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AP file photo by Susan Walsh / President Joe Biden last week talked about the U.S. economy as he announced nominating Jerome Powell for a second four-year term as Federal Reserve chair. The White House also ordered 50 million barrels of oil released from strategic reserve to bring down energy costs.

"This Thanksgiving we're all in a very different circumstance: Things are a hell of a lot better," President Joe Biden mused to reporters with The Washington Post in early November. Would anyone "as bad as things are, in terms of prices hurting families now, trade this Thanksgiving for last Thanksgiving?" he asked.

Since that time, the national media has been eaten up with stories about inflation, a fall uptick in COVID-19 cases, Biden's dip in popularity, and other woe-is-us stories.

Yada, yada. That's news as you drive it, folks. You know the crime rule of news: If it bleeds, it leads. And you probably instinctively also understand that you, as readers and web surfers, will feast your eyes and click a keyboard first on stories about your turkey costing more. Maybe later you'll come back to peruse a report about the beautiful new East Lake Park or the new push to move the Tennessee Riverwalk from its current inland Southside location to the river's edge along the old ADM property — now part of the upcoming community called The Bend.

The point here is that Biden is right: Nationally and locally, there should be few of us who would have traded this Thanksgiving for last Thanksgiving.

With no vaccines available last Thanksgiving, most of us huddled in our own homes and, at best, zoomed or Facetimed with our extended families. This year, despite the delta version of COVID, and with more than half of us in Hamilton County vaccinated (some even boosted), we gathered again. Imagine this year facing delta without vaccines.

Then there's the economy.

Sure the apples for our Thanksgiving pie cost more. And yes, there are supply chain troubles thanks to a year of world shutdown, climate change and other issues. But last year, the unemployment rate was higher and job growth was slowing. This year, economic growth, wages and the stock market are all higher. In fact, in some cases and places, they are booming.

In October of 2020, national unemployment was 6.7% after a whopping 14.8% in April 2020 when the virus the former guy downplayed became a clear and present danger. This Oct. 31, unemployment was 4.6%. At the end of this month, it will be lower still.

Thanksgiving in Tennessee and Georgia this year was better still, with the Volunteer State recording only 4.2% unemployment at the end of October and down from 15.8 in April 2020. And the Peach State? Georgia reached it all-time record low unemployment rate in October — 3.1%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Friday, the jobs news got even better. The Labor Department estimated that weekly jobless claims plunged to 199,000 last week — the lowest level in 50 years. And the Commerce Department estimated that retail sales jumped 1.7% in October.

As for the stock market? Friday saw a drop (more on this later), but for the year, just look at your 401k. And at pension reports at the local public hospital.

Erlanger Health System's pension fund — which just over a year ago sat critically underfunded at 36% — is now more than 50.5% funded, thanks in part to a strong year of earnings (a 21.8% uptick) on investments, Erlanger board chairman Jim Coleman told the board recently.

In September 2020, the board voted to immediately suspend lump-sum payments to retirees from the hospital's pension until it was brought to 80% funding. At the time, officials were told that might take seven to 10 years. Now they are hopeful it will be sooner.

Friday did see a sell-off of travel, oil and other fossil fuel stocks after the discovery of a coronavirus variant in South Africa that is raising new worries. Investors meanwhile were scooping up stocks that did well during last year's relative lockdown. On the up side, the stocks shift could bode well for Chattanooga's tech and battery businesses and Tennessee's growing electric car and battery initiatives.

Wayne Wicker, chief investment officer at MissionSquare Retirement, told The Washington Post that Friday's investor reaction was "overblown" because the medical community has not had time to present firm conclusions about the new variant. In the meantime, he said, many investors are booking solid market gains from the past year and trying to hedge their risk.

"People will sell first and ask questions later ... that's natural when you're up 27 percent on the year," he said.

Are there still residual problems in comparing 2020 with 2021? You bet. Nationally, and particularly in the South, there isn't enough child care to allow all people with young children to return to work.

And there's that pesky inflation — up 5.4%, nearly hitting a 30-year-high, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But not everyone is hit with that full 5.4% drag. If you've not been planning on buying a used car, or striking out on a long road trip, or buying a new house immediately, you're less likely to be terribly affected before the bulk of America's newly funded infrastructure work begins, thanks to the $1 trillion bipartisan bill Biden signed into law on Nov. 15.

Things will be even better when the Build Back Better plan becomes a reality.

Yes, we're thankful. And we're hopeful.

This has been a much, much better Thanksgiving.

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