EDITORIAL: Americans of all income levels are much better off than they’ve ever been

As we begin 2018, the incessant drumbeat of social media reflects — or perhaps creates — a nation plagued by turmoil and discontent. But in a recent essay for InsideSources, two authors urge Americans to focus on the many positives that often get overlooked in this overheated political atmosphere.

Antony Davies, an economics professor at Duquesne University, and James R. Harrigan, CEO of FreedomTrust, emphasize that, despite hand-wringing over inequality and other perceived American faults, the United States remains a bountiful nation — and conditions are getting better for the wealthy, the poor and everyone in between.

“According to Pew Research Center data,” they write, “Americans are now so rich that what we call ‘poor’ is actually middle class in most other countries. A full-time minimum wage worker in the United States earns $14,500 before taxes. Adjusting for differences in costs of living across countries, that worker is among the top 15 percent richest people worldwide.”

Even the poorest among us have conveniences that would have been unheard of just decades ago. For instance, Mr. Davies and Mr. Harrigan point out, cellphones in 1984 were available only to the wealthy. Today, thanks to technological advances, the products are ubiquitous in even the poorest neighborhoods. “If standards of living continue to rise for the next century as they did in the last,” the authors conclude, “poverty will be unknown.”

Nor are these advances confined to consumer products. Medical progress, Mr. Harrigan and Mr. Davies point out, has helped eradicate diseases and control afflictions — polio, smallpox, measles — that killed or debilitated millions of people not too long ago.

“Things are getting better quickly, and there is no reason to suspect that trend has run its course,” they argue.

All this tracks with research done by Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation. Using Census data, he reports that “for decades, the living conditions of the poor have steadily improved. Consumer items that were luxuries or significant purchases for the middle class a few decades ago have become commonplace” across income levels.

Critics will no doubt criticize this outlook as heartless and minimizing the plight of poor Americans. And, yes, these statistics are presented in general terms that don’t account for those — including children — who live in destitute circumstances and are truly suffering.

But Americans are a generous lot and have long financially supported programs — both public and private — intended to assist those in need. The point isn’t to denigrate those who are struggling, but simply to offer a hopeful perspective that too often is ignored. Even for the vast majority of those at the lower end of the income scale, conditions have significantly improved over time and will almost certainly continue to do so. That’s worth acknowledging.

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