Lies Americans Believe About Our Material Blessings

Most Americans, according to a new survey, were grateful this Thanksgiving not for wealth or material things but for family, friends, health, and freedom. This is how it should be. The entire Bible is full of messages against putting too much store in money or possessions.

Further, as Thanksgiving is specifically a U.S. national holiday, we are meant to thank God specifically for our unique blessings as Americans – the greatest of which, historically speaking, is our freedom. For that, we can thank a special conglomeration of founders such as Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, along with millions of military personnel who have risked, and sometimes given, the ultimate sacrifice in service of our freedom.

But just because we have a proper perspective on gratitude doesn’t mean that we should not also be thankful for material circumstances as good or better than any people in any land in history. Most Americans, unfortunately, suffer under the delusion that times right now are unusually tough and that the economic circumstances of median Americans have declined in recent decades. This is nonsense – and statistics prove it.

Take 1986, a year when the majority of Americans were rejoicing in what they then considered to be prosperity. Two years earlier, so thrilled were Americans with the economic recovery that they re-elected Ronald Reagan in a 49-to-1-state landslide. The two years since then had been even better.

And the median household income of that “year of plenty” was $24,897, which in today’s dollars would equal $54, 912. Compare that to the median household income of $56, 516 in 2015 (the last year for which numbers are available, and by all subsequent indicators a lower number than would apply today). In short, incomes have risen, not fallen – and not from a lower baseline when times were tough, but from a high baseline when the economy already was good.

Meanwhile, the prices for basic foodstuffs and energy are lower now than then. Adjusted for inflation, for instance, a dozen eggs back then cost $1.92. Today the same dozen eggs would cost $1.39. Likewise, a gallon of milk: The inflation-adjusted 1986 price was $4.90; now it is all the way down to $3.29.  Gasoline, it is true, was a tiny bit lower then: $2.05 per gallon, compared to today’s $2.30. But vehicles then were less fuel-efficient, then averaging just over 25 miles per gallon compared to about 28 today. At miles per dollar spent (12.17 to 12.19), that’s as close to the exact same as imaginable.