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.