Finishing the seventh year of his two terms, President Barack Obama read off his Top Ten list of happenings in 2015 during his weekly address last week:
- The economy. Over the past 12 months, our businesses have created 2.5 million new jobs. In all, they’ve added 13.7 million new jobs over a 69-month streak of job growth. And the unemployment rate has fallen to 5 percent–the lowest it’s been in almost eight years.
- More Americans are getting health coverage. The rate of the uninsured in America dropped below 10 percent for the first time ever. In all, 17.6 million people and climbing have gained coverage as the Affordable Care Act has taken effect. And don’t forget, you can still sign up through January 31st at HealthCare.gov.
- America’s global leadership on climate change. Last week, in Paris, nearly 200 countries came together to set the course for a low-carbon future. And it was only possible because America led with clean energy here at home and strong diplomacy around the world.
- Progress in the Americas. We turned the page on an outdated, half-century old policy by re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and reopening embassies in both our countries, allowing us to build greater ties between Americans and Cubans.
- Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. We succeeded in forging a strong deal to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. In fact, Iran has already dismantled thousands of centrifuges that enrich uranium.
- Standing strong against terrorism. Even as we continue to grieve over the attack in San Bernardino, we’re leading a global coalition and hitting ISIL harder than ever. In Syria and Iraq, ISIL is losing territory, and we’re not going to stop until we destroy this terrorist organization.
- A 21st century trade deal that makes sure our businesses can sell goods “Made in America” across the Asia-Pacific. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the strongest, most pro-worker, pro-environment trade agreement in our history. And it means that America – not China, not anyone else – will write the rules of the global economy for the century ahead.
- A pair of Christmas miracles in Washington! This week, Congress passed a bipartisan budget that invests in middle-class priorities, keeps our military the strongest in the world, and takes the threat of shutdowns and manufactured crises off the table for 2016. Plus, I signed a bipartisan education bill into law to help our students graduate prepared for college and their future careers.
- Love won. No matter who you are, here in America, you’re free to marry the person you love, because the freedom to marry is now the law in all fifty states.
1. And the number one reason I’m optimistic going into 2016: It’s you—the American people. All of this progress is because of you—because of workers rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done, and entrepreneurs starting new businesses. Because of teachers and health workers and parents—all of us taking care of each other. Because of our incredible men and women in uniform, serving to protect us all. Because, when we’re united as Americans, there’s nothing that we cannot do.”
In a year with all too many lows, there was a lot to be proud of and a lot of progress that was made. Love won, climate change was no longer ignored, and the economy just keeps getting better and better.
Charles Kenney described 2015 as “the best year in history for the average human being” despite the year’s tragedies and misery from poverty, disease, and malnutrition. He cites this progress toward better quality of life for the majority:
Violence in the United States. Recent FBI statistics show that the country has grown safer with fewer violent crimes and homicide rates. Beginning in 2011, Syria helped reverse longer-term progress toward fewer global battle deaths, and the Iran nuclear deal shows evidence that progress toward peaceful settlement of disputes is possible. The number of ongoing wars and battle deaths is far below those in the 1970s and 1980s and remain a minor cause of death worldwide. For example, rabies was responsible for three times as many deaths as terrorism in 2012.
Famine and pestilence. The proportion of the world’s population that is undernourished fell from 19 percent in 1990 to the current 11 percent.
Disease: Although about 11,315 people died from Ebola worldwide, the total of 29,000 cases from the outbreak are far fewer than the projected 1.4 million without the vaccine. A partially effective malaria vaccine also showed progress this year. Each year, 6.7 million fewer children under the age of five die each year compared to 1990 because of vaccines. According to news in August, not one case of polio was reported in Africa during the previous 12 months, leaving the disorder to exist only in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The past global killer, with 350,000 cases as recently as 1988, is close to eradication. Since 2000, worldwide cases of measles dropped by over two-thirds, keeping over 17 million people alive—again thanks to vaccination rates.
Civil and political rights: The number of electoral democracies—although not all fully “free”—is at an historic high at 125, up from 69 in 1989. Peaceful and democratic transitions of power this year occurred in diverse places such as Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Myanmar, and Argentina. For the first time, women were permitted to vote and stand as candidates in Saudi Arabia’s local elections.
LGBT rights: The United States legalized marriage equality throughout the country last June, Mozambique decriminalized same-sex relationships in June, and Ireland legalized same-gender marriage. The number of global laws prohibiting sexual acts between consenting same-gender adults—92 in 2006—dropped to 75 this past year.
Wealth: The IMF forecast 4.0 percent growth for emerging and developing countries for 2015—slower than the 7-8 percent that they managed through much of the last 15 years but considerably ahead of population growth. For the first time, according to the World Bank, less than 10 percent of the global population lived in extreme poverty, on less than $1.90 per day, down from 37 percent as recently as 1990.
Globalization: Despite protests across Europe against refugees, German Chancellor Angela Merkel held to her country’s policy of enlightened self-interest toward migration flows. She tried to convince seven European countries to resettle as many as 400,000 refugees as part of her efforts to see the European Union admit at least 300,000 refugees from the conflict each year, and French President Francois Hollande reiterated a pledge to take in 30,000 refugees after the Paris attacks. World leaders agreed to “sustainable development goals” by 2030 to wipe out extreme poverty, reduce deaths of those under the age of five by millions each year, and guarantee all children go to school and learn while they are there.
Despite losses in reproductive rights in large parts of the United States, women made other gains:
The Supreme Court ruled that employers can’t discriminate against pregnant workers.
Women can now serve in all branches of the military.
California became the first state to put out guidelines for handling sexual assault on campus.
The White House reinstated birth control access for working women with health insurance after the Supreme Court tried to remove it.
Oregon made getting birth control easier for women by letting pharmacies dispense contraceptives in a full-year supply.
The U.S. Treasury decided to put a woman on the $10 bill after being invisible for more than a century.
The UK introduced a new rule to call attention to the gender pay gap, requiring companies to publish payment for men and women, including bonuses.