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Feeling Free

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

According to a recent write up by Jon Clifton, a managing  partner at Gallup, we have a lot to work on in our country, starting  with feeling free. Yes, we celebrated the 241st anniversary of the  Declaration of Independence this week. But, as a nation, we don't feel  as free as we once did.

 "Americans' feeling of freedom is declining. In 2006, 91 percent  of Americans were satisfied with the freedom in their lives. Today,  it's 75 percent," wrote Clifton. "The 16-percentage-point decline is  dramatic -- but looking at how far the U.S. has fallen in comparison  with the rest of the world, the decline is even worse. The U.S. ranked  11th when Gallup asked this question in 2006 (among 118 countries). In  2016, the U.S. came in 71st (among 139 countries). This puts the U.S. in  the bottom half of all countries measured."

We feel less free than we once did and less free compared with  people in other countries. What's driving this decline? Why are we  feeling this way?

According to Clifton, "Two things typically come to mind when  people think about their personal freedom -- their financial situation  and their government...many Americans may not be feeling the same  economic gains in their daily lives. Household income is up since 2011,  but it's flat since 2007. And despite unemployment dropping below 5  percent, the overall jobs picture is not as rosy. Workforce  participation is the lowest it's been in 40 years."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current  work force participation rate is 62.7 percent. At its peak, in 1998, it  was 67.2 percent. In the late 1970s it was in the low 60 percent range,  after which it rose steadily until 1998. It has been falling  consistently since then. It's hard to pin down why the labor force  participation rate has fallen.

With today's current labor force of 159 million people, an  increase of 4.5 percent would equal 7.2 million more people in the  workplace. This would provide more tax revenue for the government, more  economic activity for our country.

 In addition to the economy, people's "views on government  corruption are related to how people feel about their individual  freedom," wrote Clifton. "The belief that corruption is widespread in  the government has been stubbornly high for a number of years. What's  more, approval ratings of virtually all government institutions are near  historical lows." The approval rating is currently at 32 percent  according to Gallup.

With a sluggish economy and distrust in government, it's easy to understand the unease in our nation's psyche.

This week, we celebrated the signing of the Declaration of  Independence. The first section is the one that is most often quoted:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created  equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable  Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,  deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That  whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is  the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new  Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its  powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their  Safety and Happiness."

 So we declared our independence and our belief in our  unalienable rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness 241  years ago, but feel less free today than we did in 2006. Maybe this week  we should consider what we can do to improve our country.

Based on Gallup's research, the economy and a belief that the  government is well-run (not corrupt) are important to feeling free. This  also provides another window into why President Donald Trump appealed  to many voters. He is an outsider to the political system, and therefore  should be more able to take on and make government more accountable  (less corrupt). Additionally, the promise of more American jobs was a  large part of his platform.

The dual package of a better-run government and more potential  jobs was incredibly appealing to voters. It will be interesting to see  if he can translate his campaign platform into real change in these two  areas and if Americans wind up feeling freer after four years with Trump  as their president than they did before he took office.

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