Tea Leaf: Time to focus on some economic 'happy talk'

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 5 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

This photo made on Jan. 27, 2011, shows a home for sale in Mount Lebanon, Pa. Conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.06% in recent weeks, the lowest level in 60 years.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

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The "dismal science" of economics typically focuses on "bad" news. We clearly face many significant challenges. However, there are also many favorable developments taking place within the U.S. economy. This is our semi-annual update of "Happy Talk." This Tea Leaf focuses ONLY on the "good" news ...

Total U.S. retirement assets rose to $17.5 trillion in 2010, the most since the end of 2007.

During the early 1960s, the five-year survival rate from cancer for Americans was one in three. Today it is two in three ... continuing to climb ... and the highest in the world.

The U.S. accounted for 34% of the funds spent globally on research and development during 2010.

The country's net petroleum imports peaked at 60.3% in 2005 and dropped to 49.3% in 2010. Within a year, North Dakota is expected to supply more oil for domestic use than the 1.1 million barrels a day that Saudi Arabia now exports to the U.S.

The number of violent crimes fell by a surprisingly large 12% last year versus the prior year.

Roughly 80% of companies that suspended or reduced their 401(k) matches during the past 2-3 years reinstated them in 2010 or 2011.

Sixty of the world's top 100 universities are located in the U.S.

Conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.06% in recent weeks, the lowest level in 60 years.

Energy-efficient appliances, cars, buildings and other technologies that already exist could lower U.S. energy usage 30% by 2030.

Second quarter 2011 GDP was revised up to a 1.3% real (after inflation) annual rate, versus a 1.0% real annual rate in the prior estimate. Still weak, but better.

The number of American volunteers rose 2.6% to 63.4 million in 2009.

America produces more steel today than 30 years ago, despite the shuttered plants and slimmed-down workforce.

Roughly 47% of science and engineering degrees of those ages 25 to 39 are held by women, compared with 21% among those 65 and older.

Donations to charities rose 3.8% in 2010, with $291 billion donated by individuals, foundations and corporations. As a percentage of GDP, Americans gave twice as much as the next most charitable nation, England. In 1964, there were 15,000 U.S. foundations. By 2001, there were 61,000.

Average U.S. life expectancy has reached 78.2 years (men 75, women 80), the highest ever. This compares to 76 years in 1995, 68 years in 1950, and 47 years in 1900.

Men's contribution to housework has doubled over the past 40 years, while their time spent on child care has tripled.

Roughly 30% of trash was recycled or composted in the latest year, versus 16% in 1990.

When comparing economic size and population, the average U.S. worker is 10-12 times more productive than the average worker in China. Americans won 30 Nobel prizes in science and economics during the past five years. China? Just one.

The value of a university education for American men and women in terms of future earnings power is nearly twice that of those in the average rich nation.

Smoke-free laws in restaurants, bars, the workplace, etc. reduced the rate of heart attacks by an average of 17% after one year in those communities where the bans had been adopted.

U.S. airlines did not have a single fatality last year, the third of the past four years with no deaths.

Even as U.S. economic output (GDP) has climbed by more than 210% since 1970, aggregate emission of six principal air pollutants has plunged by 60%.

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