11 positive developments in the world (that have nothing to do with politics)

Around the world, the year 2017 saw no shortage of divisive politics, escalating nuclear threats, devastating natural disasters, ongoing wars, and otherwise distressing developments.

While we pride ourselves at Brookings on our ability to identify, respond to, and work to solve many of the toughest problems facing the United States and the world, we thought there may be no better time to celebrate some of the positive, non-political developments happening in the United States and globally.

Below are a few uplifting pieces of research from Brookings experts that are sure to restore your optimism and your celebratory spirit just in time for the holidays and the New Year.

  1. Children are better off than they were just a few decades ago. Since the 1990s, children in the United States have enjoyed lower infant mortality rates, higher high school graduation rates, reduced rates of smoking and alcohol use among students, lower teen birth rates, and wider health insurance coverage.
  2. Humans have broken the limits of life expectancy. Thanks to the invention of regenerative medicine, organ replacement, and other medical breakthroughs, we have extended the functions of the human body beyond what nature had intended. If society can effectively adjust to address the needs of longer-living populations, we could be entering an era of “golden aging.”
  3. People are entering the global middle class at an unprecedented rate. With an average of 160 million people joining the middle class every year over the course of the next five years, we are witnessing the most rapid expansion of the middle class the world has ever seen. In fact, the middle class will soon become a majority of the global population for the first time ever and account for roughly one-third of the global economy.
  4. Poverty is falling in America. U.S. Census data reveal that median household income increased between 2015 and 2016 while the national poverty rate fell to 14 percent—returning to a pre-recession level. Poverty rates in large cities, in particular, which often experience double the poverty rates of surrounding suburbs, fell substantially.
  5. The post-recession jobs gap has finally closed. The millions of U.S. jobs lost during the Great Recession left a so-called “jobs gap,” defined as the number of jobs the U.S. economy needed to create in order to return to the pre-recession employment rate—accounting for population growth and retirement. As of August 2017, the jobs gap had officially closed and the U.S. economy had added enough jobs to make up for the losses of the recession nearly a full decade after it began.
  6. Ridesharing has hit hypergrowth. In 2015 alone, freelance employment in the ridesharing industry—Uber, Lyft, etc.—increased by 217,000 workers, a 63 percent increase from the previous year. While early adopter cities such as San Jose, San Francisco, and Austin have seen the most rapid growth in ridesharing employment, this major urban innovation has taken hold in new metropolitan areas in the American heartland, such as Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and more.
  7. Hope in the slums of Nairobi. In an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, nearly 400 impoverished youth and women share equity in a community-owned project for recycling urban waste into energy. The venture serves as a model for environmental solutions that address the waste management and youth unemployment challenges faced by many African cities.
  8. There are more women technology CEOs than ever before. According to the 2016 Bloomberg Pay Index, women are more prevalent than ever before in executive positions, powered by prominent technology companies like IBM, Xerox, and Yahoo—all recently headed by female leaders. While a record number, the mere 27 female CEOs at the helm of S&P 500 companies suggests there is still a ways to go.
  9. The elderly are seeing an improvement in living standards. Despite portrayals of a difficult existence for the elderly in America, old age is actually more comfortable and longer lasting than it was for earlier generations. Incomes have risen far more quickly for Americans over 65 than they have for the rest of the population, and the elderly enjoy far lower poverty rates than children and nonelderly adults.
  10. American women are transforming marriage for the better. Research shows that the most educated women in America—and presumably the most economically independent—are also the most likely to be married. But rather than turning away from marriage because they can afford to, they are using this power to renegotiate the terms of marriage in a more egalitarian way.
  11. States are “decoupling” growth and emissions. From Maine to California, more than 30 U.S. states have delinked their economic growth and carbon emissions, confirming what was once assumed to be impossible: that a prosperous economy can also be a green one.