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After years of bad economic news, some think things are looking up for the United States. But are they? What troubling signs are on the horizon?
Source: Chandler Erisman/Snapwiresnaps
Yet while this is all good, should we also be paying attention to troubling signs on the horizon?
To be sure, some signs do indeed look promising. After the economic crisis of 2008-2009 and several years of sluggish recovery, U.S. economists are nearly unanimous in the estimates of robust economic growth in 2015, with most expecting 3 percent or greater.
This would translate into more good news for the job market. The unemployment rate is expected to continue to decline, with tens of thousands of new jobs created each month. And the gradual tightening of the labor force should give U.S. workers more leverage in wage negotiations, finally driving up wages that have been stagnant for years.
A solid growth rate should also translate into stock and bond market gains, as an improving economy translates into higher earnings for companies. A growing economy would prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, which would help bond investors.
As mentioned, the nation can take some satisfaction in an improved crime situation. Federal Bureau of Investigation figures show a striking but positive trend: The rate of violent crime has dropped by nearly half since 1993. FBI data shows a decline in violent crime from a rate of 747 incidents per 100,000 in 1993 to 387 incidents per 100,000 in 2012, the most recent year for which complete data has been published.
Nearly every type of violent crime declined over the past 20 years, with homicides down 51 percent, forcible rape down 35 percent and robberies down 56 percent. Property crimes, such as burglary and vandalism, also dropped sharply.
Some U.S. cities are the safest they’ve been in decades. New York City of the 1970s was considered one of the most crime-infested cities in the nation. Since that time, however, the city’s crime rate has plummeted to where it is now considered safer than Dallas or Houston (Justin Wolfers, “Perceptions Haven’t Caught Up to Decline in Crime,” The New York Times , Sept. 16, 2014).
The good news is something to rejoice about. But before we start celebrating too loudly, we should ask ourselves: Are we seeing the complete picture? Or could we be closing our eyes to dangers we’d rather not think about?
Not-so-rosy economic figuresWhile some economic figures are encouraging, a number of others are highly sobering. For example, a Jan. 13, 2015, report by Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, Inc., noted at the Gallup website that over the last six years, 70,000 more businesses have shut their doors than have opened.
He went on to explain: “When new businesses aren’t being born, the free enterprise system and jobs decline . . . Without a growing entrepreneurial economy, there are no new good jobs. That means declining revenues and smaller salaries to tax, followed by declining aid for the elderly and poor and declining funding for the military, for education, for infrastructure—declining revenues for everything.”
Going hand-in-hand with this, a New York Times article last year reported that over the previous decade, “the inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household” had declined 36 percent (Anna Bernasek, “The Typical Household, Now Worth a Third Less,” July 26, 2014).
A Jan. 16, 2015, Washington Post article noted the following shocking fact: “For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families . . . a statistic that has profound implications for the nation”(Lyndsey Layton, “Majority of U.S. Public School Students Are in Poverty”).
Further, a CNSnews.com headline on Dec. 10, 2014, stated, “65 Percent of Children Live in Households on Federal Aid Programs.” The total number, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, was more than 40 million.
Especially troubling is the skyrocketing U.S. government debt. According to the U.S. Treasury website, as of Jan. 1, 2005, total federal debt was just under $7.6 trillion. A decade later, at the beginning of 2015, debt stood at more than $18 trillion —a staggering increase of almost 140 percent, and more debt than the nation had accumulated in its entire previous history of almost 230 years!
Sadly, such figures are the tip of the iceberg in terms of the nation’s true financial picture. Making matters worse, on Feb. 2 President Obama presented a proposed 2016 fiscal year budget that would add another $1.44 trillion in taxes and another $6 trillion in debt over the next decade.
An island in a sea of turmoilIn spite of its financial problems, America could be likened to an island of relative peace and tranquility in a seething cauldron of worldwide unrest, where violence and hatred seem to be escalating everywhere.
The new year was barely one week old when two French-born Islamic terrorists of Algerian descent, brothers Cherif and Said Quache, stormed into the Paris offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7. Using automatic weapons with military precision, they gunned down 10 journalists and cartoonists, plus two policemen.
As they murdered a wounded Muslim policeman they shouted, “The prophet has been avenged!” Apparently they thought it was their Muslim duty to avenge any insult to the founder of Islam.
The murders had a chilling effect on press freedom, long a core belief of Western democracies. Major news organizations immediately began rethinking their editorial policies. At CNN, senior editorial director Richard Griffiths told staffers worldwide that Charlie Hebdo cartoons were not being shown on any CNN platforms, encouraging them instead to “verbally describe the cartoons in detail” (quoted at Politico, Jan. 7, 2015).
The Islamist terror organization al-Qaeda’s affiliate group in Yemen took responsibility for the Paris killings, which the French now refer to as their 9/11. Al-Qaeda has shown its ability to strike the major Western democracies, with nearly 3,000 killed in the 9/11 attacks on America in 2001 and 52 in England with the 2005 London subway bombings.
The sensational news of the attacks in France overshadowed other terrorist incidents that day—suicide bombings in Iraq that killed 23 people and a car bomb in Yemen that killed 38 and injured more than 60 others. These followed attacks in which an estimated 2,000 people were slaughtered by the Islamist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria Jan. 3.
Very few realize that the Bible sitting on their bookshelf has something to say about these events. Speaking through Moses, God foretold events that would befall ancient Israel—and its modern-day descendants, particularly the major English-speaking peoples—for national rejection of His law:
“But if you will not listen to Me, and will not do all these commandments, and if you shall despise My statutes, or if your soul hates My judgments . . . I will even appoint terror over you, consumption, and burning fever, consuming the eyes and causing sorrow of heart . . . And I will set My face against you, and you shall be slain before your enemies”(Leviticus:26:14-17, Modern King James Version, emphasis added throughout).
Could it be that we’re seeing these ominous punishments begin to be played out in America today? What do such growing trends portend for the nation’s future?
Failing schools reduce national competitivenessFor the past few decades, America’s failing educational institutions have been an embarrassment to the nation and a blot on its national pride.
A recent Washington Times article described American public schools as “in a free fall,”with U.S. schools now ranking 29th in the world. This from the nation that earlier put man on the moon and has for decades led the world in finding cures for killer diseases.
Slovakia, Russia and Vietnam have joined the ranks of China, India, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea in the list of nations surpassing U.S. schools in the quality of education and the caliber of its graduates.
And now comes evidence that many American college graduates lack the skills to compete even in an average U.S. work environment. In mid-January, The Wall Street Journal reported that as many as four in ten U.S. graduates lack the reasoning skills to manage white-collar work.
The Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus exam, given to 32,000 college seniors at 169 U.S. colleges and universities, measures reasoning ability needed in typical U.S. managerial environments. It noted that many students start college at a deficit in reasoning, making it that much harder to catch up by the time they graduate.
“‘Even if there is notable growth over four years, many students are starting at such a low point that they may still not be proficient at the point of graduation,’ said Jessalyn James, a program manager at the Council for Aid to Education, which administered the test” (Douglas Belkin , “Test Finds College Graduates Lack Skills for White-Collar Jobs,” The Wall Street Journal , Jan. 16, 2015).
The implications for an America competing in a global economy could be disastrous. As nations such as China and India graduate more trained engineers, scientists, business managers and computer experts, American competitiveness will suffer.
Alarming increase in mental illnessNot well publicized is the dramatic rise of mental illness in America today. No less an authority than Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, had this to say in a June 23, 2011, New York Review of Books piece titled “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?”:
“The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007 —from 1 in 184 Americans to 1 in 76. For children, the rise is even more startling— a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades.”
Today, young people by the millions are experiencing the onset of clinical depression, among the most debilitating of mental illnesses resulting in thousands of suicides annually. Speaking to the National Press Club in 1998, Martin Seligman, then-president of the American Psychological Association, reported that the average age for the onset of depression had decreased from 29 to 15.
Antidepressant use in the United States has increased nearly 400 percent in the last two decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), making antidepressants the most frequently used class of medications by Americans ages 18-44. By 2008, 23 percent of women ages 40-59 were taking antidepressants, the CDC reported.
It seems every other person in the country is on some type of antidepressant these days. What does it portend for America’s future with depression and other mental illnesses on the rise?
And how much of this may be attributed to a sobering prophecy that applies to our time today found in Deuteronomy:28:28? Speaking to the ancient Israelites—and their modern-day descendants—about the consequences of disobedience to His law, God tells them, “The Lord will strike you with blindness and madness and confusion of heart.”
Rising racial tensions creating a divided nationThe election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president brought hope to millions that race relations in America would enter the final stage of healing, marking the start of a new era in the nation.
That optimism soon vanished. Annual Wall Street Journal/ NBC News polls show that positive views of race relations peaked among African Americans at 66 percent in 2010, one year after Obama took office. Then opinions took a steady downturn so that by July 2013 only 38 percent thought race relations were good—worse than the 40 percent in 2007 before Obama.
Perceptions of race relations dropped even lower with the highly publicized 2014 killings of two black men by white police officers, one in Ferguson, Missouri, and the other in New York City, along with grand juries in both cases deciding not to indict the officers. In another Wall Street Journal/ NBC poll in mid-December 2014, only 35 percent of African-American respondents rated race relations as good, while 63 percent rated them as bad.
The change in perceptions among white Americans was even more dramatic, having risen from 59 percent seeing race relations as good in 2007 to a peak of 79 percent considering them so in late 2009 and then plunging to only 40 percent now feeling this way, as of December 2014 (Reid Epstein, “Poll: Views of Race Relations Worse Than Before Obama Took Office,” Washington Wire, blogs.wsj.com, Dec. 17, 2014)
It would seem that America’s long-running racial divisions have not improved nearly as much as we would have expected since the early 1960s civil rights struggles. This does not bode well for the future of the country. As Jesus Christ Himself stated, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew:12:25, New International Version).
Certainly, the U.S. is not the only nation with significant gulfs between racial groups. But we could ask ourselves to what extent will smoldering racial tensions lead to the weakening of the world’s leading democracy?
How much longer?Some will point out that America has faced crises before. One can’t forget the grim situation the nation faced in the 1930s, when worldwide economic depression crippled the U.S. economy with 25 percent unemployment in 1933. The nation came through a decade later when, roused from isolationist slumber by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it mobilized its human and material resources to defeat the Axis powers.
But other observers also correctly point out the differences in the character of the American people then compared to today. With the nation’s flagrant disregard for morality and God’s righteous law, does America have what it takes to pull through today’s challenges?
Moses’ warning to ancient Israel is especially relevant to 21st-century America. Read it in Deuteronomy 28, where God promised blessings for obedience and curses for violating His laws. God dealt patiently with ancient Israel, and He will deal patiently with us today—but only to a point. Has America passed, or is it about to pass, that point of no return?
Individually, none of us can change the course of a nation bent on increasingly turning away from God. But each of us can personally heed God’s command given through the prophet Isaiah: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah:55:6-7).
May we have the wisdom to turn from our human ways that lead to suffering and death (Proverbs:14:12; Proverbs:16:25) and choose, as we’re told to in Deuteronomy:30:19, the way that leads to blessings and life!