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9/11 to today: Ways we have changed

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. The nation’s response was swift. President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot Act, ramping up domestic and border security and expanding surveillance efforts to detect potential terrorism. The United States and its allies escalated operations in Afghanistan to root out the people responsible for the attacks, and invaded Iraq less than two years later. In airports, travelers underwent greater scrutiny and across the nation a debate raged over how much liberty should be sacrificed in the name of security.

This is an update to a story PBS NewsHour first published in 2011. Read that story here.

On television, networks looped footage of the collapsing Twin Towers until public outcry demanded greater sensitivity to trauma. On the radio, Clear Channel Radio declared 150 songs inappropriate for airplay, including The Bangles’ “Walk Like An Egyptian.” And 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 break the Taliban’s grip on Afghanistan. The conflict has claimed 111,000 Afghan lives and 2,372 U.S. lives. It 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 70.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016, according to UNICEF. (By comparison, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 5.8 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, the agency said.

Oil prices

Crude oil prices surged after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, and still haven’t recovered. In 2001, a barrel of crude oil cost $21.84 per barrel. A decade later, that price quadrupled to $95.73 — the highest on record since 1860. By 2017, the price had tapered to $48.05 per barrel, more than double what it had been before the attacks. Crude stands at $69.91 per barrel as of September 11, 2018.

Anti-Islamic violence in the U.S.

Half of U.S. Muslims say they find it more difficult to live in this country since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to Pew Research Center surveys. 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.

Changes to air travel and safety

The days after September 11, 2001, 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 $7.6 billion by 2018. 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, including respiratory and digestive diseases, cancers, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, have emerged over the nearly two decades since. 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, 87,484 people have enrolled, and of those, 1,744 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 $19.39 trillion in 2017, China’s and India’s economic growth has exploded during that period. China has risen to No. 1 in the world with a GDP of $23.16 trillion in 2017, up from $4.1 trillion in 2001. And India’s GDP has gone from about $2.2 billion in 2001 to $9.46 trillion in 2017, ranking it No. 4 behind the U.S. The European Union is ranked at No. 2, after suffering a collapse (along with the U.S.) during the global economic crisis.

Democracy since 9/11

In 2000, there were 120 electoral democracies worldwide, according to Freedom House, an independent watchdog group that serves as a global monitor for democracy and freedom. But by 2018, that number dipped to 116 nations, the organization reported, amid concerns that democracy is under a mounting threat. Freedom House identified Turkey and Zimbabwe as two nations that had most recently been classified as “not free.”

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