NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Life Is Getting Better In The U.S.A.

January 21, 1999

Life in America is getting better, and most people are optimistic about their own prospects. But national optimism has never been lower, with 1996 polls showing only 15 percent of Americans believe the country is getting better, about half saying the nation is worse off than when their parents were growing up, and 60 percent believing the country their children will live in will be worse still.

For one thing, the standard of living is higher. For instance,

  • Today's Ford Taurus, with air conditioning and air bags, costs 70 percent less in real dollars than a Model T did.
  • The typical house today is 40 percent larger than a 1970, and only 3 percent of Americans living in overcrowded conditions -- with more than one person per room.
  • And where it typically took a half-hour of work to purchase a McDonald's hamburger in the 1950s, today it takes only 180 seconds of work.

Noneconomic statistics are also improving in areas like crime, divorce and out-of-wedlock teenage births. This is also true of the environment:

  • Since 1970, smog has declined by about a third, acid rain has fallen by 40 percent, airborne soot particles are down 69 percent, carbon monoxide is down 31 percent and airborne lead is down 98 percent.
  • And overall toxic emissions by industry declined 46 percent from 1988 to 1996.

So why are people pessimistic? One reason is nostalgia, and analysts say some intellectuals and politicians encourage negativity in order to advance their political agendas. "The left elites talk with obsessive negativism about the religious right because it's one of the few things they can find to still get upset about," says Orlando Patterson of Harvard University.

Source: Gregg Easterbrook, "America the O.K." New Republic, January 4 & 11, 1999.


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