Amid rancor, reasons to give thanks: Our view

Tobacco

Nov 23

These five positive trends in America don’t often get the attention they deserve.

This Thanksgiving, negativity is in abundant supply.

Two weeks have passed since an unusually ugly and divisive presidential campaign. Many of the 70 millionwho voted for someone other than Donald Trumpsee the outcome as one of America’s darker chapters. Many of those who voted for Trump are thrilled, but many others admit their choice was made more out of frustration than affirmation.

And for millions of Americans, just getting through the family dinner on Thursday without a major blowup seems like a reach.

In addition to the political worries, Americans are vexed by global terrorism, concerned their jobs may disappear or worried about other matters. But, as always, there are reasons to be thankful, starting with family and health. Beyond that, the past decade has seen remarkable breakthroughs in science and medicine, and substantial abatement of seemingly intractable problems. Among the positive trends that don’t often get the attention they deserve:

The economy is doing well. Negativity aside, the numbers on employment and economic growth are pretty good. Since the bottom of the Great Recession, 15.2 million jobs have been created, pushing the unemployment rate down to 4.9%. Just last week, 235,000 people filed first-time unemployment claims. That’s the lowest weekly figure in 43 years and marks the 89th straight week below 300,000, the longest streak since 1970. The biggest criticism of the economy — that it isn’t producing much wage growth — is getting harder to defend. Last year, annual median household income was up 5.2%, with all signs suggesting that the trend will continue into this year. Even the poverty rate has been dropping. Meanwhile, the stock market has been hitting new highs, bolstering Americans’ 401(k) accounts.

ISIL is in retreat. The Islamic State terrorist group, which uses Iraq and Syria as its base, is in decline in both countries. According to Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top U.S. commander in the region, ISIL’s numbers in those two countries have dropped from 60,000 to about 15,000. Iraqi forces are battling to defeat the remaining ISIL fighters in Mosul, their most significant holding in the country, while U.S.-backed forces in Syria have made impressive strides there as well. No one expects ISIL to disappear. But denying its fighters a base from which to operate, and showing that they can be defeated, should greatly diminish the terror group’s reach and appeal.

Teen smoking is down. Smoking kills far more Americans than terrorists do, and most smokers get addicted as youths. Last year, smoking among high school students dropped to its lowest level in the quarter-century that data have been collected. The two years from 2013 to 2015 saw one of the steepest declines yet, as the 15.7% of students who smoked dropped to 10.8%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As recently as 1997, more than 36% of high school students smoked. The drops could portend a long-term improvement in the health of Americans. However, the campaign against smoking is far from won. Public health officials are still wary that e-cigarettes could help addict a new generation to nicotine.

Teen births continue to fall. Just as teen smoking rates have declined, so have teen birth rates. Last year, 22.3 children were born to every 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19. That’s down by nearly half in eight years and a whopping 64% since 1991, when the teen birth rate was 61.8 per 1,000. The declines were across all categories, but were most pronounced in urban areas and among African Americans and Hispanics. In fact, teens in big cities are below the national average in having babies. Experts cite birth control as the prime cause of the drop, though some preliminary evidence also suggests a drop in sexual activity. In any case, the declines mean an easier path to college and successful careers for young women, and fewer children raised by mothers who are ill-prepared for their responsibilities — in other words, a win-win situation.

Divorce rates are down, too. Divorce rates have dropped three years in a row and are at their lowest level in 35 years. From nearly 23 divorces per 1,000 married women in 1980, the rate fell below 17 in 2015, according to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research. The rate of marriages, meanwhile, ticked up slightly in 2015, continuing a modest upward trend following a long and steady decline. In 2015 there were 32.3 marriages per 1,000 adult unmarried women, up from 31.9 the previous year. The numbers on marriage and divorce are important because stable marriages are associated with other positive trends such as lower youth crime, more vibrant neighborhoods and greater educational attainment.

Not to mention more intact families at Thanksgiving dinner.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.

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Source: , USA TODAY