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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Drought in Africa; Corn Surplus in the US

This week brought two startling contrasts in stories about food. In the Horn of Africa, the worst drought in 60 years has put an estimated ten million on the edge of starvation:
A poor rainy season coupled with rising food prices have led to severe food shortages in countries including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.

Food prices are soaring with grain prices in some parts of Kenya up to 80 percent higher than the five year average, while in Ethiopia, the consumer price index jumped about 41 percent.
As a result, malnutrition rates are also rising, the UN agency said.
By contrast, the US reported today that corn prices plunged on news of the biggest crop of corn in at least 15 years.
The report said farmers in the vast crop regions of Iowa and Minnesota had been planting substantially more grain.
Corn futures, which were just under an all-time high of $8 (£5) a bushel at the start of June, finished 9.9% down at $6.29 on Thursday. At one point, the price was down almost 12%.
Wheat futures ended 8.8% down, with soybeans 2.1% lower. Analysts predicted the falls would continue when markets in Asia opened on Friday.
The Agriculture Department report that far more grain acreage is being planted than expected came despite recent bad weather in the US Midwest.
Will this eventually translate into lower food prices globally that will delay death for those in Africa? We can only hope so.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Did the 2010 Census Really Undercount City Populations?

Despite the worldwide concern about population growth, local officials never want to be living in a place whose population is declining. It just isn't done. So, we are not surprised that a number of cities in the US are challenging, or are planning to challenge, the results of the 2010 census. Of course, no one ever challenges what they perceive to be an overcount; it is only a perceived undercount that is problematic.

Cities have two years to contest their counts under the Census Bureau's appeals process, which began this month.
"Along with federal funds, there's a psychological impact when a city loses population, because people and businesses want to be in a vibrant region where things are growing and happening," Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory, who chairs the U.S. mayors' task force on the census, said in an interview.
"There will be a dramatic increase in the number of city challenges, I guarantee it," he said.
Doubts about the government's numbers are cropping up everywhere.
Real-estate agents in New York City want to know where the Census Bureau found vast stretches of empty housing that resulted in a tally that was 200,000 fewer people than expected. Miami officials are puzzled over a count that fell 30,000 below the bureau's 2009 estimate, contending that immigrants and middle-class whites in gated downtown condominiums were missed. Houston added two new city council seats, even though the 2010 count showed it fell 549 short of the population required to do so.
California cities are also mulling challenges after state officials estimated the census had failed to count 1.25 million people there.
Despite the headlines, don't expect that much will ultimately happen, at least based on the experience from Census 2000.
In 2000, roughly 1,200 jurisdictions, or 3 percent, contested the count. The net change due to census challenges that year was just 2,700 people.
Apart from the challenges, analysts later determined the 2000 census had an overcount of 1.3 million people, due mostly to duplicate counts of more affluent whites with multiple residences. About 4.5 million people were ultimately missed, mostly blacks and Hispanics.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Anti-Immigration Legislation Bubbling Through the South

There seem to be two parallel state-level legislative agendas in play at the moment in the United States. One is aimed at restricting access to abortion, and the other is aimed at discouraging undocumented immigrants from coming to whatever state is passing the legislation. South Carolina has just passed such a law:

Republican Governor Nikki Haley on Monday gave her official approval for the law that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest for another reason and suspect may be in the country illegally.
"This is not an anti-tolerance bill. This is not a bill that pushes away one group for another group," said Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants. "This is a bill that enforces laws ... We support legal immigration."
The new law, due to take effect on January 1, also requires employers in South Carolina to use the federal E-Verify system to check citizenship status of employees and job applicants. Penalties for knowingly employing illegal immigrants will include suspension and revocation of a business license by the state.
However, on the same day, a federal judge in Georgia blocked, at least for the time being, the implementation of parts of that state's recently passed anti-immigrant legislation:
Judge Thomas Thrash issued a preliminary injunction halting Georgia from authorizing police officers to question criminal suspects about their immigration status.
He also blocked portions of the legislation that would make it a crime to knowingly harbor or transport an illegal immigrant.
"The apparent legislative intent is to create such a climate of hostility, fear, mistrust and insecurity that all illegal aliens will leave Georgia," Thrash wrote in his ruling.
It promises to be a busy summer...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Populations at Risk Throughout the US

The Associated Press today released a rather startling report showing the increase in the American population living near nuclear power plants in this country.
About 120 million people, almost 40 percent of all Americans, live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant, according to the AP's analysis of 2010 Census data.
That 50 mile radius is important, because it is what the US government said it would invoke as an evacuation zone in a situation similar to the recent nuclear meltdown in Japan.

In fact, under rules in force for more than 30 years, U.S. communities must by law prepare federally reviewed evacuation plans only for those living within 10 miles of a plant. In a severe accident, most of the early deaths — those from radiation sickness, not cancer — are predicted to occur within a 10-mile radius.
Those living within 50 miles, meanwhile, are covered only by an "emergency ingestion zone," where states are required to make plans to ban contaminated food and water — but not evacuate.
After a May 10 tour at the Indian Point nuclear complex, where two reactors operate just 25 miles from New York City's northern border, Jaczko said the 10-mile rule was merely a "planning standard." He said decisions on what to do in the "unlikely event" of an accident would be based on circumstances. "So if we needed to take action beyond 10 miles, that's certainly what would be recommended."
If a 50-mile order were ever issued for Indian Point, it would take in about 17.3 million people — 6 percent of all Americans, according to an AP population analysis. That would include parts of New Jersey and Connecticut and all of New York City, except for a chunk of Staten Island.
Such a mass exodus would be an "enormous challenge" — and a historic feat, said Kelly McKinney, New York City's deputy commissioner of preparedness.
"At no time in the history of man," he said, "has anyone tried to move 17 million people in 48 hours."
I have just offered a few tidbits from this detailed report, and none of the remaining information is even remotely reassuring. We seem to be rather complacently sitting around in denial about what could happen if something went wrong with any one of these nuclear plants. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A New Twist on the "Real" Causes of Death

As I note in Chapter 5 of the text, there have been widely circulated studies of the "real" causes of death, by which the researchers mean things like smoking, alcohol and drug use, and diet. Now researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have produced a new twist on this theme--the social categories that increase your chance of early death. None of this will be news to readers of my book, but the numbers are very interesting, nonetheless:

The investigators found that approximately 245,000 deaths in the United States in the year 2000 were attributable to low levels of education, 176,000 to racial segregation, 162,000 to low social support, 133,000 to individual-level poverty, 119,000 to income inequality, and 39,000 to area-level poverty.
Overall, 4.5% of U.S. deaths were found to be attributable to poverty -- midway between previous estimates of 6% and 2.3%. However the risks associated with both poverty and low education were higher for individuals aged 25 to 64 than for those 65 or older.
"Social causes can be linked to death as readily as can pathophysiological and behavioral causes," points out Dr. Galea, who is also Gelman Professor of Epidemiology. For example, the number of deaths the researchers calculated as attributable to low education (245,000) is comparable to the number caused by heart attacks (192,898), which was the leading cause of U.S. deaths in 2000. The number of deaths attributable to racial segregation (176,000) is comparable to the number from cerebrovascular disease (167,661), the third leading cause of death in 2000, and the number attributable to low social support (162,000) compares to deaths from lung cancer (155,521).
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and has been accepted for publication in the American Journal of Public Health.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Refugees Are Created in and Housed by Developing Countries

This past Monday was World Refugee Day and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva used the occasion to remind the world of the continuing problem of refugees in the world. As Europe, for example, worries about the arrival of refugees from Tunisia and Libya, the UNHCR was pointing out that of the world's 15.4 million refugees (not counting the 27.5 internally displaced persons), 80 percent are hosted in poor countries and more than a quarter of those are in just three countries: Pakistan, Iran and Syria.

Palestinians make up one-third of the world's refugee population - a total of almost 5 million people - many of whom have lived in neighboring countries all their lives.
Afghans, meanwhile, constitute a fifth of the refugee total, having fled successive wars since the 1979 Soviet invasion. Many live in dire conditions in Pakistan and Iran.
Other major sources of refugees are Iraq, with almost 1.7 million, Somalia, with 770,000, and Congo, with 477,000.
If you think about this list, you will quickly realize that the intervention of Europeans and North Americans in developing countries has been instrumental in creating this huge pool of refugees, but for the most part the richer countries have not borne the brunt of the problems.
Fears about supposed floods of refugees in industrialized countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said. "Meanwhile, it's poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two Ways of Focusing on Immigration

Greg Weeks at UNC-Charlotte (and also my son) posted an item today that requires a complete copying from his blog to this one:

An immigration reform bill was introduced in the Senate, and I found it interesting that Fox News Latino ran a story that spun it in a very favorable light:
Top Senate Democrats launched on Wednesday another bid to pass a comprehensive immigration reform they say will enhance U.S. economic productivity and national security even as it provides a path to legalization for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
That made me wonder how the regular Fox News website framed the story, so I went to check.  In fact, they chose not to mention the bill at all.  Instead, the top story today under immigration began with the following:
For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Midnight Train to Georgia

I have commented before about the reversal of the Great Migration of blacks out of the South to the North, but the New York Times has just added a wrinkle to the story--a disproportionate share of those moving back to the South are from New York.

About 17 percent of the African-Americans who moved to the South from other states in the past decade came from New York, far more than from any other state, according to census data. Of the 44,474 who left New York State in 2009, more than half, or 22,508, went to the South, according to a study conducted by the sociology department of Queens College for The New York Times.
The movement is not limited to New York. The percentage of blacks leaving big cities in the East and in the Midwest and heading to the South is now at the highest levels in decades, demographers say.
Spencer Crew, a history professor at George Mason University who was the curator of a prominent exhibit on the Great Migration at the Smithsonian Institution, said the current exodus from New York stemmed largely from tough economic times. New York is increasingly unaffordable, and blacks see more opportunities in the South.
The South now represents the potential for achievement for black New Yorkers in a way it had not before, Professor Crew said. At the same time, unionized civil service jobs that once drew thousands of blacks to the city are becoming more scarce.
So, the times they are a-changin'--(and I expect you know the words to that song as well).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Will the Boomers Blow Out the Housing Market?

This Thursday the Census Bureau will release more geographically detailed 2010 census data, including homeownership numbers, and that has whetted journalists' appetites for stories about the housing market. One story that NPR raised today, and which has been floating around for awhile, is what will happen to the housing market as the baby boomers age?

The oldest of the baby boomers — the generation of 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 — have already turned 65. As the generation continues to age, some warn that there won't be enough Americans around of working age to buy all their houses.
"Older people are a ticking time bomb for the housing market," says Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California. "What we've gone through recently could be nothing compared to what we have five years from now. When the boomers start to sell off their houses, there are going to be too many boomers and not enough buyers."
The real question, of course, is whether or not the boomers will actually start selling their houses. They arrive at old age with the highest life expectancy of any American cohort in history, so the vast majority of boomers are not going to be dying anytime soon. Furthermore, boomers are staying in the labor market a little longer than previous generations, partly forced to do that by the later age (66 instead of 65) at which they qualify for full Social Security benefits. But they may decide to cash out, if they discover that they haven't saved enough for retirement.
Not everyone can agree on which way demographic trends will be tugging the housing market. The U.S. population, on average, is aging. But it's not aging as fast as other countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan.
The lesson from those countries is that household size starts to shrink as the population ages. If a country goes from an average household size of 2.5 people, say, to 2.1 people, that leads to a considerable demand for new housing, says Paul Hewitt, the former director of the Global Aging Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Smaller average households mean that the same-sized population is going to need more housing units. "I would think that household formation will substantially exceed supply," Hewitt says.
So, this seems like a tough call at the moment. Yes, the demographics are changing, but we don't have any historical trends to easily draw upon here, so we're learning as we go.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Populations at Risk in China

Flooding in China has displaced literally millions of people, with nearly 200 dead or missing thus far. The floods follow a long drought in the Yangtze region of the country.
The floods come after months of crop-destroying drought in the centre and north of the country.
Some areas along the Yangtze River have suffered their worst drought in half a century.
Despite the rain, officials have warned that the crop shortages and dislocation caused by drought will remain severe.
Analysts say crop shortages in China could affect prices around the world.
This is, of course, yet another reminder that we remain incredibly vulnerable to the whims of nature, and that as populations grow, we increase the number among us who are at risk, both directly and indirectly (especially if rises in food prices wind up increasing hunger in the world).



Saturday, June 18, 2011

US Has Significant Spatial Inequalities in Life Expectancy

Christopher Murray and his colleagues at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington have just published a study of life expectancy by county in the United States, covering the period from 1987 to 2007.  They found that, even as the general trend in life expectancy is up, there are wide swaths of the country in which life expectancy has not changed or has even dropped over time.

The region where life expectancy is lowest, and in some places declining, begins in West Virginia, runs through the southern Appalachian Mountains and west through the Deep South into North Texas. Places of high life expectancy are more scattered. In addition to Northern Virginia they include counties in Colorado, Minnesota, Utah, California, Washington state and Florida.
The study did not examine the causes of these disparities, but the Washington Post offered up a couple of possible explanations:
The rising rate of obesity and plateauing of the smoking cessation rate among women are two. Poorly controlled blood pressure and a shortage of primary-care physicians are two others.
However, even a quick glance at the very nice interactive map that accompany's the Post's story suggests that the lower levels of life expectancy are found in counties of the south with high proportions of African-Americans, and counties in the west and midwest with high proportions of Native Americans.
A final note in the article relates to the continuing issue of health care in the US:
What surprised Murray and his team was that despite increased consciousness about disparities and per capita spending on health care that is at least 50 percent higher than European countries, the United States is falling farther behind them with each passing year.
“My expectation was that in the last decade we would at least be keeping up in terms of the pace of progress. But that’s not what’s happening,” said Murray.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Clash of Civilizations Continues in Saudi Arabia

I have commented before on the idea that gender issues represent the real clash of civilizations in the world, and that Saudi Arabia is the poster child for this idea with things like the proscription (social, not legal) against women driving themselves. The battle has continued in that country, with an increasing number of women driving--often with their husband's cooperation--and then talking about it on Facebook.
The Women2Drive Facebook page said the direct action would continue until a royal decree reversed the ban.
Campaigners have not called for a mass protest - which would be illegal - but have asked women who have foreign driving licences to drive themselves as they go about their daily life.
"All that we need is to run our errands without depending on drivers," said one woman in the first film posted in the early hours of Friday morning.
The film showed the unnamed woman talking as she drove to a supermarket and parking.
The motoring ban is not enforced by law, but is a religious fatwa imposed by conservative Muslim clerics. It is one of a number of severe restrictions on women in the country.
The BBCNews story suggests that the initial motivation for this liberation may have arisen more than 20 years ago when US female military personnel were allowed to drive themselves around in Saudi Arabia, even though Saudi were not (are still not) permitted to do so. The idea that this was inspired by Americans may not be too popular in Saudi Arabia, but the movement itself is certainly laudable.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Orleans Has Become More Racially Segregated Since Katrina

Geographer Richard Campanella of Tulane University has been analyzing demographic changes in New Orleans since Katrina and the surprising finding is that the city is now more residentially segregated by race than it was before the devastating flooding.

"Paradoxically, while much of greater Gentilly and eastern New Orleans lost large numbers of African-Americans in absolute numbers, they simultaneously became more African-American in a relative sense because the few whites who lived in those areas departed in even greater numbers than their black neighbors," Campanella, the author of six books about the city's landscape, noted in a summary of his findings.
Meanwhile, neighborhoods stretching from the Riverbend to Uptown and into Treme and St. Roch saw a parallel increase in the proportion of white residents, a change that reflects historic trends, Campanella wrote.
Since 2000, "every single tract between Magazine and Tchoupitoulas -- including Riverside, Irish Channel and the Lower Garden District riverfront -- has seen increased white and decreased black populations, some of them dramatic," Campanella wrote.
Tracts in that area where at least half the residents were black in 2000 almost all fell below the threshold, while the number of tracts where fewer than 15 percent of residents were African-American grew, the analysis shows.Even as housing patterns became somewhat more segregated in New Orleans, the suburbs became more diverse, Campanella found -- reflecting demographic trends seen across America.
Similar to most other cities in the American South, the 2010 census data show that Hispanic neighborhoods have also been appearing on the urban landscape.
University of New Orleans political scientist Ed Chervenak said he sees the latest data as evidence that "we're operating under a new demographic order."
Noting that minority groups tend to compete with each other -- for jobs, housing and political clout -- rather than banding together against the majority, the growing concentration of Hispanic residents could change the dynamics of traditionally African-American areas, he said.
Though the region's political allegiances historically have cleaved along black-white lines, Chervenak said officials might now face a "black, white and brown divide."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Young People Need Jobs

Now, you may think that the headline "young people need jobs" is so obvious as to be trite. But the Associated Press reports that this was the message that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered yesterday to a meeting of the United Nation's International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva. She was referring specifically, however, to young people in Arab nations who have been trying to leave those countries and head to Europe in search of jobs. Europeans really don't want them in Europe and so, of course, the message is to create jobs in those Arab countries that have been experiencing turbulence. Her argument was not framed in terms of discouraging migration, of course, but rather in terms of promoting democracy.

"We want that in those countries, too, freedom and democracy can develop well. This will be inseparably linked to providing sensible perspectives for the many young people who are prepared to work," Merkel told a U.N. labor meeting in Geneva.
Germany plans to support job creation in North Africa by providing opportunities for young people to gain training and qualifications "so they can work in their own countries," she added.
Her speech echoed a warning by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who earlier Tuesday warned that labor migration from the Mideast was among the top challenges workers face so far in the 21st century, together with the pressure from climate change.
It is impossible to disagree with the idea that young people need good jobs. The challenge of creating such jobs is enormous, of course, yet the stability of the region (whether in democratic form or some other form) almost certainly depends upon it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fluoride Really Is Good For Your Health

Poor dental hygiene and oral health can be bad for your overall levels of health, and the single best thing that has ever happened to oral health is fluoride. Yet, an article in the latest issue of The Nation's Health reminds us that too many people are wary of fluoride treatments.

Dental advances over the past six decades mean that many Americans do not remember a time when tooth decay and disease was a major national public health problem.
Much of the credit for the nation’s better oral health can be attributed to the decision in the 1940s to begin adding fluoride to public drinking water systems. According to the American Dental Association, fluoridation reduces tooth decay in all age groups by 20 percent to 40 percent “even in an era with widespread availability of fluoride from other sources, such as fluoride toothpaste.”
And yet today community water fluoridation is under fire from some who claim its health benefits are overblown and that fluoridation creates a higher risk for heart disease and cancer. There is no valid science supporting these claims, said public health officials who spoke with The Nation’s Health, and yet they persist, kept afloat by Internet rumors and misinformation.
“People cannot differentiate between CDC and the American Dental Association and some quack outfit that’s trying to scare people,” said Myron Allukian Jr., DDS, MPH, president of the American Association for Community Dental Programs and a past president of APHA.
Keep this in mind if someone in your city or area protests against the fluoridation of local drinking water. Life is scarier without fluoridation than with it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Populations at Risk in Syria

The Arab Spring has spawned protests in Syria that have been brutally beaten back by the government and, not surprisingly, the result has been a flow of refugees from northwest Syria (the area of major protests) into Turkey. BBC News reports that:

More than 4,000 Syrian refugees have already fled into Turkey and aid agencies are anxious to get into the country.
Hicham Hassan from the International Red Cross in Geneva talks to the BBC and says they are getting reports that the number of injuries in the past week has increased but have still not been given access to the country.
The US government has charged Syria with creating a humanitarian crisis.
Thousands streamed out of the town of Jisr al-Shughour, on the road between Syria's second city Aleppo and the country's main port of Latakia.
"When the massacre happened in Jisr al-Shughour the army split, or they started fighting each other and blamed it on us," a woman refugee, who refused to give her name, told Turkish news channel NTV.
Unlike in Libya, however, other nations have thus far not intervened, and the situation continues to unfold.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Census-Based Redistricting Ramps Up in California

The underlying purpose of the US Census is to apportion seats in the House of Representatives and to draw the boundaries of the districts in each state. As I have noted before, California is one of several states which has handed the authority for redistricting to a citizen's commission, rather than having the legislature do it (the Constitution says that in each state the legislature or its designee, will do this). The California Citizens Redistricting Commission has just released its first set of maps for the redistricting of the two houses of the state legislature and for Congressional districts. As you might imagine, these maps have created headlines all across the state. The San Diego Union-Tribune's front page story, for example, included the following comments:

The panel charged with redrawing political boundaries released a set of preliminary maps Friday that could have sweeping implications on future elections in San Diego County and across the state.
How California’s 40 senate, 80 assembly and 53 congressional districts are shaped could determine their partisan breakdown, who gets elected and what issues and positions are advocated for residents.
For local lawmakers, it appears that no incumbents would have to challenge another in the same district. But many would have to run for re-election in new areas and appeal to different voters in more competitive districts.

Commissioners said they already have heard from 1,500 state residents and next will turn their attention to responding to concerns in specific communities.
A second draft will be released July 7, and the final maps are due Aug. 15, when they must be presented to the secretary of state's office for certification.

Friday, June 10, 2011

More Misery in Missouri

The horrendous tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, have as of today caused the death of 151 people. And the misery continues in myriad ways, including the eruption of a dangerous fungus which may have contributed to the death of at least three of those people.

Jacqueline Lapine, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the department has received reports of eight suspected deep-skin fungal infections among survivors of the May 22 twister. She said all of the victims had suffered multiple injuries and developed secondary wound infections.
Zygomycosis, also known as mucormycosis, is a sometimes-fatal infection that spreads rapidly and can be caused by soil or vegetative material becoming getting under the skin. It's more prevalent in people with weakened immune systems or untreated diabetes but can affect healthy people who get badly hurt.
"These people had multiple traumas, pneumonia, all kinds of problems," said Dr. Uwe Schmidt, an infectious disease specialist at Freeman Health System in Joplin. "It's difficult to say how much the fungal infections contributed to their demise."
"We could visibly see mold in the wounds," Schmidt said. "It rapidly spread. The tissue dies off and becomes black. It doesn't have any circulation. It has to be removed."
Schmidt said the infection is sometimes seen in survivors of mass trauma such as the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.
"This fungus invades the underlying tissue and actually invades the underlying blood vessels and cuts off the circulation to the skin," he said. "It's very invasive."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Alabama Says Yes to Unwanted Pregnancies; No to Undocumented Immigrants

It was a busy end to the legislative session in Alabama this week. First the state passed a very tough illegal immigrant law.

Alabama vaulted past Arizona on Thursday with what is being called the most restrictive law in the nation against illegal immigration, requiring schools to find out if students are in the country lawfully and making it a crime to knowingly give an illegal immigrant a ride.
Advocacy groups promised to challenge the sweeping measure, which like Arizona's law also allows police to arrest anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant if the person is stopped for some other reason. In addition, it requires all businesses to check the legal status of workers using a federal system called E-Verify.
"It is clearly unconstitutional. It's mean-spirited, racist, and we think a court will enjoin it," said Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
It takes effect Sept. 1.
Then, the legislature passed one of several anti-abortion laws that had been introduced into this legislative session:
On the final day of the legislative session, the Alabama State Senate passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.
Senators voted 26-5 to pass the measure, one of a raft of bills proposed by the Republican majority, that would limit access to abortion. Before the bill's passage, abortions could be conducted until the fetus was considered viable, about 24 to 26 weeks into the pregnancy.
In a very punitive act, the legislature rejected an amendment that would have allowed abortion in the case of rape or danger to the life of the mother. What's next? The legislature is considering a law that defines a 'person' as existing at the moment of conception, in an effort to "push the envelope" on limiting abortion.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Education Can Save Your Life

There is a long and steady positive relationship between education and longevity--the more education you have, the longer you are likely to live. And I say that not just because I am a college professor and have a vested interest in that relationship. It's a fact. But it is also becoming more complicated, according to another college professor, Robert Hummer, of the University of Texas. He will discuss his research online at the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) in Washington, DC, on June 9th. If you don't catch it live, it will be available later on the PRB website. Here's the teaser:

Many people know that individuals with higher levels of education tend to live longer and healthier lives than individuals with low levels of education. In a recent study, Robert Hummer and colleagues built on this knowledge by demonstrating new important characteristics of the relationship between education and adult mortality in the United States.
Among their findings: Each year of education does not have the same "meaning" in terms of reduced mortality risk of U.S. adults; and the data on mortality of more highly educated individuals shows less dispersion than the data on mortality of less educated individuals. The researchers also refined key pathways by which educational attainment influences adult mortality risk, including much higher levels of cigarette smoking among the less educated; and better jobs, higher income, and greater access to health insurance and social ties and resources among the more highly educated. Hummer and his colleagues also determined that over the past two decades, there has been increasing inequality in mortality risk by education in the United States. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Religious Minorities Discriminated Against in Pakistan

Despite the post-WWII partition of India into predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan (now itself divided into Pakistan and Bangladesh), there is still a sizable minority (about 8 million people) of Hindu, Christian, and other religious faiths living in Pakistan. A newly published report by a Pakistani think-tank suggests, however, that the current government of Pakistan is failing to protect those religious minorities.

The rising tide of vigilante violence and extremism is threatening Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis, the report by the Jinnah Institute said.
The assassinations of two prominent advocates of minority rights this year had led to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, it added.
The report warned extremists posed a serious threat to Pakistan's stability.
The 70-page report, entitled "A Question of Faith", was released on Tuesday by the Asian Human Rights Commission.
The Jinnah Institute think-tank is headed by the former information minister and a parliamentarian belonging to the governing Pakistan Peoples' Party, Sherry Rehman.
Keep in mind, as well, that neighboring India, although predominantly Hindu, nonetheless has the third largest population of Muslims in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.

Monday, June 6, 2011

AARP Says that 50 is the New 65

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is launching a new advertising campaign in which they are emphasizing the value to marketers of the Baby Boom generation as it ages. Since the boomers are people born between 1946 and 1964, the youngest boomers are having their 47th birthday this year, while the oldest are turning 65. This bulging age cohort has created new markets in almost everything as they have moved through time, and the AARP obviously does not see this trend as ending anytime soon. 

AARP’s new marketing effort will promote the baby boom generation, as it ages, as a viable consumer target for advertisers. The campaign, which includes print and digital ads, will run in trade publications like Advertising Age starting Monday.
“Our sense is that we’ve reached a tipping point,” said Patricia Lippe Davis, the vice president for marketing at AARP media sales. “People are really recognizing the value of the audience that we speak to.”
The campaign is intended to reach what Ms. Davis calls “thought leaders,” senior marketing executives who tend to be middle-aged, and “media mavericks,” media planners and buyers who tend to be younger. She said she hoped it would debunk myths about older Americans.
Of course, this can be good for AARP, as well, which got its start selling insurance, but now does vastly more than that. If it can convince the baby boomers to think about their own aging at an earlier age, it will be put money in AARP's coffers, but ultimately will be beneficial for the boomers themselves. This is because the current emphasis on being youthful to an increasingly old age turns out to be fiscally irresponsible. You really need to start planning for retirement at a young age, rather than pretending, when young, that you have a long time to wait before you have to be thinking about old age. The age transition in the US is playing out in such a way that the ratio of boomers to old people was very high when the boomers were young, but the ratio of young people to boomers will be low as the boomers hit the retirement years. This is crunching the Medicare and Social Security systems, as you know from the news. AARP is likely to work hard to protect benefits for the elderly, but at the same time it is prudent to save as much as you can when young or else the golden years will just be the 'olden years, if you know what I mean.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Feeding the World, Not Just China

Today's New York Times has a lengthy and detailed article by Justin Gillis that does a very nice job of laying out the challenges that we face on this planet trying to feed a growing population. Although readers of my book are unlikely to find much that is new in the article, it is important to keep beating the drum that we cannot be complacent about the food supply. In the end, we all must eat, or we die. Among the many important comments in the article are the following:

The rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed to the point that it is failing to keep up with the demand for food, driven by population increases and rising affluence in once-poor countries.
Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost.
Those price jumps, though felt only moderately in the West, have worsened hunger for tens of millions of poor people, destabilizing politics in scores of countries, from Mexico to Uzbekistan to Yemen. The Haitian government was ousted in 2008 amid food riots, and anger over high prices has played a role in the recent Arab uprisings.
Now, the latest scientific research suggests that a previously discounted factor is helping to destabilize the food system:climate change.
A rising unease about the future of the world’s food supply came through during interviews this year with more than 50 agricultural experts working in nine countries.
These experts say that in coming decades, farmers need to withstand whatever climate shocks come their way while roughly doubling the amount of food they produce to meet rising demand. And they need to do it while reducing the considerable environmental damage caused by the business of agriculture.
Key points made in the article bear repeating: (1) the kind of research that is needed to make sure that agriculture can handle the challenge takes years to develop; (2) the research requires money, and (3) developing countries--where the rise in demand is greatest--cannot do this on their own. At the moment the Gates Foundation is one of the single biggest contributors to this effort, but governments of rich nations need to step up, as well. It is true that Norman Borlaug's work, which launched the Green Revolution, was initially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, but that was followed by government agencies in many countries pushing the effort.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The End of AIDS?

This week is the 30th anniversary of the first AIDS cases being recognized as a cluster of diseases in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control, although the disease probably entered the country in the 1970s. Thirty years ago no one was sure exactly what this disease was. I have a copy of the Wall Street Journal from December 10, 1981 with the headline "Mysterious Ailment Plagues Drug Users, Homosexual Males." Only six years later it was a global emergency, and merited a separate essay in the Fourth Edition of my Population text, which came out in 1988. I ended that essay with the comment that "it also seems possible, however, that the massive resources that are being poured into research may yield a cure for AIDS." I thought about that comment as I pondered the Economist's cover story this week--23 years later--on "The End of Aids?" That question mark at the end is the most important part of the headline. The Associated Press offered this thought about it:
"There are paths forward now" to a day when people with AIDS might be cured, said Dr. Michael Horberg, a member of President Obama's HIV/AIDS council and vice chairman of the HIV Medicine Association, doctors who treat the disease. "But it's not tomorrow, and it's not today."
Prevention is still the key to limiting the disease, and the picture is now complicated by an increasing North/South divide in survival. Research has not yet found a cure, but it has produced medicines that will hold back the effects of the disease and increase survival even when infected. Those drugs are expensive, however, and have to be taken for the rest of your life. In the rich countries this is possible, but in the poor countries not so much. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New E. Coli Outbreak Threatens Europeans

In 1935 Hans Zinsser reminded us that bugs are always waiting in the shadows "ready to pounce when neglect, poverty, famine, or war lets down the defenses." It seems this week that someone in Europe let down the defenses:


Scientists on Thursday blamed Europe's worst recorded food-poisoning outbreak on a "super-toxic" strain of E. coli bacteria that may be brand new.
But while suspicion has fallen on raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce as the source of the germ, researchers have been unable to pinpoint the food responsible for the frightening illness, which has killed at least 18 people, sickened more than 1,600 and spread to least 10 European countries.
An alarmingly large number of victims — about 500 — have developed kidney complications that can be deadly.
Although there were early reports that the problem arose in Spain, this seems not to be true:
Nearly all the sick either live in Germany or recently traveled there. British officials announced four new cases, including three Britons who recently visited Germany and a German on vacation in England.
Some scientists suspect the deadly E. coli might have been in manure used to fertilize vegetables.
Health officials are also concerned about secondary infections, "which often happens when children are infected. E. coli is present in feces and can be spread by sloppy bathroom habits, such as failure to wash one's hands."


UPDATE--After 33 known deaths, German officials have traced the deadly bacteria to bean sprouts grown in Germany:

After a weeks-long hunt for the elusive source of the contamination, German officials said they were confident they had found the origin.
"It's the sprouts," Reinhard Burger, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, the national disease centre, told a news conference on the outbreak of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) in northern Germany.
"People who ate sprouts were found to be nine times more likely to have bloody diarrhoea or other signs of EHEC infection than those who did not," he said, citing a study of more than 100 people who fell ill after dining in restaurants.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Will China Feed Itself?

More than fifteen years ago, Lester Brown--then President of the Worldwatch Institute--published a widely cited book on "Who Will Feed China?" His concern was that China's rapid industrialization in the context of its huge and still growing population would mean that China would inevitably have to import food, and that could disrupt the global food supply. Lester Brown is now President of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, DC, and recently raised the issue again in a podcast "Can the United States Feed China?" This has prompted a response in the latest issue of Nature from a Chinese agricultural specialist who divides his time between the US and China:

I thank Lester for his warning on food security in China, but I believe it is not a matter of whether China can feed itself. It is a matter of whether the Chinese people will choose to do so.
First, some history. China's grain production quadrupled from 1950 to 2010, and last year saw the largest ever harvest. Much of the grain that China imported last year was not for consumption, but for storage in case of crises. In fact, for the past 60 years, China has, with just 7–8% of the globe's agricultural land, fed about 22% of the world's population.
The challenges he lists are enormous, from the issue of cities gobbling up good farmland, to the loss of agricultural knowledge as older farmers die, but their children have migrated to cities, to the fact that China's population is likely to grow to nearly 1.5 billion before it stops, to the issue of where water will come from. On this latter score, he hits an interesting point--the potential benefit of global climate change to China:
Glaciers in western China are likely to melt faster over the next few decades, and could water new farmland in that region. Then there is indoor, hydroponic cultivation, which has already entered China on a household scale for growing vegetables.
An important part of the picture relates to consumption patterns:
Yes, the growing middle class wants to eat more meat, which requires more grain, but older people tend to eat less meat, so the demand could be balanced as the population ages. The country does not have to follow the Western model of development based on overconsumption. Thrift is deeply ingrained in the philosophy and culture of the people.
So, in the end, it comes down to this: can dietary discipline be maintained? If so, China may be able to feed itself.