The Heritage Foundation for years has published a useful Index of Economic Freedom, and this morning it introduced another helpful compendium, the 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity.
In it we can see that the violent crime rate dropped by 22 percent from 2002 to 2012 and the marriage rate dropped by 23 percent. Only about half of American adults are currently married, and about half of American children will spend some time outside an intact, married home. America’s total fertility rate declined by 0.14 births per woman between 2002 and 2012, and since 1972 has reached the replacement rate of 2.1 only twice. The U.S. abortion rate also dropped, and the 2011 rate was the lowest since 1973.
Lots of dark clouds: From 2004 to 2014 the federal government’s take of the gross domestic product increased by 1.7 percent. The work participation rate for cash welfare recipients declined by 5 percent from 2000 to 2010 and has not risen above 30 percent since 2006. The percentage of 17-year-olds proficient in reading has remained flat despite massive spending increases for public education. A silver lining: Vouchers, tuition tax credits, and education savings accounts are helping more than 300,000 children attend private schools.
The index includes a lot more that’s not really surprising, but there’s one man-bites-dog story: Barna pollsters and others endlessly talk about a dramatic decline of Christian faith in America, but Baylor University’s Byron Johnson has crunched the numbers and found that “across 40 years there have been only small variations in church attendance.” Yes, younger people are more likely to sleep in on Sunday mornings, but, “Once they marry, and especially once they have children, their attendance rates recover.” So the real question is whether a continued decline in marriage will torpedo church attendance among persons in their 30s.
As Johnson concludes, “the fact that the number of American atheists has remained steady at 4 percent since 1944, and that church membership has reached an all-time high, remind us that indicators are helpful in seeing an accurate picture of what is really happening in our society.” That’s true about the entire Heritage document.
I’ll conclude with one sobering statistic: From 2003 to 2013, food stamp participation grew by more than 26 million persons—that’s an increase of more than 100 percent.