As 2010 comes to a close, the country seems to be finding some solid footing. After more than three years of what seemed like an economic free-fall, there is a sense that we’ve seen the worst. Maybe we’re not moving in the right direction just yet. But we’ve stopped moving in the wrong direction. Consumer sentiment is a key barometer, and shoppers came out in numbers big enough to support a respectable holiday season. Not a boom, mind you, but a better showing than we’ve seen in recent years.
It’s a certainty that nasty headlines will reappear. Congress will be back in session before you know it. The slow recovery will continue to be the slow recovery. But there will be more jobs. State and local governments will continue to face serious budget gaps. But after years of ignoring their problems or trying to borrow their way to the next election, there is wide recognition that it’s time for government to follow the public’s lead and live within its means. Here, during the peaceful transition from 2010 to 2011, are 10 reasons the future just may be looking up a bit.
1. No tax increases. Federal tax rates will not rise for at least the next two years. Even if there is an aggressive deficit-reduction package that includes higher taxes, don’t expect any boosts until after the 2012 election.
2. Inflation will not be a problem. There will be isolated price increases, which pretty much happen all the time. Energy and food are vulnerable sectors. But general price levels aren’t going higher any time soon.
3. Help paying for drugs. Medicare drug plans will offer a break to seniors with expensive prescription drug needs. Next year, plans must cover 50 percent of the price of brand-name drugs and 7 percent of the cost of generic drugs once consumers have entered the so-called "doughnut hole."
4. Free preventive health services. The health reform law added many free preventive tests and exams to Medicare benefits, including an annual wellness physical from your primary doctor. These free procedures do not require a co-payment and are not subject to any payment or limitations because of your policy’s deductibles. Medicare has a list of preventive services that it suggests you discuss with your doctor.
5. The economy has a pulse again. It’s a year-end miracle. The recent tax and stimulus compromise seems to have been blessed with wonderful timing. Even though no new funds have yet flowed into consumer pockets, the prospect of such support has bolstered holiday spending and caused many economists to boost their forecasts for economic growth. Smoke and mirrors, perhaps, but effective smoke and mirrors.
6. Washington gridlock is easing. Was that a purposeful Congress we spied last week? It was a strange and wondrous site, with a flurry of legislative accomplishment not seen in years. Now, of course, we will have to figure out a way to pay for it all.
7. The deficit crisis has been recognized. It appears that there will be a significant push next year to hammer out a long-term deficit reduction plan, perhaps even including major simplification of the tax code. If the plan is credible, our willingness to take some stiff fiscal medicine could help the economy.
8. Longevity. Despite all the woes and uncertainties faced in recent years, we continue to live longer. Longevity and health gains are not evenly distributed, however. People with education and money are the greatest beneficiaries, and have the knowledge and the means to take good care of themselves.
9. Boomers are finally getting old. Hey, I’m a boomer, and even I’ve become exhausted by all the “Here Come the Boomers” stories. Well, the oldest boomers begin turning 65 in 2011 at the rate of about 7,500 a day. Maybe then we can move on to a new demographic chew toy.
10. Betty White. I have loved Betty White ever since she put the moves on Lou Grant in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Approaching her 89th birthday, she continues to dazzle. Thank you for continuing to be active, funny, and relevant.