There's little question that the U.S. economy is now growing, our job market is getting better, and consumers are finally becoming more confident. Still, everyone wants to know if things are getting better fast enough. Despite the fact that the stock market has had three of its best years on record, there are still doubts about the strength of our recovery.
In this global economy, sometimes it's important to put the U.S. economy into perspective. We aren't going to grow the fastest, our political system may be a nightmare, but at the end of the day, there are few places performing better than right here at home.
At least we aren't Europe
If you think the U.S. is in tough shape, then look across the Atlantic to Europe. National Bank of Greece (NYS: NBG) has been crushed over the past year because of the weak economy, and now losses taken on Greek debt. Other companies with major exposure to Europe's weakest economies have seen similar declines.
Unemployment has gotten worse over the last year in Europe instead of getting better. The euro area's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 10.7% in January 2012, up from 10% in January 2011. The bad employment data are widespread, too, with 15 of 27 member states seeing a rise in unemployment over the past year.
GDP growth has also lagged behind the U.S. by a wide margin as well. Over the last eight quarters, the U.S. has averaged 2.4% growth, while the EU has posted only 0.3% average growth. So if you don't like how things are going in the U.S., at least we aren't Europe.
Is China really better?
Some would argue that the Chinese economy is much better than the U.S. economy, and if you only consider growth, they would be right. China's economy grew 8.9% in the fourth quarter, nearly triple the growth in the U.S. But if we consider things like pay, working conditions, and quality of life, the numbers don't look quite as good.
The average worker in China earns about $14,000 a year, close to the poverty level for a single person in the U.S.
China may be growing faster than the U.S., but would you rather be an average worker there, or an average worker here?
The Middle East, Africa, and Russia don't look much better
The Middle East and Africa are a mess, with war or the threat of war hanging over much of the region. Even Russia's GDP growth hasn't topped 2.2% for three and a half years.
Around the world, I am hard-pressed to find many economies that are as strong, diverse, or are growing the way the U.S. economy is. You could point to Brazil, Canada, and maybe Australia as countries that could provide similar growth and standards of living as the U.S., but when you look over the global landscape, the U.S. actually looks very strong.
Why I still have hope
For decades, we've had two problems that have hurt our economy: a growing dependence on foreign oil, and a growing appetite for imports. But the trends are changing, and the U.S. is becoming a bigger player in the energy and export markets.
Net imports are down 25.7% since their peak in 2007, and net oil imports have fallen from 60.3% of consumption in 2005 to 45.1%. The boom in oil production from Kodiak Oil & Gas (NYS: KOG) and other domestic drills has increased jobs, reduced imports, and provided financial benefits for everyone from investors to land owners.
Natural gas is also becoming so inexpensive and readily available that Clean Energy Fuels (NAS: CLNE) is building a vehicle fueling infrastructure, while Cheniere Energy (ASE: LNG) is trying to build an export facility for liquefied natural gas. Oil and natural gas may only be one piece of the economy, but their increased production is one of the main reasons I think the U.S. still rocks.
The market says we still rock
Despite unrest in the Middle East, rising oil prices, political gridlock, and a faltering Europe, the U.S. economy continues to chug along. We've done so well that the Nasdaq is trading at a 12-year high.
Based on the information I've shown above, I have to agree with Warren Buffett that it's still a great time to invest in America. Despite our problems, we seem to rise above them better than any other country in the world. To capitalize on this strength, our analysts have found 9 great homegrown stocks that all have rock solid dividends. Check out what they are in our free report here.
At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorTravis Hoiumdoes not have a position in any company mentioned. You can follow Travis on Twitter at@FlushDrawFool, check out hispersonal stock holdingsor follow his CAPS picks atTMFFlushDraw.Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.
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