Since 2001, the tax relief we delivered has left $880 billion in the hands of American workers, and small businesses, and families like yours, and you used that money to help produce more than four years of uninterrupted economic growth. Last year, our economy grew at a healthy 3.5 percent, faster than any other major industrialized nation.
One politician in Washington said in 2003 that our tax cuts were "ruining our economy and costing us jobs." The truth is that since August 2003, America has added almost 5 million new jobs. Our unemployment rate is now 4.8 percent -- lower than the average of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Real after-tax income is up 8 percent per person since the beginning of 2001. More Americans now own their own homes than at any time in our history, and minority homeownership is at record levels. Consumer confidence is at its highest level in nearly four years. Productivity has grown strongly over the past five years, and our small business sector is thriving.
The evidence is overwhelming: The opponents of tax cuts were wrong. Tax relief has helped to create jobs and opportunities for American families, and it's helped our economy grow. By maintaining our pro-growth economic policies and practicing spending restraint in Washington, we can keep our economy growing and stay on track to meet our goal of cutting the budget deficit in half by 2009.
The problem is that the tax relief we passed is set to expire over the next few years. Some Democrats in Washington are insisting that we let that happen -- or even repeal the tax cuts now. In either case, that would weaken our economy and would leave American families with a big tax hike that they do not expect and will not welcome. Because America needs more than a temporary economic expansion, we need more than temporary tax relief. To keep our economy growing, to keep our businesses investing, and to keep creating jobs, we need to ensure that you keep more of what you earn -- so Congress needs to make the tax relief permanent.
Making tax relief permanent includes extending the tax cuts on dividends and capital gains. These tax cuts have been vital to our economic growth. By lowering the cost of capital, this tax relief has given businesses an incentive to invest and expand, and that has helped create jobs and opportunity. I urge the Congress to extend these pro-growth tax cuts, so our businesses can plan with confidence and keep creating jobs for American workers.
The debate in Congress over taxes ultimately comes down to this: Who knows best how to use your money -- the politicians in Washington or you? I believe the money we spend in Washington is your money, not the government's money. I trust you to make the best decisions about what to do with your hard-earned dollars, because when you do, your family is better off, our economy grows, and prosperity and opportunity spread throughout our great land.
Thank you for listening.