit at a slow 1% rate.
Consumer pleasures.
Americans own more and better things than ever, despite our pining for the good old days. The average American has a larger home, and more and better cars, color TVs, computers and home appliances than ever before. They have more leisure time and take more vacations, too. What, you ask, about the poor? Those officially defined as poor in America aren't thriving. But they, too, are faring better than you might imagine. For instance, 80% of poor households today have air conditioning vs. 36% of the entire population as recently as 1970. Some 97% of our poor own a color TV, and half own two or more. Thirty-one percent own two or more cars. Thanks to taxpayers' help, poor people often consume more than they earn. According to the U.S. government's Consumer Expenditure Survey for 2006, the average person with income before taxes of $17,462 a level that qualifies as poor consumed $24,422 in goods. The difference is welfare and subsidies. As economist Robert Rector noted in a study last year, "The typical poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens and other cities throughout Europe." That's not to say poverty is a picnic. But again, it requires perspective.
America is in fact energy rich, not energy poor. In the U.S., we have at least 139 billion barrels of oil that we can profitably get using current technology at current prices. All we have to do is decide to get it. It can be found in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, in shale-oil deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and in our offshore reserves. So if things are in fact not as bad as many people think, why do they feel like they do? One reason might be that the American media are way too negative. Disaster sells, as the saying goes, so we have a built-in incentive to find it. That idea finds confirmation in a study by the Business & Media Institute. The conservative watchdog group systematically looked at major media's coverage of the 1929 market crash and Great Depression and then compared it with coverage of today's economy. What it found was damning: "News reports view the economy far worse now than during the 1929 stock market crash," the report said. Reporters in the first four months of this year compared current conditions to the Great Depression at least 40 times. Not to be Pollyanna-ish, but Americans have a long tradition of rolling up their sleeves and meeting challenges. Despite recent setbacks, we are still the richest nation on Earth, with the most-educated, most-productive people.

 You just wouldn't know that by listening to America's media.

Published: Sunday, June 21, 2020
Bus Driver Appears on Amazon Bus Driver Appears on Amazon
Community Transit Bus Driver Appears on Amazon Prime Video Regular Heroes Program

Published: Saturday, June 20, 2020
Comments on Draft Housing Comments on Draft Housing
Snohomish County Welcomes Comments on Draft Housing and Community Development Plans

Published: Friday, June 19, 2020
USCIS Provides Greater Flexibility USCIS Provides Greater Flexibility
USCIS Provides Greater Flexibility in Processing Work Authorization Requests for Asylum Applicants

Published: Thursday, June 18, 2020
Snohomish to Improve Nearly 47 Miles of County Roads Snohomish to Improve Nearly 47 Miles of County Roads
2020 Paving and Chip Seal Programs to begin annual work to preserve county roads

Published: Thursday, June 04, 2020
Applicants Sought For Affordable Housing Projects Applicants Sought For Affordable Housing Projects
Applications for an estimated $1.5 million in federal funds and local funds to develop affordable rental housing and shelter projects will be accepted through July 27, 2020

Traffic Conditions Published: 2020-06-04
Ferry schedules to remain in place
Published: 2020-06-03
WIAA unequivocally condemns racism
Published: 2020-06-02
Small Business Grants
Published: 2020-06-02
Prison Lockdown During Protests
Published: 2020-06-01
Fire Fighter Dies
Published: 2020-05-21
Master Gardeners Offer Free Vegetable Gardening Online Classes
Published: 2020-05-20
Community Transit Seeks Input

Rairdons Monroe Dodge

Snohomish Sports Network


Live Police Scanner

Snohomish County Sheriff, City of Snohomish,
Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Everett - Police & EMS/Fire


The Worldwide Media Guide