Alec Hamilton, Assistant Producer, WNYC News
Alec Hamilton is an Assistant Producer in the WNYC newsroom. She produces Morning Edition and starts her work day very, very early.
As President Obama gets ready to address the country on the State of the Union on Tuesday, here at It’s A Free Country we thought we ought to do our own check-in, so here are some stats on where we stand.
The Daily Grind
According to the January release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in December fell by 0.4 of a percentage point to 9.4 percent, with the bump coming from hiring in the hospitality, healthcare, and leisure industries. In real numbers that means 556,000 new jobs since November, decreasing the number of unemployed to 14.5 million. Weekly jobless claims came in lower than expected this week, after coming in slightly higher than expected than week before. But overall, the weekly trend in jobless claims is moving downward.
So what's this mean? Depends who you ask. Most of the jobs went to adult men and white people, so unemployment rates among adult women, teenagers, African Americans, Hispanics and Asians have stayed pretty static, as did the rate of long-term unemployment. Unemployment was higher last year — in December 2009 it was about 9.8 percent — but a year before that it was much lower, at 7.4 percent.
Crime and Safety
The latest data on the FBI’s website come from the first six months of 2010. It indicates a 6.2 percent decrease in the number of violent crimes, which is a really big drop in terms of recent history. Murder is down 7.1 percent, rape is down 6.2 percent, and robbery is down a whopping 10.7 percent. It's the latest in a multi-year decline in violent crimes. In 2009, violent crime fell by 4.4 percent, the year before that, it was down by 3.5 percent.
So we’re safe? Depends where you live. Crime is down 7.2 percent in the Midwest and 7.8 percent in the South, and at least 6 percent everywhere else — except the Northeast, where it's barely changed at all, just down a mere 0.2 percent. And if you live in New Orleans, please lock your doors and be careful out there.
The latest polls show that seven out of ten Americans say that religion is losing its influence on American life, almost reaching the all-time high of 75 percent in 1970, according to Gallup. While Americans seem to be as religious as they’ve ever been since the late 1970s on a personal level, attendance at church and synagogues has decreased to the lowest levels since the 1930s.
In related news, Gallup also found that the very religious tend to smoke less, exercise more, and eat more fruits and veggies.
Not Making Ends Meet
The poverty numbers are grim — but slightly out-of-date. According to 2010 census data, the official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, or one in seven American residents. This is the highest the poverty rate has been since 1994, and in actual numbers (43.6 million) is the largest number in the 51 years that the U.S. Census Bureau has been publishing poverty estimates.
Is it all bad news? Well, mostly yes, but there is some good news. While the poverty rate may have increased for whites, African Americans, Hispanics and children, and held steady for Asians, it actually decreased for those 65 and older, from 9.7 to 8.9 percent. Good thing, too, since the rest of us will be moving back in with them.
And Don’t Get Sick
On Wednesday, House Republicans passed a repeal of the health care reform legislation, which includes a mandate for health insurance beginning in 2014. As it stands now, 16.4 percent of Americans were uninsured in 2010, which was the same the year before, but an increase of 1.6 percent since 2008.
But the numbers are much worse if you break them out by demographic. For example, 38.9 percent of Hispanics are uninsured, as are 29.7 percent of those 18 and older who are earning less than $36,000 annually. Once again, though, the senior citizens are doing the best – only 3.1 percent are uninsured.
Young people age 18 to 26 are highly uninsured at 28 percent, though under the health care bill, they would be eligible to remain on their parents’ plans.
The state of our union is also decreasingly one in which people get insurance through their employers, as the number of employers offering health benefits fell to 45.8 percent in 2010 from 46.8 the year before.
But Things Aren’t All Bad!
We, as a nation, are happier and less stressed than we were a year ago. According to a Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans experiencing more bluebirds and sunshine increased one percentage point in 2010. Crime is down, we don’t have to work, and our senior citizens are doing okay – what’s not to enjoy?