If you pay attention to the news, you may find it hard to work up much of a holiday spirit this Thanksgiving week. ISIS, our massive national debt, political gridlock, the ongoing presidential campaign; it may seem as if there’s little to be thankful for. But beyond the headlines, most things are actually looking pretty bright, especially in this country, where freedom, capitalism, and the entrepreneurial spirit are making things better than ever.
Do you have friends and family flying in to spend the holiday with you? It’s cheaper than ever for them to do so. In 1990 the average domestic airfare was $460 (in 2013 dollars), compared to just $363 in 2013. That makes it 20 percent cheaper to see your family on Thanksgiving than it was just a quarter century ago. And if you are driving rather than flying, gasoline prices are expected to drop below $2 per gallon this week, the lowest price since March 2009.
The turkey and fixings your family will be eating are less costly too, at least when compared to rising wages. In 1986, for instance, the average American had to work for more than 3 hours and 12 minutes to afford Thanksgiving dinner. Today, he or she has to work just under 2 hours and 22 minutes. Similarly, the number of hours you need to work to buy appliances, from your stove and microwave to your dishwasher, has declined substantially.
That’s a good thing, because you might need extra food for your holiday dinner, because you might have more family around the table owing to rising life expectancy and falling divorce rates. Since 1990, life expectancy has risen from 75.4 to 78.8 years. For someone reaching age 75, life expectancy has increased from another 10.9 years to another 12.2 years, meaning Granddad is more likely to still be with you this year. And your kids are more likely to still be married. Despite the hysteria about gay marriage destroying the family, divorce rates have fallen by nearly a quarter since they peaked in 1979. Meanwhile, overall marriage rates, after years of stagnation, are beginning to turn upward.
But what about all those things we are afraid of? Terrorism? Your chances of being killed in a terrorist attack in the United States are around 1 in 20 million. To put that in perspective, you are more than twice as likely to be killed by lightning. Crime? Rates of violent crime are a little more than half what they were in 1990. The same is true for property crime.
The U.S. economy and the world economy have certainly struggled in recent years. Yet, both as individuals and as a society, Americans are richer than we were even a short time ago. Consider that as recently as 1960, 16.8 percent of American households were without complete plumbing; today, almost no one is. Extreme malnutrition has been all but eliminated in this country, and the destitution of material poverty has been significantly reduced.
We also continue to outproduce the rest of the world. Take manufacturing, for example. Donald Trump and others may claim that America doesn’t make things any more. But, in reality, manufacturing output is the highest it has ever been.
And for those who need a little extra help, America remains the most generous nation on earth. In fact, we are more willing than ever to reach out and help. This year 79 percent of Americans report that they have helped a stranger, and 44 percent report that they have volunteered their time for a cause. Overall, Americans will donate roughly $358 billion to charity this year.
And despite the rhetoric of some politicians, America is more open and tolerant than ever. If you are African‐American or Latino, a woman or a gay, things are certainly not perfect, but you have more freedom and wider opportunities than at any other time in our nation’s history.
None of this means that we don’t still face major challenges in this country. But we should not allow the daily parade of grim headlines to obscure the progress that we have made. Think about it. Is there any other place or time you would really rather be living? We don’t need to make America great again. America is great. And this is a great time to be alive.
So, as we sit down to our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, we should turn off the TV news and keep in mind that we really do have a great deal to be thankful for.