Americans Are Better Off Now Than Ever Before

Bad news sells. Humans are hard-wired to focus more on negativity and bad news than on positivity and good news. Psychologists call this phenomenon “negativity bias.”  It’s no wonder many feel the world is getting worse with the onslaught of negative media and a 24/7 news cycle.

Focusing on Danger and Doom Doesn’t Serve Us in Modern Times

According to Laura Mixon Camacho, Ph.D., a communication coach at Mixonian Institute, “The human brain remembers negative messages, results, and possibilities with greater magnitude than positive ones.” In pre-historic times, remaining alert for potential danger was the key to surviving. But, she says, “Modern times favor humans who not only imagine a better future but who put in the work to make it become reality. Fixating on negative possibilities creates harmful stress that actually shortens lifespans.”

Bad news has always dominated the headlines. In fact, publications that are launched specifically for the purpose of reporting only good news don’t stay in business long. Back in 2014, a Russian newspaper called The City Reporter published only positive news for an entire day. The result? The paper lost two-thirds of its readership that day.

Given the onslaught of negative information, people see the world and the future as much bleaker than they really are. A recent survey asked people all over the world, “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse?” In the United States, only 6 percent of the survey respondents thought things are getting better. The Swedish were a little more optimistic, at 10 percent, and only 3 percent of the French thought things were improving—of course, if you live in France they may be right.

Despite the media’s focus on gloom and doom, the average person in the United States is better off than ever before, as are people around the world generally. 

A Harvard Professor Advises Us to Notice the Good Around Us

Steven Pinker, a cognitive psychologist and professor at Harvard University, agrees that there is a journalistic bias toward publishing negative news. He says negative events tend to happen suddenly. “Wars break out, terrorists attack, rampage shootings occur, whereas a lot of the things that make us better off creep up by stealth” so we are not as aware of them.

In a powerful study entitled “The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it” by Max Roser, an economist at the University of Oxford, we learn that on virtually all of the key dimensions of human material well-being—poverty, literacy, health, freedom, and education—the world is an extraordinarily better place than ever before.

 In the early 1980s, more than 40 percent of all humans were living in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 10 percent are. 

Whereas 36 percent of the world’s population was literate in 1950, by 2010 that had jumped to 83 percent (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina, 2018b).

 Life expectancy has risen 20 years over the last half century. 

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof declared that by many measures, “2017 was the best year in the history of humanity”, with falling global inequality, child mortality roughly half what it had been as recently as 1990, and 300,000 more people gaining access to electricity each day.

By most objective measures the economy, and quality of life, for Americans is better than ever before.  

Negative Headlines Hide the Truth

While the media in general, and especially political pundits, continue to discuss the negative impact of tariffs, potential trade wars, that the markets are too high, we will have a recession and other seeming bad things the facts tell another story. We have one of the best economies in the world and have one some of the strongest economic numbers in American history right now.

According to NPR, “The unemployment rate dropped to 3.6% — the lowest in nearly 50 years.” Participation is higher now than it was in the late 1960s when 3.6% was considered full employment. And that’s in spite of an aging population.           

The unemployment rate for those with less than a high school degree has averaged 5.6% in the past twelve months, the lowest on record, and well below the previous cycle low of 6.3% reached during the internet boom two decades ago. 

The Hispanic unemployment rate has averaged 4.6% in the past year, while the Black unemployment rate has averaged 6.4%, both also record lows.

Meanwhile, wage growth has accelerated. Average hourly earnings are up 3.2% from a year ago. And the gains in wages are not just tilted toward the rich. Among full-time workers age 25+, usual weekly earnings are up 3.5% for those in the middle of the income spectrum. But wages are up 4.9% for workers at the bottom 10% of earners, while up 1.7% for those at the top 10% of income earners. A rising tide is lifting all boats.

Nominal GDP (real growth plus inflation) is still up 4.8% at an annual rate in the past two years, and is set to equal, or exceed, that in the year ahead.

Meanwhile, the stock market has jumped 27 percent since the 2016 election amid a surge in corporate profits and as a result of corporate tax cuts and regulation.

Focusing too much on the negative can lead to decisions that may hurt us in the long run and could cause unnecessary stress. We cannot time markets or predict short-term events from terrorism, the weather or politics, nor should we try. Our team has developed and refined an investment and planning process. It takes into consideration both the expected and unexpected while being guided by your specific needs, objectives and personal vision. What the markets and economy do in the short run should not impact you. 

People often ask the question of “what’s going to happen?” That may be the wrong question.  The question should be “How will what’s happening impact me?” If the answer is that it won’t, then there should be no point in worrying about it.  In my opinion, we are living in one of the best times and should enjoy this. Our team is here to help sift through all of the noise and help you live a happier and healthier life driven by intention, not circumstance.  We call this Persona Visional Planning® and look forward to helping you live the life you have dreamed of.

Feel free to contact Randy Carver personally, or the Carver Financial Services Inc. team at randy.carver@raymondjames.com or (440) 974-0808. Carver Financial Services has served clients globally since 1990 and manages more than $1.25 Billion for clients today. There is neither a cost nor obligation to speak with an advisor.

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