The state of the union was not always "strong." As Binyamin Appelbaum writes, it's only in the modern era that presidents have felt a need to be relentlessly upbeat. But President Gerald Ford told Americans that "the state of the union is not good,” and President John F. Kennedy admitted that "The present state of our economy is disturbing." And then there's Andrew Johnson's dour assessment: "Candor compels me to declare that at this time there is no union as our fathers understood the term, and as they meant it to be understood by us."
But that was a different time. Today, the union is always "strong" or "sound" or "good." Here at Wonkblog, we have a different answer. The state of the union is...graphed.
The American people are not very happy with the direction of the country.
That's from a Washington Post-ABC News survey. Other pollsters show similar results. You have to go all the way back to George W. Bush's first term to find "right track" routinely beating wrong track.
Or with the political system.
That's from the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Job growth hasn't been strong enough to put Americans back to work on large scale.
We've been adding jobs steadily since 2010. But we're not adding enough of them to get back to a normal unemployment rate anytime soon.
Deficits are very, very high...
But they are coming down dangerously quickly.
This graph, from Jed Graham, shows that the deficit is falling faster than at any time in the last 60 years. Perhaps that's to be expected: Due to the financial crisis, they rose faster than at any time in the last 60 years, too. But the economy remains weak, and as Graham writes, "The federal deficit has never fallen as fast as it’s falling now without a coincident recession."
Meanwhile, the government's borrowing costs are really low . . .
This shows the yield on 10 year Treasury bonds since the start of 2009 -- the cost for the U.S. government to borrow money for a decade. It's about as low as it's ever been -- and it's been tipping in and out of negative territory once you take inflation into account. That means the market still thinks America is a very safe bet.
Health-care costs were growing really fast...
But in the last three years, they have grown slower than ever before.
The health-care cost slowdown could have huge implications for the federal budget: The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the past three years of slow health-care cost growth will reduce spending on Medicare and Medicaid by $200 billion in 2020.
There's been a massive increase in border security.
While a 2007 immigration bill ultimately failed, we’ve nevertheless hit nearly all of the targets that it established for increased border security. Exhibit A: The 2007 bill sought to increase the number of Border Patrol agents to 20,000; in FY 2011, we hit 21,444 agents.
And the undocumented worker population has declined.
U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions have stabilized, but meeting our climate goals will require further action:
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are expected to flatline in the coming decades, thanks to fuel-efficient cars and the decline of coal. But we won't be able to make deeper cuts and meet our climate goals unless the EPA or Congress takes further action (shown in the green lines).