Tea Leaf: It's okay to be excited about the economy

Published: Wednesday, March 28 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

Job searcher Tammy Jackson, of Portland, stands in front of the information desk during a job search Tuesday, May 17, 2011, at WorkSource Oregon, in Tualatin, Ore.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

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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. With 20 flights this month and four separate trips to the Eastern time zone, I thought I might take the easy route and update our semi-annual “Happy Talk” piece. This Tea Leaf focuses only on the “good” news.

Consumer-owned stocks rose by $4 trillion in the past 12 months.

U.S. economic growth has now been positive for 11 consecutive quarters.

Electricity produced by solar panels and wind power in the U.S. rose by 109 percent and 31 percent, respectively, last year.

Conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.92 percent in recent weeks, the lowest level in 60 years.

For the first time, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty — on less than $1.25 a day — fell in every developing region from 2005 to 2008.

The country’s net petroleum imports peaked at 60.3 percent in 2005 and dropped to 49.3 percent in 2010. North Dakota this year is expected to supply more oil for domestic use than Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. role of dominance in the global economy during the past decade was as clear-cut as at any time since the 1950s.

High school graduation rates, while still too low, rose by 3.5 percent to 75.0 percent between 2001 and 2009.

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

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

U.S. exports to China have risen roughly 24 percent per year since 2001, making China the fastest growing market for U.S. goods.

The divorce rate dropped by one-third between 1981 and 2008 and is at its lowest level since 1970

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

The U.S. teen birthrate in 2009 fell to its lowest level in nearly 70 years of record keeping. The reasons? More widespread use of birth control and more girls who “just say no.”

Productivity of U.S. workers rose an average of 2.4 percent annually during the past 10 years, some of the strongest gains in 40 years.

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.

Arrests of undocumented migrants trying to cross the southern U.S. border have plummeted to levels not seen since the early 1970s.

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

Roughly 80 percent of companies that suspended or reduced their 401(k) matches during the past two to three years have reinstated them.

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

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

Obesity rates, after surging in the 1980s and 1990s, leveled off during the past decade.

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

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