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Pining for Perfection?

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

During the 1980s, Kool & the Gang enjoyed a massive hit with “Celebration.” It was so popular it’s probably still on the charts somewhere.

The song fit its era. It was the go-go Reagan years (when the Go-Go’s also hit the charts) and plenty of people were in the mood to celebrate. As Michael Douglas put it in “Wall Street,” the movie that epitomized the era, “greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good.”


Twenty years on, people aren’t so confident. Soaring gas prices and sinking housing values have consumers worried. The media are in full campaign-year mode, trumpeting all the negative economic news they can find.

So let’s look on the sunny side for a change.

In an upcoming report on jobs and the economy, James Sherk points out that “today the typical American works in a better job than his or her parents did, and his or her children have a good chance of working in an even better job.” Indeed, there’s less dangerous factory work and more relatively safe office work.

Today’s jobs pay more, too. Economist Stephen Rose found that 13 percent more Americans earn inflation-adjusted salaries of $100,000 today than did so in 1979. That’s an awful lot of people getting awful wealthy.

Moreover, as The Washington Post reported in February, “median household net worth increased from $69,000 in 1989 to $93,000 in 2004.” The median household income before taxes is also higher, as are assets, home value and the amount of money in retirement accounts. These are the golden days.

Our country’s made a great leap forward in social policy as well.

As recently as 1908, the Methodist Social Creed called for, among other things:

·        Equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.

·        The principles of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.

·        The protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational diseases, injuries and mortality.


·        The abolition of child labor.

·        A release from employment one day in seven.

Look how far we’ve come in 100 years. All those items could be checked off.

Not only is child labor non-existent today, many people don’t even begin adult labor until well into their 20s. Instead they’re collecting bachelor’s or advanced degrees that will help them obtain one of the high-paying jobs that our modern economy generates. And those jobs, by the way, are safe, thus accomplishing another of the social code’s stated goals.

As far as time off, it’s almost impossible to believe people once hoped for one day off per week. The weekend has become such a big part of our lives, many people start the countdown on Monday. Workers in 1908 would have been astounded by our calendar of three-day weekends and paid vacations, not to mention 40-hour work weeks.

People are living longer, earning more and retiring earlier. The news is, on a large scale, good.

Even the negative news these days isn’t exactly negative. A recent TIME magazine cover story warned that, “Worried about autism, many parents are opting out of immunizations. How they’re putting the rest of us at risk.” Sounds ominous. But the story inside actually detailed what could be considered a positive message.

In its very second paragraph, TIME reports that “thanks to state laws requiring vaccinations for youngsters enrolling in kindergarten, the U.S. currently enjoys the highest immunization rate ever.” Some 77 percent of children have had all the recommended shots, “and most of the remaining children are missing just a few shots.”


This is especially surprising when one notes that the number of shots children are required to get has doubled since the 1980s. One would expect that when the number of shots required increased, the compliance rate would have declined. Instead, more people than ever are vaccinated against more things. Proponents of vaccinations ought to be dancing in the streets.

We’ve accomplished things that would have seemed impossible 100 years ago. Yet we’re not happy. Americans grumble about 5 percent unemployment, even though just a few years ago many economists would have said that number was impossible. Experts thought we couldn’t maintain unemployment that low without generating massive inflation. Yet we have.

This weekend, consider breaking out the 80s mix tape you made a few years back and having a celebration. As a nation, we’ve earned it.

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