State of the Nation

*Any statements in this issue of the Watch which are not sourced are mine and identified by “WW”.

34% of registered voters say the country is headed in the right direction. 53% of registered voters say the country is on the wrong track.

Right track Wrong track
Democrats 61% 24%
Republicans 13% 73%
Independents 28% 59%

[Econ/Yougov 2/22/21]

The U.S. economy shrank by 3.5% in 2020. This is the worst year of economic growth since 1946. It is the first time the economy has contracted since 2009. [WP 1/28/21]

Life expectancy in the United States fell by an entire year in the first half of 2020. Based on data from the CDC, this level of decline has not been seen since World War II. In the first half of the year the expected life span for Americans overall was 77.8 years, down from 78.8 in 2019.

The life expectancy of men was 75.1 years and of women, 80.5 years. For Black people life expectancy dropped from 74.7 to 72. For Hispanics it dropped 1.9 years from 81.8 to 79.9 years. It dropped 0.8 years for white people to 78 years.

Be mindful of the fact that these changes reflect changes for the first 6 months of 2020. [, AP 2/18/21]

36% of Black Americans and 46% of whites say relations between whites and Blacks are at least somewhat good. Overall, a majority of Americans, by a 54% to 44% margin, said relations between Blacks and whites were bad. [NPR 1/22/21]

Roughly 81,000 Americans died from drug overdoses between June 2019 and June 2020 – a 21% jump over the same period the year before. [CDC 12/17/20]

More than 2 million firearms were bought in January according to federal gun background-check data. That is the third-highest one-month total on record. Sales surged after the assault on the U.S. Capitol early in the month.

Nearly 23 million firearms were bought in 2020, a 64% jump from the previous year. Sales spike after mass shootings such as Sandy Hook or events like the killing of George Floyd.

Reports from first time buyers are that they no longer trust police departments to protect them.

The following are the ten states with the largest increase in estimated firearm sales comparing January 2020 with January 2021: Michigan 306%, New Jersey 248%, D.C. 202%, Utah 150%, Idaho 135%, Maryland 134%, Montana 117%, Georgia 117%, Alaska 107%, Minnesota 104%. [WP 2/3/21]

20% of Americans trust the federal government to do what is right just about always/most of the time.

84% of Americans say, “politicians have too much power & influence in today’s economy.”

56% of Americans believe “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”

[Bruce Mehlman, Mehlman Castagnetti, Rosen & Thomas – Cross Roads – 2/1/21]

The following is from a February 10th column by David Winston of the Winston Group entitled, “Anger has been the drug of choice for our political system for too long.”

“Media outlets today, with few exceptions, want their audiences angry – the angrier the better – and focuses on grievances, even to the point of manufacturing a grievance if you don’t have one. They think it’s good for business, seemingly missing the role they’re playing in stoking division and distrust…”

“We live in a political system that constantly strokes anger, taking it up a notch year after year and discouraging a focus on ideas and legislating. The players on all sides need to step back and examine their own conduct in a system that rewards the worst in politics as it divides us by class, geography, race, religion and education.”

Eleven members of the U.S. Congress identify as LGBTQ; two are members of the U.S. Senate and nine are members of the U.S. House. [WW]

An estimated 5.6% of Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer – LBGTQ. That is up from 3.5% in 2012 and 4.5% in 2017, the last year Gallup polled on this issue. This is a growth of 60% since 2012.

Of the 5.6 % who identify as LBGTQ – 54.6% identify as bisexual, 24.5% as gay, 11.7% as lesbians, 11.3% as transgender, and 3% use another term to describe their identify. (Some respondents chose more than one category.)

Women are 30% more likely than men to identify as LGBTQ.

16% of those age 18-23 consider themselves something other than heterosexual. This is true of only 2% of Americans 56 and older.

50.5% of LGBTQ adults identified as single and never married.

The results of this latest poll were based on more than 15,000 interviews conducted with adults 18 and older during 2020 and obviously does not include those who are not public about their orientation.

According to Gallup editor Jeffrey Jones, surveying sexual orientation and gender identity is inherently imprecise, given shifting definitions various levels of outness and willingness to talk about these issues. [Gallup Report – 2/24/21]

Vernon E. Jordan Jr.

Vernon E. Jordan Jr. was special. He was kind, generous, thoughtful, smart, attentive, wise, influential, charming, affable, a quintessential insider, and politically astute.

When speaking with you he always gave you his full attention, his eyes never left your eyes.

We never did business together that I recall but there were a number of occasions on which I sought his advice. It always hit the spot.

In recent years I most often saw Vernon on Saturday mornings in the Season’s restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel.

When Vernon entered the room, he was greeted by every member of the wait staff he encountered. He always greeted a variety of guests as he headed to “his” table in a far corner of the restaurant.

When a woman he knew rose to greet him as he came in, he greeted her warmly. When Vernon shook your hand, it was firm but gentle.

At least three times in the last several years, Debbie and I and Jim and Heather Johnson attended Sunday services at the Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University. Every one of the 1500 seats in the Chapel was filled.

Vernon delivered the sermons. I have heard many sermons at synagogues and churches over the years but nothing like we heard on those days. Every word was carefully chosen and fully enunciated.

The following is a quote from the sermon that Vernon gave at the Chapel in 2019.

“We live in an age of immediacy – immediate deliveries, immediate communication. But the work of justice takes time. There will be moments of doubt and difficulty. And that means you need to find your rock, your inspiration…And just as the Lord will carry us, we must be prepared to carry one another, and lift up one another and our community.”

Vernon will be missed. I will miss him.


The official BLS seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February 2021 is 6.2%. That unemployment rate is lower than the 6.9% in October, and the 6.7% in November and December, and greater than the 3.5% unemployment rate of a year ago. (Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said that the real unemployment rate in January 2021 – 6.3% as reported by the Labor Department – was in fact closer to 10%.) [WP 2/11/21]

If one considers the total number of unemployed + those marginally attached to the labor force + those working part-time who want full-time work, the unemployment rate is 11.1%, down from 12.1% in October, and 12.0% in November, and up from 7.0% a year ago.

10 million people were unemployed in February and 379,000 jobs were created in that month. These jobs are primarily in restaurants and bars.

The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is 61.4%, the same as January 2021. [BLS 2/20]

The Demographics of Unemployment for December 2020

Unemployment by Gender (20 years and older)

  • Women –5.2% (up from last month)
  • Men –5.7% (down from last month)

Unemployment by Race

  • White – 5.6% (down from last month)
  • Black – 9.9% (up from last month)
  • Hispanic – 8.5% (down from last month)
  • Asian –5.1% (down from last month)

Unemployment by Education (25 years & over)

  • Less than high school –10.1% (up from last month)
  • High School –7.2% (up from last month)
  • Some college –5.9% (down from last month)
  • Bachelor’s Degree or higher – 3.8% (down from last month)

In December, 32 states had unemployment rates below the national average of 6.7%. 17 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had unemployment rates that were above the national average. The unemployment rate in one state is even with the national average.

The state with the highest unemployment rate in December is Hawaii at 10.3%.

In 2019 the average large company CEO made 320 times the compensation of a typical worker. [Economic Policy Institute 8/18/20]

275,000 people left the workforce in January. Overall, 24 million women have exited the workforce since last February, compared with 1.8 million men. [NBC news 2/7/21]

Among employees who saw at least some benefit from remote work, 34% are men but only 9% of women said they were promoted. [NYT 2/7/21]