The 20th century was a period of extraordinary performance in the United States. Americans were living longer and more fruitful lives. They were better-educated than past generations and residents of other countries. The United States was out-innovating, out-educating, out-connecting, and out-producing the rest of the world, assisted by ground-breaking research and federal funding. Life expectancy was higher than it had ever been, more than 70 percent of teenagers were enrolled in secondary education, and in 1986 the United States comprised 25.2 percent of the world’s economy. The technical advances of the period impacted all aspects of daily life – the construction of the Interstate Highway System physically connected the country in a way never before possible, while the personal computer connected people and industry in ways previously unimagined. In the 1960s, the investments in science paid off: the United States was transformed into the world leader of the space race and the information technology industry.
50 years later, these innovations are still major parts of American lives. The 21st Century has seen huge surges in information infrastructure. As the capacity and usage of the Internet began to grow in the 1990s, the need for better interfaces for sifting through all the information led to early search engines like Yahoo! and later Google, Inc. -- both supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) grants. From there, Internet use, and later high-speed broadband Internet use surged. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, broadband Internet use by households grew from just four percent in 2000 to 68 percent in 2010.
The turn of the century also witnessed incredible advances in medicine and science. In 2003, the Human Genome Project consortium released the sequence of the human genome, and the knowledge this consortium provides will revolutionize diagnoses, treatment, and hopefully even prevention in the of number of diseases. Just a few years later, in 2006, a vaccine was approved to prevent cervical cancer, a disease that claims the lives of nearly 4,000 women each year in the United States.
From 1963 to 2008, real income per person increased in every state, with 34 states (plus the District of Columbia) seeing growth of more than 150 percent. Productivity in America is also at an all-time high. If the United States is to continue to “out compete,” it is imperative that the funding of innovative research and development continue as well. To extend this timeline of historical exceptionalism, our current workforce, as well as future generations, needs the support and funding of public institutions and the federal government.