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9/11 to today: Ways we have changed

Editor’s note: This is an update to a story PBS NewsHour first published in 2011. Read that story here.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 set in motion events that would change the course of life in the U.S. and around the world.

On that day, 2,996 people died in, and around, the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and on a commercial airplane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In response, President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot Act, ramping up domestic and border security, and expanding surveillance efforts in the name of national security.

The United States and its allies escalated operations in Afghanistan to root out the people responsible for the attacks. In airports, travelers underwent greater scrutiny, and a debate raged throughout the country over how much liberty should be sacrificed in the name of security.

On television, networks looped footage of the collapsing Twin Towers until public outcry demanded greater sensitivity to trauma. People of color, especially Muslim Americans, began to file a rising number of complaints of racially and religiously motivated discrimination, abuse and attacks. That day’s legacy lives on in U.S. foreign and domestic policy, and it has shaped generations of people, how they see the world and themselves.

Below is a short list illustrating how much the world has — and has not — changed since 9/11.

Life in Afghanistan

In the wake of the attacks, the U.S. embarked on the longest military campaign in its history in an effort to break the Taliban’s grip on Afghanistan. The conflict, which has been ongoing since October of 2001, has claimed about 140,000 Afghan lives, 2,400 U.S. military lives, and the lives of 4,000 U.S. contractors, as of November 2018.

The U.N. estimates more than 3,800 Afghan civilians were killed in the first half of 2019. Another U.N. report found U.S. and Afghan forces were responsible for more civilian deaths in Afghanistan in the first three months of 2019 than the Taliban and other militants.

The Taliban has also ramped up attacks in recent weeks, which killed both civilians and U.S. soldiers, as the group got closer to a peace deal with the U.S. Those attacks prompted President Donald Trump to call off a meeting with Taliban leaders and end negotiations.

The U.S. presence in Afghanistan has helped to bring stability to some parts of the country, but Afghanistan remains on the brink of failed status. Yet there has been some improvement in quality of life since the war. The infant mortality rate for children under 5 has steadily decreased from 126 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001 to 67.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017, according to UNICEF. (By comparison, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017.)

Data doesn’t exist on how many children were in formal schools during the Taliban’s reign, but UNICEF reports the figure was likely “almost zero” due to the Taliban’s education bans. Today, about 4.7 million children ages 7 to 17 attend formal school in Afghanistan, the agency said. Another 3.7 million, or 43 percent of the school-age population, do not attend school.

Oil prices

Crude oil prices surged after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Prices have dropped back down, in part thanks to fracking, but are still more than twice as costly as in 2001, when crude oil cost around $22 per barrel. A decade later, that price quadrupled to $95.73 — the highest on record since 1860. As of September 2019, crude is hovering around $57 per barrel.

Anti-Muslim violence in the U.S.

Half of U.S. Muslims say they find it more difficult to live in the U.S. since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to Pew Research Center surveys from 2017. Acts of violence against Muslims broke out immediately following 9/11, and have been prevalent ever since.

Four days after the attacks, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh-American man, was shot and killed in Mesa, Arizona. The gunman wrongly assumed Sodhi was Muslim because he wore a turban. In 2001, the FBI recorded 93 anti-Muslim assaults — a number that was not eclipsed until 2016, when the bureau recorded 127 such incidents.

In one of the most publicized cases, a man murdered three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2015. The victims’ family said the man was motivated by anti-Islamic bigotry. He pleaded guilty in June 2019 and is facing life in prison without parole.

Anti-Muslim violence is not confined to the U.S. In March of this year, a man armed with semi-automatic rifles and shotguns stormed two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 worshippers and injuring 49 others. The gunman had posted a 74-page racist, anti-immigrant screed online prior to the shooting, and said he drew inspiration from far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.

European countries have also seen a rise in support for far-right, anti-immigrant politicians amid an influx in migrants from Africa and Syria, many of whom are Muslim.

Changes to air travel and safety

The days after Sept. 11 saw the rise of enhanced aviation security. To deliver on that demand, the Transportation Security Administration formed in November 2001, eventually receiving its first full-year budget of $4.8 billion in 2003 — an amount that grew to nearly $7.8 billion by fiscal year 2020.

That agency transformed the way Americans flew. Only 5 percent of checked bags were screened before 9/11, whereas all are screened for dangerous materials today. While air travel has seen growth since 9/11 overall, the industry suffered immediately after the attacks. In 2002, one out of six Americans said they reduced air travel following 9/11.

Rise in 9/11-related illnesses

Illnesses linked to the attacks, especially against the World Trade Towers, including respiratory and digestive diseases, cancers, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, have emerged over the nearly two decades since 9/11.

Earlier this year, comedian Jon Stewart drew attention to the plight of 9/11 first responders whose compensation fund was running out of money. At a Congressional hearing Stewart told lawmakers they “should be ashamed” of themselves for not extending the fund. Weeks later, Congress approved funding through 2092.

To better track and treat a growing number of people who report symptoms tied to that day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established the World Trade Center Health Program in 2011. Since then, 97,686 people have enrolled, and of those, 2,448 have died. Most served as responders who pitched in for rescue and recovery efforts, and more than half are between ages 45 and 64. And despite the program’s name, it also screens and helps treat first responders and survivors from the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site.

Changes in the global economy

While the U.S. GDP, measured by purchasing power parity, doubled from $10.6 trillion in 2001 to $20.49 trillion in 2018, China’s and India’s economic growth has exploded during that period. China has risen to No. 1 in the world with a GDP at purchasing power parity of $25.36 trillion in 2018, up from $4.1 trillion in 2001. And India’s GDP purchasing power parity has risen from about $2.2 billion in 2001 to $10.49 trillion in 2018, ranking it No. 3 behind the U.S. As a 28-nation bloc, the European Union, which suffered a collapse in 2008 along with the U.S., now has a GDP purchasing power parity of $22 trillion.

As China’s economy grew, and since Trump entered office, the U.S. has begun using hardball tactics to reassert its dominance as an economic powerhouse. Last year, the Trump administration began imposing tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods in 2018, saying that America needed to fight China’s unfair trade practices. Beijing responded in kind, and over the months, the countries have slugged it out, issuing sanctions tit for tat. The ensuing trade war continues today with more than two-thirds of the consumer goods the U.S. imports from China facing higher taxes.

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