In the U.S., Americans saw continued recovery from the great recession: U.S. median household income climbed from $53,718 in 2014 to $56,516 in 2015. If it managed the same increase in 2016, that would push household income more than $1,000 above the record levels of 1999. In November 2009, more than 15 million people were on the unemployment roll. By October 2016, that number had fallen below 8 million. And in October 2016, U.S. manufacturing output reached its highest level ever (even if, thanks to productivity improvements, factory employment remained well below its peak).
Globally, even while the considerable majority of people thought poverty was going up, the proportion of the people worldwide living on less than $1.90 a day has fallen from 37 percent in 1990 to less than one in ten in 2015. That decline was powered by economic growth that has slowed recently in parts of the developing world—but the International Monetary Fund still forecasts a 4.2 percent growth rate for developing economies in 2016.
Continuing progress extends far beyond material wealth. With a fragile peace still holding in Colombia, and a new agreement set to be signed on Thanksgiving Day, the Western Hemisphere now has no war, no military governments, and no major insurgencies. Despite the fact that 85 percent of Americans think crime has gotten worse since 2008, according to Bureau of Justice data published this year, violent crime dropped 26 percent and property crime by 22 percent between 2008 and 2015 (though there is likely to be a small uptick in 2016). While battle-related worldwide deaths sadly remain higher than in the first decade of the 21st century due to the tragedy of Syria, they remain an extremely rare form of death—with terror even rarer still. And a lot of other very bad things didn’t happen as often as they have in the past. Take Bangladesh: The country was battered by a massive cyclone in May. Half a million people were evacuated, but thanks to early warning systems and shelters, only 23 people died. Cyclone deaths in the country have fallen by 98 percent since the systems were developed following a 1991 cyclone in which 140,000 people died. And worldwide, another year has passed without a major famine, that despite a severe drought in the horn of Africa.
Fewer people are dying from infectious diseases as well: In 2016, Africa had only two cases of polio and Europe eliminated malaria.* Morocco eliminated trachoma—the leading infectious cause of blindness. There was hope for progress against other diseases, not least thanks to the development of a dengue fever vaccine that was 100 percent effective in human trials. Life expectancy for the average human has climbed by 20 years since 1960, and there’s no sign of that progress ending. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan suggested we might be able to “cure, prevent or manage all diseases within our children’s lifetime” this year, and the idea wasn’t dismissed as laughable.