Take time to count blessings

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We’ve got 14 million unemployed people in the U.S., close to 26,000 of them in Clark County alone. More than one in eight local people is living without health insurance. Housing prices remain low, wages stagnant, and several of Oregon’s top economists put the odds at 40 percent that that state is heading for a double dip recession. Oh, and our country’s political leaders seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it — if they really have the power to fix this mess, anyway.

Yet there’s something to be said for counting our blessings. As bad as things are in the United States, we still have it pretty good.

A recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey, put things in perspective for me. Local newspaper headlines there touted the country’s economic success story.

The numbers that underlie that story? Turkey’s unemployment rate is 9.2 percent, its gross domestic product is $12,300 per person, its adult literacy rate is 89 percent.

Most people live without cars or cable TV, string their wash up to dry instead of buying a heavy appliance to speed the process, clean their dishes in the sink. But they have more opportunities today than they did a generation ago, and the nation is awash in optimism.

Compare that to the situation in the U.S. Our national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, our gross domestic product is $45,989 per person, our adult literacy rate is 99 percent.

Americans own 2.3 cars per household, most of us have dishwashers and clothes dryers, more than half of all homes have cable TV and many others watch shows via satellite or Internet services. And we’re marching in the streets in anger.

I don’t want to diminish the anguish of people who’ve lost their jobs or homes or health insurance, watched wages shrink or stagnate, or who are living on the edge. Times are tough for many people, and anger is a natural response when corporations post record profits at a time of high unemployment and political gridlock.

But we should also keep things in perspective. Even now, more than three years in to a prolonged economic downturn that continues to drag on, most Americans today live better lives than their parents or grandparents, or than people in many other countries around the globe.

Despite all the frightening news, there are indications that things will get better. If odds are 40 percent in favor of a double dip recession, they must by 60 percent in favor of growth.

A few bright spots to dwell on:

• Clark County businesses and nonprofits added 800 jobs from July to August. The county’s unemployment rate, 12.3 percent at last report, is dismally high, but it’s a big improvement from the 15.7 percent back in January 2010.

• Consumers are feeling better. In the second quarter of this year, Clark County taxable sales climbed 4.1 percent. People who’d been eating at home made more trips to restaurants, a sign of growing optimism.

• There’s one thing that every economic downturn in history has had in common, and we can reasonably expect it of this one as well: They end.

Courtney Sherwood is The Columbian’s business and features editor. Reach her at 360-735-4561 or courtney.sherwood@columbian.com.<I>