This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Age of Humans

As an antidote to all of the Republican presidential candidates who have been pretending that global climate change doesn't exist, The Economist this week has a lengthy story on the "Anthropocene"--the modern era in which humans shape the planet, rather than the other way around. Today's New York Times puts the dot on that "i" with a story about the detection from space of human-induced groundwater depletion:
Scientists have been using small variations in the Earth’s gravity to identify trouble spots around the globe where people are making unsustainable demands on groundwater, one of the planet’s main sources of fresh water.
They found problems in places as disparate as North Africa, northern India, northeastern China and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley in California, heartland of that state’s $30 billion agricultural industry.
Jay S. Famiglietti, director of the University of California’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling here, said the center’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, known as Grace, relies on the interplay of two nine-year-old twin satellites that monitor each other while orbiting the Earth, thereby producing some of the most precise data ever on the planet’s gravitational variations. The results are redefining the field of hydrology, which itself has grown more critical as climate change and population growth draw down the world’s fresh water supplies.
However, as the article notes, lawmakers don't really want to know about this, because the solutions are expensive and politically sensitive. I'm sure you know the old adage that the two things that are hardest to get out of water are salt and politics...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

From Brain Drain to Brain Gain

It has been a seemingly universal law of migration that outmigration is a bad thing for the sending community, because the migrants tend to be younger and among the more ambitious. When they leave, things are worse than they were before--the brain drain is a bad thing. In a new book (Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define our Future, by Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron, and Meera Balarajan), which is reviewed and extensively commented on in this week's Economist, the authors show that the world is different than it used to be--the brain drain has become a brain gain. It is not that migrants are any different than they used to be; rather the world is a very different place than it used to be. There are two very important pieces to the puzzle--the ease with which migrants can stay in touch with and potentially return to their country of origin, and the ease with which remittances can be sent back home. The transfer back home of new skills and knowledge, along with the money, are important components of lifting the sending countries out of poverty.
As the Economist's own analysis suggests:
The possibility of emigration may even have beneficial effects on those who choose to stay, by giving people in poor countries an incentive to invest in education. A study of Cape Verdeans finds that an increase of ten percentage points in young people’s perceived probability of emigrating raises the probability of their completing secondary school by around eight points. Another study looks at Fiji. A series of coups beginning in 1987 was seen by Fijians of Indian origin as permanently harming their prospects in the country by limiting their share of government jobs and political power. This set off a wave of emigration. Yet young Indians in Fiji became more likely to go to university even as the outlook at home dimmed, in part because Australia, Canada and New Zealand, three of the top destinations for Fijians, put more emphasis on attracting skilled migrants. Since some of those who got more education ended up staying, the skill levels of the resident Fijian population soared.
Thus, the argument is made that migration is good for the migrants, good for the receiving countries, and surprisingly good for the sending countries. Yet, most people in the richer countries are still generally opposed to immigration. Why?
Immigration is unpopular in rich countries because people overestimate its costs and underestimate its benefits. An influx of unskilled migrants may drag down the wages of unskilled natives, but this effect is “very small at most, and may be irrelevant”, according to a number of different studies. Migrants often create employment for natives. Indian entrepreneurs in San Francisco create new technology firms. Mexican nannies hold babies while American mothers go out to work. Migrants come when their services are wanted and stay away when they are not. Through the migrant grapevine, they know that jobs are drying up several months before government statisticians notice.
Since the future holds the promise of a demographic fit between aging richer countries and still youthful developing nations, migration is likely to be a fact of life, and a constant bone of contention, for the rest of this century. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Women Drivers (or Not) in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is working very hard, according to the New York Times, to keep Arab monarchies in power and to tamp down revolution wherever it possibly can. The goal seems to be to maintain the power and credibility of its fundamentalist form of Islam, Wahhabi, which allows an authoritarian leader such as a monarch, whereas the more mainstream form of Sunni Islam practiced in most of the rest of the world does not condone that form of government. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is trying to protect the region from the influence of Shia Islam as practiced in Iran, especially, but also in Iraq, as well (Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan are the only Shia-majority countries in the world).
From a purely demographic perspective, Saudi Arabia has the kind of young population that could spark a revolution, if pushed by circumstances. Nearly 1 in 2 Saudis is under the age of 25, although that percentage is declining as fertility slowly comes down in the kingdom. Still, its population of 27 million is twice what is was only 25 years ago, and UN projections suggest that the population will very nearly double again by the middle of this century. Thus far, one of the more noticeable signs of discontent has come from a woman pushing for the ability of women to drive cars in Saudi Arabia.
It's time to just let women drive: "There need not be a stand-off or confrontation on this issue if it is handled correctly," says The Saudi Gazette in an editorial. All the government has to do is let women drive. "Society will not break down if women are mobile." The ban is unofficial, anyway — there is no law saying women can't drive. So all it will take to settle this is educating men that the women in their lives need more freedom if they — and Saudi society — are to reach their full potential.
The gender divide may be Saudi Arabia's genuine weak point--the true clash of civilizations.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Politics of Global Climate Change

The Associated Press reported this week that Republican candidates for President in the United States are rapidly distancing themselves from any support they may have shown in the past for the idea that the surface of the earth is warming and that we humans are the reason that is happening.

One thing that Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have in common: These GOP presidential contenders all are running away from their past positions on global warming, driven by their party's loud doubters who question the science and disdain government solutions.
All four have stepped back from previous stances on the issue, either apologizing outright or softening what they said earlier. And those who haven't fully recanted are under pressure to do so.
It's an indicator of a shift on the issue among conservative Republicans, who have an outsized influence in the party's presidential primary elections. Over the last few years, Gallup polling has shown a decline in the share of Americans saying that global warming's effects have already begun — from a high of 61 percent in 2008 to 49 percent in March. The change is driven almost entirely by conservatives.
It's a marked turnaround for a party that just three years ago gave its presidential nomination to Sen. John McCain, who long has supported cap and trade to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and who campaigned on the issue even though it put him on the same side as his opponent, Barack Obama.
In fact, the whole idea of a market to trade pollution credits came from the Republican Party. It emerged in the late 1980s under the administration of President George H.W. Bush as a free-market solution to the power plant pollution that was causing acid rain. It passed Congress nearly unanimously in 1990 as a way to control emissions of sulfur dioxide.
The exponential growth of humans over the past two centuries has gone hand in hand with an exponential use in carbon-based energy resources and an exponential increase in the number of pollutants thrown into the atmosphere. To think that this is having no effect on the environment is silly, of course, but many people mainly just don't want to have to pay for the mess we have made. This is not helped by the fact that people point to cold winters and say that this must prove that there is no such thing as "global warming." NASA has suggested that it prefers "global climate change" to global warming and that is probably good advice to follow. It won't change the minds of people who just don't want to own up to the damage we humans are doing to the environment, but it might help steer the conversation to what is really happening.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

US Census Data Confirm That Married Couples Are Not in the Majority

The 2010 Census data released today confirm the findings from the ACS (see Figure 10.2 in my 11th edition) that married couple households are no longer the majority type of household in the US. The New York Times reports the story with help from William Frey at the Brookings Institution:

Married couples represented just 48 percent of American households in 2010, according to data being made public Thursday and analyzed by the Brookings Institution. This was slightly less than in 2000, but far below the 78 percent of households occupied by married couples in 1950.
What is more, just a fifth of households were traditional families — married couples with children — down from about a quarter a decade ago, and from 43 percent in 1950, as the iconic image of the American family continues to break apart.
The biggest change for the decade was the jump in households headed by women without husbands — up by 18 percent in the decade. The next largest rise was in households whose occupants were not a family — up by about 16 percent, Mr. Frey said.
Households are changing in other ways. Americans are living longer than ever, so households now include a growing number of elderly singles, said Andrew J. Cherlin, a demographer at Johns Hopkins University. Other factors have been the large influx of immigrants, who tend to be single people in their 20s and 30s, and the growing number of young people who live together without being married.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Migration Takes a Hit in the Recession

The Census Bureau just released data from the Current Population Report which every March asks Americans about their migration during the previous year. As reported by the New York Times, the data show that:
About 10.5 million Americans changed counties from 2009 to 2010, or about 3.5 percent of the population, the lowest percentage since 1947, when the government first started tracking the numbers.
It was fewer than the 11 million who moved the previous year, and down by a third from the 15.8 million who moved from 2004 to 2005, when the economy was doing well.
If a local economy tanks, but other places are doing better, then people may migrate to improve their situation. In this deep global recession, however, the options are fewer and farther between. That helps to explain why migration to the United States is also down, not just migration within the US.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Do Demographics Explain the Latest Drop in Crime Rates?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has just issued its latest crime report and the New York Times reports that the data reveal a drop in crime in the US:
The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession.
All of the experts interviewed for the story were baffled by this trend, and that immediately called to my mind the highly controversial theory put forth by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in their very popular book Freakonomics. In Chapter 4 of that book they argue that:
In the early 1990s, just as the first cohort of children born after Roe v. Wade was hitting its late teen years—the years during which young men enter their criminal prime—the rate of crime began to fall. What this cohort was missing, of course, were the children who stood the greatest chance of becoming criminals. And the crime rate continued to fall as an entire generation came of age minus the children whose mothers had not wanted to bring a child into the world. Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime.
The interesting thing about that theory is, of course, that it fits with the demographic idea that changing cohort size and characteristics make a difference in society. If we look back approximately twenty years ago from now, what demographic factors can we find that might help us explain a drop in crime? One possibility is the steep decline in teenage birth rates among all groups in American society. Birth rates among 15-17 year old girls were 45% lower in 2008 than in 1991 and 26% lower among 18-19 year olds. Since we can assume that a large fraction of babies to girls that age are unwanted, a drop in the birth rate to young mothers will, paraphrasing Levitt and Dubner's words, lead to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; lower teen birth rates, therefore, lead to less crime. 
This conclusion will have to wait for more detailed investigation, but in the meantime, some NFL football players are concerned that the crime rate will go up if they aren't allowed to play this fall...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Populations at Risk in Mid-America

This Spring has been an incredibly fatal tornado season in the middle of the United States, punctuated by last night's tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, killing at least 89 people, although it is expected that more will be found in the rubble that covers at least one-fourth of the city of 50,000.
City manager Mark Rohr announced the number of known dead at a pre-dawn news conference outside the wreckage of a hospital that took a direct hit from Sunday's storm. Rohr said the twister cut a path nearly 6 miles long and more than a half-mile wide through the center of town. Much of the city's south side was leveled, with churches, schools, businesses and homes reduced to ruins.
It has been less than a month since tornadoes in Alabama took the lives of at least 300 people.
The twisters rampaged through cities like Tuscaloosa, Ala., forced a pair of nuclear plants to go off line, left thousands homeless and more than a million people without power.
NOAA said it was the worst tornado outbreak since 1974, when storms killed 315 people. The deadliest tornado outbreak on record was on March 18, 1925, when 695 people died.
Beyond the heartbreak associated with the tragic deaths, tens of thousands of persons have had their lives turned upside down, and the resilience of families and communities will be severely tested over the next several months as the rebuilding proceeds.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Power of Placebos

This week's Economist reports on a recent volume of the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions devoted to the placebo effect in medicine. The very fact that people think they are being treated has been shown in a variety of cases to improve health. This is, indeed, why clinical trials in medicine compare treatments against placebos instead of against no treatment at all. But the Economist connects additional dots in its story, because it seems that the placebo effect is almost certainly the main reason why treatments based on "complementary" or "alternative" medicine (things that are outside of modern western science) may seem to work, even when there is no scientific basis for their ability to work. The story focuses on Dr. Edzard Ernst at Peninsula Medical College in the UK.
Over the years Dr Ernst and his group have run clinical trials and published over 160 meta-analyses of other studies. (Meta-analysis is a statistical technique for extracting information from lots of small trials that are not, by themselves, statistically reliable.) His findings are stark. According to his “Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine”, around 95% of the treatments he and his colleagues examined—in fields as diverse as acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and reflexology—are statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments. In only 5% of cases was there either a clear benefit above and beyond a placebo (there is, for instance, evidence suggesting that St John’s Wort, a herbal remedy, can help with mild depression), or even just a hint that something interesting was happening to suggest that further research might be warranted.
Despite this lack of evidence, and despite the possibility that some alternative practitioners may be harming their patients (either directly, or by convincing them to forgo more conventional treatments for their ailments), Dr Ernst also believes there is something that conventional doctors can usefully learn from the chiropractors, homeopaths and Ascended Masters. This is the therapeutic value of the placebo effect, one of the strangest and slipperiest phenomena in medicine.
In other words, it is not just science that matters, even if that may be the most important thing when it comes to improving your health. It is also the mental state of the patient that matters. Physicians have known this for years--the old "bedside manner" is known to be important, but it often is ignored in the application of western medicine, whereas it may be the single most important factor in alternative medicine.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sin City Turns Out Also to Be Suicide City

I had just returned from a trip to Las Vegas (business, not pleasure!) when I received a note from Adam Lippert at Penn State alerting me to a very interesting podcast featuring Matt Wray, a sociologist at Temple University, discussing the fact that Las Vegas has the highest urban suicide rate in the United States. I thought to myself--what are the odds? 


The point of the story is that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and accounts for twice as many deaths each year as homicides (see Table 5.2 in my 11th edition), and yet it is rarely a topic of public discussion. 

The podcast focuses on Las Vegas. When most people think of Vegas, they think of slot machines, bright lights, maybe a certain Elvis song. Most people wouldn’t immediately think of suicide — except for Matt Wray, a Temple sociologist who has been studying the topic extensively.
Wray was living in Las Vegas when he was struck by the city’s high suicide rate. In fact, it’s got the highest urban rate in the country. Wray got curious about whether the city was “suicidogenic” — whether Las Vegas actually increases the risk of suicide. The answer from his research? A resounding yes. Vegas residents, and even visitors to the city, are at an increased risk of suicide. Wray explains why.
Here's the link to the podcast. It does run for 20 minutes, but you can read the transcript at this site, and just scroll through to the juicy bits, if you prefer to read rather than listen on your iPod.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Death Secrets From Egyptian Mummies

Health historians have famously diagnosed the causes of death of famous people like Napoleon Bonaparte and, most recently, Charles Darwin, by searching through symptoms and relating those symptoms to likely pathologies leading to death. It is rare, of course, to be able actually to examine the body and do something resembling a post-mortem. Yet, that is what researchers have been able to do with Egyptian mummies.
An Egyptian princess who lived more than 3,500 years ago is the oldest known person to have had clogged arteries, dispelling the myth that heart disease is a product of modern society, a new study says.

To determine how common heart disease was in ancient Egypt, scientists performed computer scans on 52 mummies in Cairo and the United States. Among those that still had heart tissue, 44 had chunks of calcium stuck to their arteries — indicating clogging.
"Atherosclerosis clearly existed more than 3,000 years ago," said Adel Allam, a cardiology professor at Al Azhar University in Cairo, who led the study with Gregory Thomas, director of nuclear cardiology education at the University of California in Irvine. "We cannot blame this disease on modern civilization."
On the other hand, maybe heart disease among the ancients could be blamed on diet and exercise?
Joep Perk, a professor of health sciences at Linnaeus University in Sweden and a spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology, said the heart disease discovered in the mummies was probably due to the rich diet and lack of exercise among the Egyptian elite. He was not linked to the mummy research.
"The pharaohs and other royalty probably had more fat in their diet than the average Egyptian," he said. "The sculptures and hieroglyphs may show people who were very thin and beautiful, but the reality may have been different."

Humans today are unlikely to be physiologically any different from humans thousands of years ago. Until fairly recently, people did not really understand heart disease nor, even if they did, were there any treatments for it and, in all events, almost everyone died of something else before having lived long enough to be snuffed out by clogged arteries.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's in a Name?

The US Social Security Administration has come out with its latest list of baby names, and one surprise is that José is no longer among even the top 50 most popular boy's name among Hispanics, not even in Texas, where it had been the most popular boy's name for a long time, but has now been replaced by Jacob (the overall most popular boy's name).
Because this happened when birthrates for Hispanic-Americans were among the highest of any ethnic or racial group, the rankings just might be a measure of assimilation, said Prof. Cleveland Kent Evans, who teaches psychology at Bellevue University in Nebraska and wrote “The Great Big Book of Baby Names.”
But, not so fast, argue others:
Experts caution against assuming assimilation as a given. “Jonathan is a very popular name among the low-income groups in Argentina,” said Prof. Javier Auyero, a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin. “That doesn’t mean they are Americanized.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cholera Refuses to Leave Haiti

I reported months ago on the outbreak of cholera in Haiti that followed the devastating earthquake there early in 2010. The evidence at the time was that Asian peacekeepers had brought the disease with them and this has now been corroborated, if not exactly confirmed, by a newly released UN report. At this point, it scarcely matters where it came from--it has descended heavily upon the Haitians, killing nearly 5,000 people and sickening 300,000. An editorial in today's New York Times attempts to draw attention back to the plight of Haiti, which has struggled to recover.

The fact that the disease is still spreading is a reminder of how much more help Haiti needs and the consequences of continued neglect.
Technically, the challenge of containing the epidemic is simple enough. Haitians need clean water for drinking and washing. They need soap and bleach and access to medical care for rehydration when they fall ill. They need safe ways to dispose of sewage and shelter for when the rains worsen and cause streets and rivers to flood and cholera cases to spike.
For too many, the ingredients of tragedy remain stubbornly in place. Even as relief agencies are winding down their presence in Haiti, about 680,000 people are still living in camps and waiting for permanent shelter. Life in this setting is precarious, without adequate access to latrines and safe drinking water.
This is a reminder that some populations have considerably more resilience to rebound from a disaster like this than do other populations. Decades of rapid population growth in Haiti helped to create an almost desperately poor and vulnerable population, and it is difficult to see what the future may hold for the country. 

Ho-Hum Response to Latest US 2010 Census Data

The US Census Bureau has been releasing demographic "profiles" of each state (including an interactive map), with information from the 2010 census about counties and larger cities and areas in each state. Thus far, however, the press has been generally uninterested. This is partly due to the fact that the data are pretty basic (total counts by age and sex, ethnicity, household structure). The other problem is that reporters are always looking for something new, rather than confirmation of what might already have been suspected from the American Community Survey. So it was that the New York Times found a genuine surprise in these profiles of the boroughs of New York City:
The latest details from the 2010 census suggest that Manhattan has become a more attractive place for younger people — it was the only borough to register gains in both children under 5 and in its 15-to-34-year-old population. “It suggests an attraction to Manhattan for parents who can afford to live there,” said William H. Frey, a demographer for the Brookings Institution.
This may also be related to the high rate of immigration into Manhattan, but we will have to wait until this summer, when more detailed data come out, to test that hypothesis. On the subject of immigration, the census data also show that the Mexico-origin population is also increasing in New York City:
The number of Mexican residents soared by more than 132,000, or 71 percent, to nearly 320,000; that makes them 14 percent of the Hispanic population, up from 9 percent. There were 2.3 million Hispanic people in the city last year, an increase of 175,000, according to the census.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New One-Dog Policy Takes Effect in Shanghai, China

In the land of the one-child policy, there is now a one-dog policy in effect in Shanghai, China's largest city, mirroring similar laws already in place in Beijing and Guangzhou. The policy was adopted this past February, but was implemented as of today. Pet-owners with more than one dog are allowed to keep them, but new licenses are to be issued only to homes currently without a dog. The reason for the policy is apparently to prevent unlicensed dogs from roaming the cities and biting people, causing alarms about the spread of rabies.

Shanghai's new pet ownership rules also slash steep fees for dog registration — in hopes of bringing more undocumented dogs onto the books — and require those walking dogs to keep them on leashes.

Only about 140,000 of Shanghai's estimated 800,000 dogs have been registered under current rules, which require payment of a 2,000 yuan ($300) fee every year for those living downtown and half that for those in the suburbs.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Life Expectancy Going Down, Not Up in Iraq and South Africa

The World Health Organization has just released its latest set of life tables for countries around the world, and while life expectancy generally continues its upward trend, there are some notable exceptions, especially Iraq, where: 

...the average life expectancy in Iraq fell to 66 years in 2009 from 68 years in 2000, when dictator Saddam Hussein was still in power.
But while Iraqi girls born in 2009 — the most recent year for which figures are available — could still expect to live to 70, boys' life expectancy dropped sharply to 62 years, compared with 65 years in 2000.
"The figures reflect the chaos from the conflict and the impact on health systems," said Colin Mathers, one of the coordinators of WHO's annual World Health Statistics report.
In South Africa, life expectancy for women fell to 55 years from 59 years in 2000 and 68 years in 1990 — a reflection of the country's high HIV infection rate. Men's life expectancy in 2009 remained stable at 54 years compared with the figure nine years earlier, but was down from 59 in 1990.
Chad, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica were the only other countries where average life expectancy dropped between 2009 and 2000.
The situation in Iraq is obviously noteworthy. Since the US invasion in 2003, life expectancy has declined a bit, and fertility has declined a bit, but the total fertility rate is still at nearly five children per woman. Because of this, the population is still very young (and very poor) and the total population is expected by 2025 to be twice what it was at the time of the invasion. None of those demographic statistics is very promising for the future.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Can We Slow Down HIV Transmission?

There was important news yesterday from a study funded by the US National Institutes of Health:

An HIV-positive person who takes anti-retroviral drugs after diagnosis, rather than when their health declines, can cut the risk of spreading the virus to uninfected partners by 96%, according to a study.
The United States National Institutes of Health sampled 1,763 couples in which one partner was infected by HIV. It was abandoned four years early as the trial was so successful. The study began in 2005 at 13 sites across across Africa, Asia and the Americas.
"This breakthrough is a serious game changer and will drive the prevention revolution forward. It makes HIV treatment a new priority prevention option," said Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS).
But he warned that it would cost more than ten billion dollars to provide drugs to the ten million people worldwide who are currently not receiving medication for HIV.
This latter point is crucial. Many HIV-infected people, especially in Africa, are dying earlier than might otherwise be expected because they cannot afford the anti-retroviral drugs. Will the richer countries step up and say that with a huge investment now in anti-retroviral drugs we can dramatically reduce the spread and thus the overall incidence of HIV? It is estimated that 80 percent of HIV infections are spread through sexual transmission, but the anti-retroviral treatment requires a positive diagnosis of HIV prior to sexual activity. Will at-risk people in Africa and elsewhere step up and be tested in vastly greater proportions than is currently taking place?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Obama Once Again Pushes Immigration Reform in the US

Immigration stays in the news this week with President Obama's trip to El Paso to push Congress, yet one more time, for immigration reform.
He called on Congress to reform the immigration system in a manner that would encourage skilled and motivated immigrants to participate in American society while ending what he called an underground economy that preys on low-wage illegal immigrants.
"We need to come together around reform that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, that demands everyone take responsibility," he said.
Ahead of Mr Obama's speech, White House aides stressed Mr Obama remained committed to reform, even though Republicans derailed overhaul efforts in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
Conspicuously missing from the list of reforms, however, is any mention of changing the family preference system. The perception of undocumented immigrants "jumping to the head of the line" is skewed by the fact that most immigrants who arrive legally are relatives of current citizens and they have a much lower labor force participation rate than undocumented immigrants. We need and want the workers, but we don't let them in. In other words, the preference system is broken, but few people seem interested in addressing that fact. Without such a change, it may be impossible to create a reform that will be agreeable to Congress. In the meantime, of course, the states continue to step into the void left by the lack of Congressional action.

Arizona, Georgia and Utah have passed measures giving police the power to demand documentation from people they suspect of being illegal immigrants who have been detained on other charges.
Arizona's law has been put on hold by the federal courts [although Arizona is appealing directly to the US Supreme Court]
Meanwhile, a judge in Utah blocked the state's new immigration law on Friday, just hours after it went into effect. District Judge Clark Waddoups issued his ruling in Salt Lake City, citing its similarity to Arizona's law.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Immigration: There's an App for That

This blog post is borrowed verbatim from Two Weeks Notice: A Latin American Politics Blog, but that's OK because the author of that blog, Professor Gregory Weeks, is my son:



Really interesting article in the New York Times about the use of cellphones to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
“I’ve crossed eight times, and this is the first time they’ve directed me with my cellphone,” said Sandra Silva, 30, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, who was on her way to Phoenix. “It’s like a guide through the desert.”

It is a bit surprising that this is so new.  With regard to the border, considerable attention is paid to technology, and yet this is one of the most basic, cheap, and widely available technologies.

Regardless, this development should remind us that as long as there is demand for employment in the United States, the supply of labor will meet it one way or another (or in the case of the migrant interviewed in the story, eight ways or another).  It is truly that simple.

Oh, by the way, there is an app for that:
To reduce the number of fatalities among border crossers, a University of San Diego professor, Ricardo Dominguez, has been developing a cellphone application to help guide illegal immigrants to water stations and other points of safety.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pope Encourages Italians to Accept Illegal Immigrants

The Pope visited Venice over the weekend and urged Italians to accept the illegal immigrants that have been coming their way from the violence in Tunisia and Libya.

Italy has been struggling to cope with thousands of illegal migrants that have reached its shores in recent months often in rickety boats as they flee unrest spreading through northern Africa. On Sunday, about 400 were rescued when their boat crashed against rocks at the port of Lampedusa, Italy's closest port.
The pope's message of tolerance for immigrants appeared especially pointed as the visit takes place in the region of Veneto, one of the strongholds of the anti-immigration Northern League, although Venice itself has long been run by center-left administrations.
There can be little question that France and other European nations would be relieved if Italy chose to absorb most of these migrants, since they have otherwise been leaving Italy and traveling to other countries, especially France, which has been bickering with Italy about this. Furthermore, the continued fighting in Libya can be expected to produce many more people heading out of there and into Europe. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Send in the Immigrants?

Journalists continue to mine the 2010 census data for stories and one that emerged today in the New York Times is the situation facing many small communities in the United States--a downward demographic spiral. The story focuses on Brooke County, West Virginia.
Life in this industrial area has slowed to a shuffle along with the steel mills that used to power it. Young people have moved away, leaving an aging population that no longer has the energy to put on street fairs or holiday parades.
In fact, this community in West Virginia’s northern panhandle holds an unwelcome distinction. With just 71 babies born on average for every 100 residents who die, Brooke County, in which Weirton is partly located, has the largest such gap in the nation among counties in metropolitan areas, save for a handful of places that are magnets for retirees. 
The main reason Brooke County is so far off the national number — which is 171 births to 100 deaths — is that it has missed out on one of the dominant demographic trends to emerge from the recent census: the influx of young immigrants into communities across the United States. 
Throughout the United States (and Europe, as well) the fertility of the white population has dropped below replacement level, mirroring events among the Japanese and the Chinese. At the same time, the loss of job opportunities in smaller towns at the fringe of urban life means that even if young people were having two or three children, they would be having them somewhere else. 
According to Kenneth Johnson, the senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, there are now 853 counties with similar population trends — “more coffins than cradles,” as he calls it — including parts of the Great Plains, the Midwest and New England.

Friday, May 6, 2011

China by the Numbers

This week's Economist highlights the demography of China. The UN's latest population projections have caught everyone's attention and since China is still the world's most populous nation (and will be for at least a few more years) its demographic situation is crucially important to the world. The projections suggest that China is rapidly aging as a consequence of several decades of very low fertility. Like Japan, China has never shown any interest in accommodating immigrants, so any "reversal" of societal aging would require a rise in the birth rate. The Economist wonders if the government will lift the penalties for having more than one child.
The census results are likely to intensify debate in China between the powerful population-control bureaucracy and an increasingly vocal group of academic demographers calling for a relaxation of the one-child policy.
As I have noted in Chapter 6, and many others have said as well, the evidence in China is that fertility was dropping even before implementation of the one-child policy, and neighboring countries, especially culturally similar Taiwan, have achieved very low fertility without a Draconian on-child policy. It seems likely that the single most important reason for China to maintain the one-child policy is politics:
Joan Kaufman of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University [argues that] official support for the policy is only partly to do with its perceived merits: it is also the product of resistance by China’s family-planning bureaucracy. This has massive institutional clout (and local governments have a vested interest in the fines collected from violators). “The one-child policy is their raison d’être,” says Ms Kaufman.
There are signs that the academics are succeeding in their campaign to make the population debate less politicised and more evidence-based. Mr Ma of the National Statistics Bureau spoke not only of adhering to the family-planning policy, but also of “cautiously and gradually improving the policy to promote more balanced population growth in the country”. In his comments on the census, President Hu Jintao included a vague hint that change could be in the offing. China would maintain a low birth rate, he said. But it would also “stick to and improve” its current family-planning policy. That hardly seems a nod to a free-for-all. But perhaps a “two-for-all” may not be out of the question.
It seems unlikely to me that we will see any real change in China's birthrate in the near future, especially since China's population is still growing, even if only slightly. As numerous commentators have said, China seems not only destined, but content, to "grow old before it grows rich."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Plight of Girls in an Ever-More Populous India

At the moment, China and India have nearly similar population totals. The new UN Population Division projections show China increasing from its current 1.34 billion to about 1.38 billion in 2035 and then declining in population size after that, dipping below a billion by the end of the century. By contrast, they project that India could increase from its current 1.22 billion to 1.72 billion in 2060 and then slowly drop after that, to 1.55 billion by century's end. Wrapped up in this stupendous population momentum is the continuing low status of females in India, as reported by the Associated Press in a story triggered by the latest census data in India that reveal a sex ratio at the young ages that is heavily skewed toward males. 

They point to a painful reality revealed in India's most recent census: Despite a booming economy and big cities full of luxury cars and glittering malls, the country is failing its girls.
Early results show India has 914 girls under age 6 for every 1,000 boys. A decade ago, many were horrified when the ratio was 927 to 1,000.
The discrimination happens through abortions of female fetuses and sheer neglect of young girls, despite years of high-profile campaigns to address the issue. So serious is the problem that it's illegal for medical personnel to reveal the gender of an unborn fetus, although evidence suggests the ban is widely circumvented.
"If a woman has a boy, for a month she will be looked after. If she has a girl, she'll be back in the fields in three days," says Sudha Misra, a local social worker.
An exhausted mother who faces neglect, poor nutrition and blame for producing a daughter is likely to pass on that neglect, social workers say. For an infant, that can mean the difference between life and death.
"A malnourished child will get sick and the chances of death are very high," Bandil says.
Males get first priority. "First the husband is seated and fed, then the brothers and then whatever is left is fed to the girls," says Bandil. "If there are two mangoes in the house, first the boy will get to eat."
For the very poor, the pressures to bear sons result in mistreatment of both the baby girl and mother. And rich women are not immune to this mistreatment if they fail to bear male children.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

New UN Projections Suggest Higher Population by Mid-Century

The United Nations Population Division released its latest round of population projections today, and they suggest that by 2050 the world's population may reach 9.3 billion--higher than the 9.1 billion that they had projected two years ago. The changes are due both to fewer deaths and more births than previously expected. The new projections also suggest that the world's population could reach 10 billion by the end of this century, if the current trends do not change. In particular, as we continue to improve health around the world (thus lowering the number of deaths), this must be offset by increasingly fewer births. As Reuters reports:

UNFPA chief Babatunde Osotimehin said the latest global figures "underscore the urgent need to provide safe and effective family planning to the 215 million women who lack it," a point echoed by pro-birth control advocacy groups.
Suzanne Ehlers, president of Washington-based Population Action International, called the new projections "a wake-up call for governments to fulfill the global demand for contraception."

Monday, May 2, 2011

Outliers in Family Demography

The killing of Osama bin Laden has resurrected the very unusual circumstances of his family life. In the first place:
Bin Laden was born in Saudi Arabia in 1957, one of more than 50 children of millionaire construction magnate Mohamed bin Laden. 
In fact, Wikipedia suggests that Osama bin Laden's father had 54 children with 22 different wives. It is almost impossible to contemplate this constant turnover and turmoil of wives and births of children. Indeed, it is said that Osama was the 17th child, and that his mother was the 10th wife, yet by the time Osama's father was killed in a plane crash ten years after Osama's birth, his father had married (and presumably also divorced--since Islam only allows four wives at a time), an additional 12 wives who bore him an additional 37 children. Osama's mother was a Syrian-born woman who was divorced by Osama's father shortly after his birth. She remarried and had additional children.
With respect to the family that Osama created, it is reported that:
His first marriage was to a Syrian cousin at the age of 17, and he is reported to have at least 23 children from at least five wives. 
The last wife, who was reportedly only 17 when she was married, was apparently a human shield in the compound and was killed along with Osama bin Laden.