Counting our blessings

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category icon Columns, Opinion

It’s that time of year when we count our blessings. In America, they are abundant, especially this year.

For starters, the unemployment rate is down from 7 percent last December to 5.8 percent. Washington State mirrors the national average. Housing starts, retail sales and our gross domestic product are all up from last year, signs of an improving economy.

Since consumer spending drives economic growth, low interest rates have helped. Home mortgages and auto loans hover in the 3 to 4 percent range. Contrast that to Russia, where interest rates are nearing 20 percent as bankers struggle to keep investors in the market as the ruble plunges.

Thanks to new “fracking” technology, America is rapidly becoming energy independent, dropping the national average price of gasoline to $2.47; $2.76 in Washington State.

Because of plunging gas prices, Bloomberg reports that holiday shoppers started the season with extra money in their wallets. The cheapest gasoline prices since 2010 amount to about $500 in annual savings for the average American.

Compare that to the Europe where a gallon of petrol costs as much as $9.26 in Norway. In Italy, where a gallon of gasoline costs $8.11 and the average wage is $97 per day, 8.3 percent of a worker’s daily earnings go to pay for a gallon of fuel.

This year also brought good news for Washington State agriculture. Washington’s apple growers celebrated a record harvest of 150 million boxes this year, compared to 129 million boxes in 2012.

Fortunately, our region didn’t suffer a severe drought like California, a state that lost 428,000 acres of irrigated cropland and an estimated 17,000 part-time jobs because of water shortages. The University of California at Davis reports the statewide economic cost of the 2014 California drought is expected to total around $2.2 billion, nearly as much as the entire value of Washington’s 2012 apple production, our state’s largest agriculture crop.

Sufficient water supplies kept our electric rates for homes, businesses and industries among the lowest in the world, while providing migrating salmon with ample stream flows. The Columbia River salmon runs were the best in 75 years, and on a single day last September, 67,000 salmon swam up the river past Bonneville Dam. That was four times as many as on any day in the 1990s.

Good news this year for Boeing, as well. Reuters reports that Boeing has net orders of 1,274 for the year as of Dec. 2, and has delivered 647 aircrafts – nearly 20 percent more than chief rival Airbus.

The good news for local workers is that Boeing will fabricate the giant wing for the new 777X in Everett and has ramped up production of its popular 737 in Renton to 42 per month. The company announced plans to produce 52 a month by 2018.

Of course, things are not rosy for everyone, but they are much better now than they have been since the beginning of “the great recession” in 2008.

There are still many people looking for work, too many jobs are part-time, and the job opportunities for many college graduates, in particular, are meager. Terrorists, whether they are blood-thirsty militants like the Taliban or ISIS, or internet hackers like the North Koreans who nailed Sony, are still worrisome.

We still have a growing national debt, but we have the ability to stop borrowing and begin repaying it. America is blessed with enormous energy potential, creative people and industrious workers. That is a recipe for success, as long as our political leaders don’t shackle it.

The best Christmas present we can give ourselves is the freedom to do what we do best: innovate.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at