There are reasons to be optimistic about 2021

Posted 12/31/20

The approach of the new year comes with a strange mixture of trepidation and relief.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

There are reasons to be optimistic about 2021


The approach of the new year comes with a strange mixture of trepidation and relief. Few will forget 2020 and all the challenges that came with a global pandemic that claimed over 330,000 lives in this country and ravaged what was previously a solid economy. For some, the new year puts the old one behind us. Others are worried the new year might be the sequel to 2020.

We here at the Powell Tribune, unfortunately, can’t say for sure which it will be. However, it’s worth remembering that as difficult as 2020 was, there are reasons to be optimistic. By many measures, the human race is better off today than we’ve ever been.

In 1990, 1.9 billion people, or 36% of the world’s population, lived in extreme poverty, which the World Bank defines as living on less than $1.90 per day. By 2018, that number had fallen to 650 million people.

In 1990, about one-fourth of the world’s children were underweight, according to the World Bank. By 2017, that fell to under 14%. In wealthy countries, such as our own, we have an obesity problem. Something needs to be done about that, but what a wonderful problem that is to solve.

The pandemic made it harder to spend time with families this Christmas, but we did have more time to spend. In 1870, the average American worked just under 3,100 hours per year, or about 60 hours per week on average. By 2017, the average American worked 1,757 hours per year, or about 36 hours per week, with three weeks off for vacation and holidays.

Not only do we have more time per week for leisure activities, we have more years of life to enjoy them. In 1880, the average American lived to the ripe old age of 39.4 years. In 2019, that number increased to 78.9 years.

It should be noted that from 1917 to 1918, life expectancy in the United States fell from 54 years to 47.2 years. It then bounced back to 55.3 years in 1919. This was primarily due to the Spanish flu pandemic, which killed a lot more people than COVID-19, including the young and healthy.

If the COVID pandemic had happened just 15 years ago, we wouldn’t have had the MRNA technology that led to the rapid development of a vaccine. And imagine trying to social distance without the ability to have food, medications and other goods delivered to your door or video conferencing to see loved ones and conduct business. The pandemic of 2020 was bad, but it could have been a lot worse.

Cancer remains one of the biggest killers of Americans. Case rates have increased, but they don’t tell us much about trends in the disease. Since people aren’t dying of things like cholera and smallpox anymore, they die of chronic diseases later in life.

One metric used to determine cancer trends is called the Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY). It measures the total burden of disease, from years of life lost due to premature death and from years lived with the disease. One DALY equals one lost year of healthy life.

In 1990, America’s DALY from all cancer types was 3,862 per 100,000 individuals. By 2017, that had fallen by 2,942. This is but one measure of the impact cancer has, but experts generally agree we’ve made some slow progress with the disease.

The same is true for other diseases as well. People today live longer, healthier, wealthier lives than ever before.

The COVID pandemic has been hard on a lot of people and pointing out these reasons to be optimistic isn’t meant to be dismissive of those who have lost loved ones, jobs or homes in 2020. However, if you’re worried about what 2021 will bring, this will hopefully ease your anxiety. If the past century is any indication, overall things should get a bit better.

Happy New Year, everyone.