It's that time of year again, the time for personal and collective assessments.
With the dawning of 1989, Americans will traditionally take a hard look at their personal habits and resolve to do better during the next 12 months. In the next few days, the President will use his State of the Union address to designate some key problems ripe for resolution in the new year. The governor will do the same thing on the state level when the 1989 Legislature convenes.As the traditional reappraisal takes place, there's much progress in which Americans can take satisfaction.
For openers, take what's happening in the way of prospects for more peace. Though 22 wars around the world left 416,000 dead during 1988, the fact remains that there are three fewer wars now than there were in 1987.
What's more, the prospect is for still fewer wars in 1989. That's because the war between Iran and Iraq and the ones in Angola and Afghanistan appear to be ending - and these have been the big conflicts lately.
Or, if you prefer to measure progress in economic terms, consider these encouraging signs:
- Inflation is in remission; the dollar shrank less than four cents in 1988.
- More Americans are working than ever before - a total of 115,521,000.
- Housing construction is the highest in seven months, retail sales are up, and the prospect is for one more year of uninterrupted economic expansion.
That's quite impressive, particularly when one considers the way the nation has rebounded from the historically huge crash of the stock market in late 1987.
Yes, we know there is also no shortage of problems as America enters a new year. Pollution, AIDS, homelessness, soaring health care costs - these are only the first woes that come to mind. Consider another disturbing challenge:
- Nearly half of the almost 50,000 traffic deaths in this country each year are related to drinking. To include drug use would further escalate this figure.
- One-hundred-thousand elementary school children get drunk at least once a week.
- A new survey of employers discloses that between 6 percent and 15 percent of their workers have an alcohol or drug problem - which costs these employers about 3 percent of their total payroll, or roughly half the cost of their Social Security contribution.
We zero in on this particular problem because so many Americans think a New Year celebration isn't complete without booze even though the roads are particularly slick this time of the year and driving is especially dangerous.
If you're a parent, resolve to talk to your children about the dangers of alcohol and drugs now. If your're an employer, resolve to take an active part in the war on alcohol and drugs - since these problems eat up your profits. Likewise, if your're a friend or relative of something with a drinking or drug problem, resolve to take assertive action. Don't wait for them to come to you. Don't cover up their mistakes.
Just as fewer Americans are smoking as a result of more knowledge about the effects of tobacco and more sensible health habits, drinking and drug problems can be overcome, too.
So can many other problems facing Americans individually and collectively. We all want better schools for our children, more and better jobs, safer streets, improved traffic controls. We owe it to ourselves to become the best persons and the best communities we can be. And we can do just that by setting realistic goals and working hard to achieve them.
The way to start is by taking the first steps in the new year with courage and confidence. Let's make 1989 a year to remember for its happy accomplishments.