Food stamp use is at an all-time high. The Fed is undertaking unprecedented moves in shaking up a stubbornly slow economy. The median family income is declining. Europe is in perpetual crisis. College is prohibitively expensive for many prospective students.
But even when faced with all of this weighty material, sometimes the country fixated on decidedly less important economic issues this year. You know...like bacon shortages.
And so, fully recognizing the irony in doing so, U.S. News brings up this year's business and economics stories that maybe didn't need all the attention they received.
It's not unreasonable to care about gas prices. In a widely spread-out country, a large portion of which is little served by public transit, there's a natural interest in the cost of getting around. And figures about national gasoline price averages are useful in the sense that they provide a snapshot of supply and demand.
It's in the political realm where the talk of gas prices gets blown out of proportion, with candidates explaining exactly how Washington can raise and lower gas prices.
Yet many of the most distinguished economic minds in the country say that's not true. When asked this year whether the rise in gas prices has been predominately due to market forces (as opposed to government action), economists surveyed by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Economics overwhelmingly agreed.
Perhaps all politics are local, but the market for oil remains global, as it is for any commodity, making it very hard for any one person, even the president, to sway prices meaningfully.
As with gas prices, it makes sense that the nation paid attention to it: everyone is on Facebook (even people who don't exist), so an initial stock offering of such a ubiquitous product seemed like the investing event of the year.
And perhaps it deserved that label, but then the company pushed its price targets up and up to $38 per share, with an ultimate valuation of $104 billion, the largest IPO to date, creating yet more frenzy.
After that came the much-publicized fall, to a low of $17.55 in September, leading to yet more hysteria, as people wondered along the way if it was the end of Facebook.
It was not, and the price has recovered a bit, to around $27 per share, but a simple lesson was learned: the historically huge IPO should have been less...well...huge.
"The Facebook IPO to me was just an example of a tech company pricing their stock too high when they went public," says Arun Sundararajan, a professor at NYU's Stern School of Business. "It doesn't necessarily mean that the company is doomed for failure or the company doesn't have a good business model. It just means the people who are in charge for finance priced the stock too high."
The Great 2013 Bacon Shortage
Somewhere during the blazing hot summer, those of us who depend on the nation's heartland more for high fructose corn syrup than, say, our livelihoods, decided that the historic drought meant it was time to flap our hands over a potential lack of bacon for putting into sandwiches and dipping in chocolate and keeping local hipsters well-fed.
So while the drought killed livestock in Missouri and drove up food prices the world over, another storm was brewing.
"You guys, look!" said committed bacon lovers. "A trade group representing pig farmers and therefore with no interest in whipping up a media frenzy whatsoever called it 'unavoidable' and had a press release and everything!"
"Quiet, you!" responded the bacon lovers, who went on to drown their sorrows in Bakon Vodka until the news cycle died down and there were other stories to worry about. Probably zombies or something.
Jobs Numbers Will Decide the Election
Guilty as charged on this. In the days before the election, every single economic indicator was fraught with meaning for what it might portend for Mitt Romney and President Obama. For example, a certain reporter picked apart exactly which metropolitan areas had posted the biggest jobless rate declines—and the biggest increases—since President Obama took office.
As it turns out, voters didn't get the memo to check unemployment charts before heading to the polling place. According to one analysis, President Obama actually did better where the jobs situation was worst. Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia, found that a larger improvement in the labor market during the last four years was in fact correlated to a larger share of votes for Romney.
It's counter-intuitive but worth setting an Outlook reminder for November 2016 in order to remember: the jobs report won't decide the election.
Also, the Jobs Numbers Are Rigged
The September jobs report was a surprise, no doubt, showing that the economy added a measly 114,000 jobs but that the unemployment rate also ticked down by a whopping 0.3 percentage points.
It raised eyebrows and gave us all a lesson in the difference between the establishment survey and the household survey. It also showed us that the jobs report is the subject of far more skepticism and politicization than we may have thought.
"Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers," wrote Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, in a now-infamous tweet.
If the average Twitter user had said it, the statement might have raised an eyebrow. But this being a former business titan, the nation sat up and took notice—could the Labor Department be cooking the books?
Probably not. According to a Labor Department spokesman, department economists and statisticians are not political appointees and, don't report to political appointees. Even Welch himself, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece defending his tweet, stuck to discussing the (very real) statistical uncertainty in the numbers and the complicated way that the Labor Department measures the jobless rate, largely leaving aside the accusation of White House impropriety.
"The good news is that the current debate has resulted in people giving the whole issue of unemployment data more thought," he wrote. One thing for certain came out of this kerfuffle: there is very real evidence that the unemployment rate can decline amid a worsening job market. There is not evidence that the president is putting his thumb on the scales.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at email@example.com.