The Best And Worst Ways Life In The US Has Changed In The Past 20 Years

Some of the best changes to occur in the past 20 years in the US include advances in areas of technology and medicine, while some of the worst changes include increasing political polarization and a rise in mental health issues.

By Wendy Hernandez | Published

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The expression “time flies” may sound cliché, but it endures because it captures a fundamental truth. Indeed, it is hard to believe that two decades have flown by since the tumultuous year of 2003. Back then, the U.S. was still reeling from the devastating 9/11 attacks and had just launched a new military campaign in Iraq. The year was also marked by other notable events, such as the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Columbia and the retirement of the Concorde. Looking back from today’s vantage point, it’s clear that life in the U.S. has changed in both positive and negative ways.

The Best Ways Life in the US Has Changed

Technological Advancements 

In a 2019 article, Insider highlighted life in 1999, a time when cell phones were not as ubiquitous as today, and social media was not yet a term ensconced in our everyday vernacular. The same held true for 2003, though only four short years later, the first iPhone would make its debut on June 29, 2007. This momentous event would usher in many more technological advancements and transform information, communication, and entertainment for years to come. 

Fast forward to today, when Americans, with just a few clicks, are able to connect with friends and family around the world, learn about current events, and enjoy a vast array of movies, TV shows, and music, all on demand. The convenience and accessibility of these technologies have made life in the U.S. easier and more enjoyable for most everyone. 

As a result of the rise of high-speed internet, Americans now have more employment and educational opportunities. Remote employment and virtual learning environments have exploded in popularity. According to US Census Bureau data, the number of people working from home has increased by 173 percent in the last two decades. In recent years, virtual learning has grown dramatically in the educational sector. Between 2000 and 2018, online courses enrolled 151 percent more students.

However, one of the most impactful technological developments in the last 20 years has been the rise of AI (artificial intelligence). By automating processes, optimizing procedures, and making educated judgments, AI has the potential to significantly increase production and efficiency.

Medical Progress

In the last twenty years, there have been a number of important changes in medical research and treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer deaths have decreased by 31 percentage points since 1991. Furthermore, the development of new treatments and therapies has resulted in better results for individuals suffering from chronic diseases such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes.

Crime and Safety

Despite recent increases in violent crime in some cities, general crime rates in the United States have been declining for the previous two decades. The FBI reports that overall crime in the United States has decreased by 25 percent since 2001. In addition, the number of workplace fatalities has decreased as safety regulations, and enforcement have improved.

Environmental Awareness

While much work has to be done, there has been an increase in awareness and concern about environmental challenges during the last two decades. This has led to the use of cleaner sources of energy, the manufacturing and sales of electric vehicles, more people taking public transportation, and less pollution and trash.

Social Advancement

There has been progress in areas such as LGBTQ+ rights and racial justice. For example, the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 was a significant step forward for LGBTQ+ rights. Additionally, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought more attention to police violence and racism in institutions.

The Worst Ways Life in the US Has Changed

COVID-19 Pandemic

The  COVID-19 pandemic , which started in early 2020, adversely affected many facets of life in the United States, including public health, the economy, education, and interpersonal relationships. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the pandemic has caused more than 76 million cases and 956,000 deaths in the US. The pandemic also contributed to widespread economic insecurity, resulting in job losses and an increase in the unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Furthermore, the switch to online learning and the closing of schools negatively impacted the education system, causing students to miss out on learning opportunities and the achievement gap to grow. The pandemic also had social repercussions, as restrictions on social interaction and travel increased isolation, loneliness, and mental health problems.

Mental Health Issues

Recent studies show that there has been a significant rise in mental illness in the past 20 years, primarily affecting the younger generations. Jean Twenge, PhD, author of the book “iGen” and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, asserted in an APA article that “cultural trends in the last ten years may have had a larger effect on mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes among younger generations than among older generations.” Twenge contends that electronic communication and social media are to blame for this trend. 

Political Polarization

Throughout the last two decades, the political landscape in the United States has gotten more polarized, with Republicans and Democrats growing more ideologically different from one another. According to the Pew Research Center, the political divide has deepened as both sides hold increasingly negative views of their opponents and their fellow party members. More individuals in each party see the other side as closed-minded, dishonest, immoral, and unintelligent when compared to other Americans.

Decreased Trust in Government and Media

For the past 20 years, government and media trust has declined. In September 2021, Gallup discovered that only 33 percent of Americans trust the media, down from 55 percent in 1999. In September 2021, the Pew Research Center discovered that only 20 percent of Americans trust the government to always or mostly do the right thing, down from 77 percent in 1964.

Political divisiveness and party mistrust have also undermined government trust. According to the Pew Research Center, 29 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they trust the government just about always or most of the time, compared with 9 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners.