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Richard Davis: Are you better or worse off?

One of the questions pollsters often ask Americans is: Are you better or worse off than you were in the past? It is worth each of us asking ourselves that question as well.
One of the questions pollsters often ask Americans is: Are you better or worse off than you were in the past? It is worth each of us asking ourselves that question as well.
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One of the questions pollsters often ask Americans is: Are you better or worse off than you were in the past? It is worth each of us asking ourselves that question as well. Are we better or worse off today? Certainly, the question varies from individual to individual. But on a societal, national or global scale, there are some indications we can use to measure our success or failures as humans in our attempts to better our lives.

One category to measure is economic well-being. The percentage of people in poverty across the globe is one indicator. On that score, the world has made tremendous gains in eradicating poverty. According to the World Bank, 200 million fewer people are living in poverty than four years ago. Since 1990, there are 1.2 billion fewer in poverty.

One of the acute world problems is the lack of education for millions of children. Fortunately, since 2000, the number of school-age children not in school has declined from 99 million to 59 million, according to the latest statistics from UNICEF. There are still too many children not in school, but the trend is in the right direction.

Still another measure is health. Infant mortality rates across the globe have been falling steadily, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Last year, the number of infants who died in their first year of life across the globe was 4.5 million. However, in 1990, that figure was 8.9 million. The infant mortality rate has been nearly halved in 25 years.

Another piece of good news is global life expectancy. Again according to the WHO, the average life expectancy for humans is 71 years. In 1970, that average was under 60. Life expectancy gains have been most promising in Africa, which has the lowest average life expectancy. The increase has been an average of over nine years of extra life expectancy since 2000, compared with 4.5 years for the world generally.

Access to health care has increased dramatically for citizens of the world. There are still many nations where health care access is limited, the number of physicians in the population is tragically low, and mortality rates are too high. However, significant progress has been made in helping global citizens become healthier and live longer.

Dramatic change also has occurred recently in our own country. Millions of Americans today are covered by health insurance (and therefore have access to health care) that did not enjoy it a decade ago. The percent of Americans without health insurance has dropped in the past six years from 18 percent to 10 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This year so far, 6.4 million Americans have signed up for health care in Obamacare-created exchanges. That is 400,000 more than last year, despite price increases and the threat that President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress will get rid of Obamacare. (Or perhaps it is because they fear the program will disappear.) A note of caution: The recent gains will be reversed just as dramatically if Obamacare is repealed and not replaced with at least an equivalent system.)

The bottom line is far more people have access to health care. Nearly 19 percent fewer people today than two years ago say they don’t go to the doctor because they can’t afford it, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, which is a private foundation dedicated to improving health care. That constitutes millions of people who can visit a doctor today who could not a decade ago.

Another piece of good news for Americans is the steady decline in the unemployment rate. The latest statistic of 4.6 percent compares favorably with the rate of 5 percent one year ago and the rate of 8.5 percent five years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means millions of Americans who now have jobs who did not five years ago.

Of course there are still many problems to work on — both globally and in the U.S. But the next time someone tells you things are getting worse, pass on some of this good news. It might make the “doom and gloom” crowd think twice.