- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 1999

A breathtaking review of the staggering economic growth the United States experienced during the past 100 years is offered in a remarkable report recently issued by Congress' Joint Economic Committee (JEC). By providing graphical snapshots of the economy both at the beginning of the century and at its close, the report overwhelmingly confirms President John F. Kennedy's belief that a rising tide does indeed lift all boats. As a result of this growth, average Americans today enjoy a standard of living that would have been inconceivable to their early century ancestors. Moreover, without such growth, it would be equally inconceivable that America would be entering the next millennium as the world's sole superpower.

During the early part of the 20th century's first decade, the United States surpassed Great Britain as the world's wealthiest major nation. "America retained this leadership position throughout the century," the report notes, "as open markets, technological advances and waves of immigration created continued renewal and growth in our economy." At the dawn of the next millennium, Americans, who comprise less than 5 percent of the world's population, produce more than one-fifth of the world's economic output. Americans earn average incomes that are about 20 percent higher than those in Europe and Japan.

Due to dramatic increases in productivity during the 20th century, per capita income, adjusted for inflation, is now nearly seven times higher than it was at the beginning of the century. Meanwhile, the average work week for a full-time employee was slashed from 60 hours to about 40 hours. Whereas more than 40 percent of American workers labored in agriculture in 1900, today only 3 percent do. Just as it requires far fewer workers to produce the nation's food supply today, the percentage of personal consumption expenditures devoted to food is much smaller now (15 percent) than it was at the beginning of the century (44 percent). The average worker needs seven minutes of work time today to purchase a half-gallon of milk, compared to 56 minutes at the beginning of the century. A three-pound chicken requires 14 minutes of labor today, compared to 2 hours and 40 minutes 100 years ago.

The JEC report best illustrates the rise in living standards that resulted from technological and productivity advances by comparing the change in American housing and its amenities. Compared to 47 percent in 1900, today 66 percent of families own their own home, which, on average, has much more space today relative to family size. Today, 99 percent of families have running water, flush toilets and electricity, compared to 24 percent, 15 percent and 3 percent, respectively, in 1900. In 1900, 5 percent of families had telephones; today 94 percent do. In 1900, only 1 percent had an automobile; today 83 percent do.

Not only are Americans living much better. They are living much longer. The annual death rate from infectious diseases has plummeted from nearly 800 per 100,000 population in 1900 to less than 60 today. Meanwhile, average life expectancy at birth during the past 100 years has increased from 46.3 years to 73 years for men and from 48.3 years to 79.7 years for women.

Surely, the good news the JEC has provided about America's economic progress during the American Century is worth a toast or two at tonight's New Year's Eve celebrations.

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