Alarming and even horrific events tend to attract the most attention, whether it’s war and tragedy or urgent problems in need of solution.
But step back a bit, and there’s good news too. In Massachusetts, teenagers are behaving better than ever. Across the United States, the streets are safer than they’ve been in decades. And all around the world, fewer people are struggling against extreme poverty.
Crime is down
One reason police are facing such scrutiny is because of the dramatic decline in violent crime. Two decades ago, when such crimes were twice as common, tough tactics seemed like an essential part of the solution. Today, they don’t seem quite as justified.
Since its peak in the early 90s, violent crime in the United States has fallen by half, and the same is true in Massachusetts.
Teens are behaving better
Complaints about the misadventures of “kids today” go back generations, but today’s teens seem to be making pretty good decisions — sometimes better than their parents. Take teen drug use. It’s been declining for 12- to 17-year-olds, even as it rises among adults over 26.
The falloff in teen births is even more dramatic. Only about 12 of every thousand 15- to 19-year-olds in Massachusetts had a baby in 2013 (the most recent year for which we have data). That’s much lower than the nationwide rate, though both have seen big declines since 1993.
Global poverty is falling
Worldwide, about one billion people live on less than $1.25 a day (or roughly $450 a year). While the existence of such dire poverty in a world of plenty may be shocking, this is actually a tremendous improvement. In the early 1990s, nearly twice as many billion people were living in extreme poverty.
Much of this improvement comes from China, where economic liberalization has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. India, too, has made enormous strides. And there’s increasing optimism about sub-Saharan Africa, which is now growing at about 5 percent per year.
If the world continues on this path, extreme poverty may be eliminated in the next 15 years. The same probably can’t be said of crime or teen drug use, but these once-urgent social concerns now seem much less dire.
Not all the long-term trends are this promising. Income inequality continues to widen and global warming has already started reshaping the earth’s climate. But the good news is a reminder that all’s not wrong with the world or the United States or Massachusetts.