America in 2014: Gains in Jobs, Education, and Political Compromise?

YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

As 2014 comes to a close, there’s more than enough depressing material being summarized for the year in retrospect. And that’s hardly surprising — 2014 has been, in many ways, a very difficult year in politics. The relationship between Congress and the executive branch has put a strain on partisan politics. International events and disagreements have made global relations and international conditions loom darker than some years.

But with 2015 right around the corner, now might be an appropriate time to focus on some of the positives last year we have to lean on and build from for the coming months. Here’s a filtered look at some of the brighter results published this last year.

1. U.S. image improves

While President Barack Obama’s approval rating has been suffering for years, American leadership as seen internationally has improved considerably since 2008, when disapproval and approval were tied at 34%. During 2013, leadership views for the United States began to rise again into the 46% range. This is notably the only positive statistic in Gallup’s list of 10 important findings this year.

2. High school dropout rates drop

Pew Research Reported in October of 2014 that the most recent data from The Census Bureau had good news for education stats. In large part a result of Hispanic and black populations, the High School dropout rate has dropped to record levels, showing considerable decreases from even 10 years ago, as shown in the graph below:

FT_14.10.01_H.S.Dropout_1

The High School Completion Rate among Hispanic Americans has rose from 61% in 1993 to 79% last year, and 75% among black Americans in 1993 to 82%. Asian and non-Hispanic white demographics have also seen more minor improvements. 3. Women in congress reaches record number

As 2015 rolls around, Congress will see an improved balance in the gender split in the House and Senate. One-hundred women will take seats this coming year, 52% of them Democrats, 47% Republicans, according to MSNBC. This is the first time in American history that women in the Legislature surpassed the tens place. True, this is not much of an improvement over 2013, which saw 99 female Congress members according to Slate, but compared to 2001’s 73 women, or 1991’s 32 women on the Hill, it’s an impressive landmark.

4. This Congress may not be the worst at getting things done (by a narrow margin)

Pew Research reports that the “113th Congress [is] not quite the least productive of recent times.” By a handful of public laws, the 113th managed to pass more than the 112th with 296 enacted over the 112th’s 283. A slim margin, but it’s always nice not to be the absolute bottom year. Considering the gridlock seen, it’s actually rather surprising the 113th didn’t fall to the bottom, but Congress surpassed last year not only in ceremonial public laws, but also in substantive ones.

As Seth Meyers once said, Congress wants us “to be impressed by [a lot of things] we are not impressed by. We are not impressed that you sat next to each other at the State of the Union. You know what the rest of Americans call an evening spent politely sitting next to a person with wildly different political views? Thanksgiving.” Having said that, it’s nice that a few dishes — maybe not turkey, but green bean casserole at least — made it to the table this year without being knocked to the ground in a fit of partisan anger. 5. Job market improvements

Over the course of 2014, the number of unemployed Americans has fallen by 1.7 million people and the unemployment rate has dropped 1.2 percentage points, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of November of this year. The report was so positive, NPR called 2014 “the year when the job market finally turned the corner,” and reported that wages across the U.S. rose an average of 0.4% or 9 cents every hour. And while it’s easy to feel negative about prospects given the continued complaints on Keystone XL construction barriers — and debates over the jobs it might create — and the constant back and forth over the minimum wage, if you push all of that to the side, America has seen growth and improvement this year. That means unemployed workers and American families with one or more individuals trying to find work can look forward to a positive trend.

It’s worth every once in awhile reflecting on the fact that the American economy is making real progress,” said President Obama in early December. “And if we can continue in this trajectory, if we can continue to grow robustly … then we can get a virtuous cycle that’s really going to make a difference.”

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