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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Demographics of Driving in Texas

The young and the old are the worst drivers in the world. Those are the facts, although to be fair the younger drivers (under 25) have a higher fatality rate than older drivers (70+). This matters, of course, as the age structure changes, as it is in the US. Today's New York Times carries an Op-Ed piece about this issue from the Texas Tribune. It is based largely on an interview with Steven Murdock, former Director of the US Census Bureau and current State Demographer of the State of Texas, while also teaching at Rice University. In Texas, the population is growing, and it is aging at the same time.
And the fastest growth of any age group will be the gray-hairs — drivers 65 or older. Depending on the growth model for Texas — what you think migration will do, whether you think the state will be as magnetic as it has been for the last two decades — the over-65 driving population will grow by anywhere from 218 percent to 268 percent between 2005 and 2040.

Put another way, a population that numbered about 1.8 million in Texas in 2005 will grow to somewhere between 5.7 million and 6.6 million in 2040.
That group is part of a bigger issue: if the state continues to grow like it has, we will need more roads. “We’re adding lots of bodies to roads that are already congested,” Dr. Murdock said.
Luckily for the fatality rate, it seems, a disproportionate share of those added bodies will be aging Baby Boomers, rather than young people, but the population projections do suggest that a state that has a strong ethos of keeping the government out of things may have to get the government involved to keep the state from strangling on its traffic.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Census Contemplates Change to Race and Ethnic Questions

The US Census Bureau is contemplating making changes in the way in which it asks about race and ethnicity, especially by combining those into a single questions. Elizabeth Aguilera of the San Diego Union-Tribune has done a nice job of examining the issue in today's paper:
Among the proposed revisions, the potentially new Hispanic designation is receiving the most public scrutiny. Latino advocates worry that counts of Hispanic Americans might drop, while demographers and other researchers welcome the possible change.
“We tend to identify ourselves by how society responds to us,” said John Weeks, a demographer at San Diego State University. “I think allowing people in one question to give all their options is what we want. It’s the best possible approach.”
In past census counts, including the one in 2010, respondents were first asked whether or not they were Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish origin. Then they were asked to select a race, such as white, black, Asian or two or more races.
Nearly every person who self-identified as Hispanic went on to choose the white or some-other-race option because they didn’t know where they fit in racially, Weeks said.
Most Americans, he added, view race and ethnicity as the same thing despite legal and anthropological distinctions.Census Bureau officials do not expect a dramatic shift in results if the survey form changes, said Nicholas Jones, chief of the racial statistics branch at the Census Bureau. He said the outcome of an experimental census study conducted in 2010 — which had some changes to race and ethnicity labels — was similar to that of the traditional form.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Demographics of Election Year Polling

The proliferation of news media in the United States has been accompanied by a proliferation of public opinion polls, which are all now trying to tell us how the presidential election is going to turn out. Indeed, Nate Silver, surely one of the smartest people tracking elections, complained recently that 
Following the polls on Wednesday reminded me of the aphorism: “If you don’t like the weather in Chicago, wait five minutes.” When there are twenty or more polls published in day, as there were on Wednesday, there are necessarily going to be some stronger or weaker ones for either candidate.
A real problem with polling is that the world has gotten very complicated. It is not as easy as it used to be get people on the phone, and the country has more demographic differences than there used to be. For this reason, pollsters get ahold of whomever they can and then they weight the results by various demographic categories, including age, sex, race/ethnicity, and in some cases political affiliation. The results then reflect not only how good a polling firm is in getting people to answer their phone (and several firms now have cell phones in their database), but also on the way in which they weight those demographic factors. This became an issue this week because on Fox News, Dick Morris (who advised Bill Clinton when he was President, but now has turned on Democrats) claimed that Mitt Romney was actually ahead in the polls, rather than losing, because undecided voters never vote for the incumbent. As David Weigel noted on Slate, this was a a knee-slapper:
According to Morris, literally 100 percent of "undecided" voters will eventually vote against Barack Obama. Leaving aside how the theory ignores spillover to write-ins and third-party candidates, this is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. Nate Silver, bless him, has already explained why the "incumbent rule" doesn't actually exist.
The lesson in all of this is that polling results are not easy to disentangle on our own, so we really need some professional guidance. In my opinion, the best guide continues to be Nate Silver, whose NY Times blog continues its geography of the election series, which I mentioned previously, when the series began this summer.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Show me your papers" is Not Dead Yet

Yesterday the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco (traditionally a rather liberal court) ruled that Arizona's "Show me your papers" law can be implemented, even though it is currently under appeal. Reuters reminds us that:
The provision requires police to verify the citizenship or immigration status of people arrested, stopped or detained if there is a reasonable suspicion that they are in the country unlawfully.
It went into effect on September 18 after a U.S. district judge lifted an injunction blocking it.
Parts of the Arizona law have been struck down by the US Supreme Court, but not all of it, including, at least for the time being, the provision that in Arizona you may have to prove that you belong there. This is not good news, I'm thinking, for the farmers whose crops are withering on the vine, as I mentioned yesterday.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jobs? We've Got Jobs

One of the biggest issues in this year's presidential race in the US is who will generate more jobs in the American economy. This week's Time points out that there are jobs going begging in the American agricultural sector.
With the harvest season in full bloom, stringent immigration laws have forced waves of undocumented immigrants to flee certain states for more-hospitable areas. In their wake, thousands of acres of crops have been left to rot in the fields, as farmers have struggled to compensate for labor shortages with domestic help.
“The enforcement of immigration policy has devastated the skilled-labor source that we’ve depended on for 20 or 30 years,” said Ralph Broetje during a recent teleconference organized by the National Immigration Forum, adding that last year Washington farmers — part of an $8 billion agriculture industry — were forced to leave 10% of their crops rotting on vines and trees. “It’s getting worse each year,” says Broetje, “and it’s going to end up putting some growers out of business if Congress doesn’t step up and do immigration reform.”
There's plenty of blame to go around. At the state level it has largely been Republican legislatures and governors that have clamped down on immigrants, while at the federal level the Obama administration has deported an alarming number of Latin American immigrants. But at a time of record unemployment that shouldn't be a problem. Aren't there unemployed people who will step in to do the work?
Farming operations nationwide, from New York to Georgia to California, are reeling from similar labor shortages despite offering domestic workers competitive packages that include 401(k) plans and health insurance. Almost in unison, farmers complain that even when they are able to lure domestic workers to what often amounts to high-skilled, grueling work, it’s not long before they abandon the job.
This is a true conundrum. Americans don't want the jobs that immigrants are hired to undertake, but then we also don't want the immigrants to come do those jobs. Guest worker programs are offered as the solution, but they carry a lot of political baggage (mainly that it is hard to send them back home when we're through exploiting them). So, in the meantime we have a higher than necessary unemployment rate, and a food supply that is at risk.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Slum Struggles in Nairobi

A large fraction of Africa's urban population lives in slums. It is the norm, but it also holds people back. Lack of housing security is a constant problem for people. This week's Economist reports that an NGO in Nairobi, Kenya, is trying to do something about it.
EVANS OMONDI JACK was born 60 years ago in a labour camp in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, a precursor to a present-day slum known as Mukuru kwa Reuben. It was named after a British veteran of the second world war who got the land from colonial authorities. After Kenya’s independence in 1964, ownership passed to the state and was eventually parcelled out, often in return for political favours, to wealthy or well-connected individuals. Since then Mr Omondi has been forcibly evicted from his birthplace on four occasions. Each time he returned and rebuilt.
Descendants of the original Reuben work-camp residents, augmented by new arrivals, number more than 100,000 today. They make up part of Nairobi’s 2.5m slum dwellers, some 90% of whom have no rights to the land on which they live. Mr Omondi, with the help of a local NGO, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, has launched a legal bid to unravel the area’s murky ownership and expose dodgy titles. His petition names some of Kenya’s most powerful people.
Shantytowns are the norm in Africa’s big cities. World Bank research suggests that legal tangles over land tenure hobble efforts to upgrade them. Only where residents have secure tenure will they invest in their homes. The Mukuru petition, if it succeeds, could make a huge difference.
There can be no doubt about that conclusion, but if you compare this story with the one that I commented on a while back with respect to Lagos, Nigeria (also a story from the Economist), you can appreciate that this is going to be a long, difficult haul.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Migrant Mess in Malta

Malta is a set of three islands in the Mediterranean, between Sicily to the north and Libya to the south. Its population of 400,000 has a southern European-style TFR of 1.4 and an eastern European life expectancy among women of 78, according to the data from the PRB World Population Sheet. And, because it is a member of the European Union, it also has immigrants--more refugees per person than any other member of the EU, according to a story in today's New York Times.
Perhaps nowhere are the consequences of the European Union’s one-size-fits-all immigration rules more apparent than here in Malta, a tiny archipelago in the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy, which now has the highest ratio of immigrants per capita of any European Union member. Many of its immigrants are caught in a limbo, unable to find jobs or afford housing — and unable to move off the island.
Until recently, Malta had little experience with boat people from the African continent. Government officials say there is no good explanation for why they began arriving here, though some link the increase to Malta’s entry into the European Union in 2004.
Malta has been asking for help for several years, and the European Union has offered some. Several hundred refugees have been relocated to the mainland, and the United States has also helped, relocating more than 1,000 families over the last five years. But the Maltese say they need more assistance.
This is one of those unusual situations in which everyone is trapped in a bad system. It appears that the vast majority of these immigrants had no intention of going to Malta. Rather, they were rescued from their flimsy boats and brought there. Once in Malta, the fact that it is an EU member means that its hands are tied with respect to what can be done with the immigrants.
Greece, too, is struggling under the rules. Thousands of immigrants keep arriving on its borders. But faced with a crushing financial crisis, it has few resources to deal with them. Its facilities are in such bad shape that last year the European Court of Human rights found that returning an asylum seeker to Greece violated his rights.
I commented on the Greek situation last month, but it is clear that the situation is not getting better.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Unexpected Drop in Life Expectancy Among Poorly Educated Whites in US

Researchers have uncovered a troubling and puzzling mortality trend--life expectancy has been dropping among the least educated non-Hispanic whites in the US. These findings were published recently in the journal Health Affairs by a team led by S. Jay Olshansky, a widely respected researcher at the University of Illinois's Chicago campus, and the story is front page news in today's New York Times and elsewhere.
The steepest declines were for white women without a high school diploma, who lost five years of life between 1990 and 2008...By 2008, life expectancy for black women without a high school diploma had surpassed that of white women of the same education level, the study found.
White men lacking a high school diploma lost three years of life. Life expectancy for both blacks and Hispanics of the same education level rose, the data showed. But blacks over all do not live as long as whites, while Hispanics live longer than both whites and blacks.
The latest estimate shows life expectancy for white women without a high school diploma was 73.5 years, compared with 83.9 years for white women with a college degree or more. For white men, the gap was even bigger: 67.5 years for the least educated white men compared with 80.4 for those with a college degree or better.
As the NY Times notes, it is not clear why this is happening. Part of the explanation may be that, fortunately, the percentage of the population without a high school education is declining, unfortunately leaving some people ever farther behind. It may also be that this is a group plagued by overuse of drugs (both prescription and otherwise). Young women in this group are apt to be working mothers with few resources to maintain good health and seek treatment when sick. Regardless of the reasons, it is clearly a troubling trend that needs to be addressed societally. Would this happen in a country with universal health care? 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beyond Seven Billion

Today the LA Times continues its series on population growth in the world with a live online chat, beginning at 330PM Pacific Time.
The Times' Kenneth R. Weiss — co-winner of the Pulitzer Prize for "Altered Oceans" — and experts from three continents will discuss global population growth in a live-streamed video chat. Guests include Dr. Malcolm Potts and Dr. Ndola Prata, both of UC Berkeley; William Ryerson of the Population Media Center; and Fatima Adamu.
 

If you miss it, as I will be forced to do, I still encourage you to visit the resources available on the LA Times website.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Greenland is Greening

On our way back from London a couple of days ago, we flew over the southern part of Greenland. To be fair, all I saw was clouds, but underneath the Arctic is melting as a result of climate change induced by billions of people using ever more energy and pumping the residue it into the atmosphere. Indeed, planes like the Boeing 777 I was flying in are big contributors to that pollution. As the ice melts, resources are being discovered and that is creating a potential political mess, as the New York Times reports today.

At stake are the Arctic’s abundant supplies of oil, gas and minerals that are, thanks to climate change, becoming newly accessible along with increasingly navigable polar shipping shortcuts. This year, China has become a far more aggressive player in this frigid field, experts say, provoking alarm among Western powers.
While the United States, Russia and several nations of the European Union have Arctic territory, China has none, and as a result, has been deploying its wealth and diplomatic clout to secure toeholds in the region.
Western nations have been particularly anxious about Chinese overtures to this poor and sparsely populated island, a self-governing state within the Kingdom of Denmark, because the retreat of its ice cap has unveiled coveted mineral deposits, including rare earth metals that are crucial for new technologies like cellphones and military guidance systems.
This is all happening at a quicker pace than expected, according to the story, because the ice is melting faster than expected. This is shaping up to be a big story among the unintended consequences of the massive increase in the number of humans over the past two hundred years.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cuban Census Under Way

The Cuban revolution bringing Fidel Castro to power took place in 1959. Since then the island nation of 11 million people has been enumerated in censuses three times--1970, 1981, and 2002. It is now in the process of counting the nation again and, as PulseAmerica points out, the usual fears of privacy invasion are in play.
Some Cubans fear that information taken by the census takers – which includes questions about the number of electronics in a home, for example – could be used by the government to target a citizen’s wealth. Others fear census takers could uncover illegal living situations, including apartments rented on the black market.
To ease these fears, the government has released statements on TV and in national press assuring Cubans the census is purely for statistics, and will not be used to prosecute anyone.
This is been the universal fear of censuses forever--that they might be used for evil, not good. History suggests, I think, that the good emanating from censuses overwhelms the bad.

Also, no matter what you may think of Castro and no matter how politically and economically oppressed Cubans may be, their basic demographics are very European. The PRB Population Data Sheet estimates that women are having 1.7 children each, and that female life expectancy is 80 years.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Geographic/Demographic Divide in England

This week's Economist follows up on the stories emanating from the recent release of data from the 2011 census in the UK. In particular, the numbers reveal that the north of England is increasingly less prosperous than the south of the country and is "becoming another country."
The north’s industrial economy had begun to crumble after the first world war; subsequent wars and government policy slowed the decline, but could not stop it. Between 1918 and 1962 the proportion of the population living in England’s three northern regions (the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber) declined from 35% to 30%, reversing the northward migration of the 19th century. In the 50 years since it has declined to 25%.
Like most things, of course, this situation is complicated.
As Danny Dorling of the University of Sheffield puts it, the difference is that, in the north, there are “islands of affluence in a sea of poverty”. In the south, the sea is of affluence. And the contrast is growing. For much of the past 20 years growth in the British economy has come from two sectors: government spending, primarily on health care and education, and the private service sector. The north has benefited only from the first, and it is ebbing.
One of the bright spots of the north discussed in the article is York, a city with a history going back to Roman times, but a key part of the industrial revolution as a former railroad town and for a century the home of the famous chocolate orange production in the world. But I was just in York last week and the railroads are far less important now and chocolate orange production has gone off to Poland. However, the city has reinvented itself into a tourist mecca and service center. A city with 2,000 years of history and bold civic leadership can do that, but most places in England's north are not in that position.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Children Are Surviving in Greater Numbers

Thanks to Vassy Lerinska for pointing me to a story covered by BBC News on the progress being made to bring down the death rate among children in developing countries.
Some 6.9 million children died before the age of five last year, compared to 12 million such deaths in 1990. Almost 19,000 under-fives died daily in 2011.
Last year, half of global under-fives deaths occurred in just five countries, Unicef said - India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and China.
While some of the improvement was the indirect result of poverty reduction in developing countries, UNICEF argues that the biggest gains have been made in those countries receiving the most direct assistance. UNICEF clearly has a vested interest in that interpretation, but in fact it is consistent with the widespread transfer of death control knowledge and methods that has been taking place especially since the end of World War II.

Of course, the story does not talk about the unintended consequences of keeping more children alive when the birth rate is not dropping at a commensurate level.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chinese Migrants Heading West to Russia

Russia has lots of land, but is losing people. China has lots of people, and many of them need work. There is thus a classic demographic fit between the two countries, as reported by the New York Times.
The influx of Chinese farm labor in Russia reflects the growing trade and economic ties between the two countries, one rich in land and resources, the other in people.
For years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, both countries have struggled to convert these complementary strengths into real business opportunities. A few mining ventures are succeeding. And state companies have struck big oil, coal and timber deals that form the backbone of the economic relationship.
Although China’s ventures into Russian agriculture have been on a smaller scale, they could end up being just as important — not least because they raise tensions about the role of immigrants similar to those seen in the United States over migrant Mexican farm laborers.
This seems like a story that is going to have long legs, since the movement of people with different cultural backgrounds invariably leads to problems of adaptation and adjustment on both sides.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Will There be a 2012 Census in the UK?

Here at the British Society for Population Studies meetings in Nottingham, a big topic is the 2011 census, the results of which are just now being rolled out (although Scotland has not yet announced any results for that part of the UK). A plenary session today featured Glen Watson, who is Director of the Census at the Office of National Statistics (ONS), and has done such a good job there that he has just been named Director General of the ONS. Some time ago I commented on a news story from the UK questioning the future of the census. I think I can confidently say that every person at today's session is convinced of the value of and need for the census, but it was pointed out that this census cost 35 percent more than the previous one, despite the fact that 9 million of the 56 million UK residents were counted by entering data on a secure website, rather than filling out a paper form. Indeed, cost is the only real issue when it comes to the census, but it is not entirely clear how the high quality data from the census could be generated in any other way, so we will have to wait and see about the fate of the UK census. It isn't dead yet.

The 2011 census did reveal that there were more immigrants in the country than the government had previously estimated. Possible explanations from Danny Dorling at the University of Sheffield included the likelihood that outmigration had been less than expected because in this global recession people have no where else to go, and also that there may be thousands of people who now live both in the UK and somewhere else, and may well be counted both places. As he noted, you can't find this stuff out without a census.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Demography of Welfare in Asia

Asia's population is growing, and growing older, and growing less poor. Economic development in much (albeit not all) of Asia has led several countries to step up the expansion of social welfare programs, including both national health care programs, and old-age pensions. This week's cover story in the Economist takes on this issue, noting that in the early days of economic growth, very little attention was paid to social welfare in Asia.

Thus Asia’s tigers kept social spending low as a percentage of GDP while their economies grew at unprecedented rates. This rapid economic progress was combined with big social advances in literacy and life expectancy. But the model fell foul of two closely linked disruptions and one implacable trend.
The trend was a steep decline in fertility. The average South Korean woman can now expect to give birth to only 1.39 children in her lifetime; in Singapore, the figure is 1.37; in Hong Kong, only 1.14. This welfare model assumed that Asia’s tightly knit families would take care of the social responsibilities its governments refused to shoulder. But asked to tutor their children, care for their parents and supplement their husband’s income, women have rebelled. The Singaporean women interviewed by Shirley Hsiao-Li Sun, a sociologist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, “want more direct and universal state subsidies, especially for education and health care,” she writes.
The disruptions were the interruption of miracle growth and the erosion of authoritarian rule. The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 resulted in a spike in lay-offs among industrial workers, and governments found it impossible to leave the jobless masses to their fate. Before 1998, none of Taiwan’s unemployed got state benefits. By 2001, all of them did. In South Korea President Kim Dae-jung pushed through a controversial 1999 act guaranteeing a minimum income to the poor, even if they could work. That minimum is now about 97% of America’s poverty guideline, measured at purchasing-power parity, in a country with only about 67% of America’s GDP per head.
The biggest hurdle to success of these schemes is, however, demography. The European pension and health care schemes that are the current day models were instituted in populations that had higher fertility, higher mortality, and thus younger age structures. Social welfare is simply more expensive in a population that has a lot of older people who need both pensions and health care, while at the same time having an increasingly small fraction of people who are of working age and thus contributing, either directly or indirectly, to the payment of those programs. It is not clear yet what the arithmetic of these plans really is, and thus if they have any chance of success.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

People Moving--a Visual

I'm in London right now on my way to the annual meeting of the British Society for Population Studies being held in Nottingham. As is true in so many of the more developed countries, service jobs here in London are increasingly held by people for whom English was not their first language. At lunch today, I couldn't place the accent of our waiter and so  I asked him about it--Slovakia, he said, "although I often tell people I'm from Hungary, because I speak Hungarian and more people know where Hungary is than where Slovakia is." So, I was primed to be impressed by a website pointed to me by others called peoplemov.in. This is a very cool visualization of migration patterns from all sending countries in the world to the countries that have received immigrants from each country. The data refer to 2010 and sources of data are provided, but the visualization actually includes raw numbers, not simply the graphics.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Does Human Fertility Square With Evolutionary Theory?

The connection between demography and evolutionary theory is a tight one in that Darwin acknowledged that his early thinking was inspired by reading Malthus. But, are we humans very good at evolution? This question was raised in an article just published online (although not yet accessible to most of us) in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, with Anna Goodman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as the lead author. This week's Economist was one of several news outlets that picked up on the story.
Why the demographic transition happens, though, is obscure—for this reaction by Homo sapiens to abundance looks biologically bonkers. Other species, when their circumstances improve, react by raising their reproductive rate, not curtailing it. And work just published by Anna Goodman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and her colleagues, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, suggests what humans do is indeed bananas. Dr Goodman has shown that the leading explanation advanced by biologists for the transition does not, in the context of the modern world, actually deliver the goods.
This explanation is that, according to circumstances, people switch between two reproductive strategies. One, known to ecologists as “r-selection”, is to produce lots of offspring but invest little in each of them. This works in environments with high infant mortality. The other, known as “K-selection”, is to have only a few offspring but to nurture them so that they are superb specimens and will thus do well in the competition for resources and mates, and produce more grandchildren for their parents than their less well-nurtured contemporaries. The demographic transition, according to this analysis, is a shift from r-type to K-type behaviour.
My reaction to this is, of course, that biologists may not understand why the demographic transition occurs, but we social scientists do understand it. As far as we know, humans are the only species able to effectively control their own mortality and fertility levels. This happened mostly after Darwin died, of course, so we can't necessarily blame him for the fact that subsequent biologists want to impose the exact same models on humans that they find working in other animals. The article has drawn a lot of on-line comments and my sense is that most readers get it, even if the author of the Economist article (and perhaps of the Royal Proceedings article) did not.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Latinos and the Electoral College in the US

With the Democratic National Convention underway today in Charlotte, North Carolina, I can't do better than to do a cut-and-paste of my son's blog posting from today:
“If Texas becomes a blue state, it will become blue because of the Hispanic vote,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the Texas Democratic Party chairman. 
“And the day that Texas becomes blue, it becomes mathematically impossible for Republicans to elect the president of the United States,” he said.
This is a very evocative--and provocative--way to think about the political demography of the Latino population. The article gets the electoral numbers a bit wrong, but if Texas voted democratic, then TX+CA+NY = 122 electoral votes, and that is a huge amount.

A key point here is the future, which is why demography is so critical. The population of the United States is changing, and many people--especially young people--who cannot currently vote eventually will start doing so. If the lopsided support for the Democratic Party persists and the Republican Party remains schizophrenic with its position on immigration and diversity, then the Electoral College will gradually become the Republican Party's worst enemy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Beating Back Malaria

Last week's Republican National Convention and this week's Democratic National Convention have been located in states--Florida and North Carolina, respectively--that were characterized by fairly high rates of malaria until the 1940s, when concerted efforts to drain swamps, spray for mosquitos and other intervention methods paid off and wiped out the disease. But vigilance is always necessary in hot, humid climates where mosquitos exist. News about Sri Lanka this week reinforced that idea. In an article published in PLoS ONE the authors note that:
Malaria incidence in Sri Lanka has declined by 99.9% since 1999...Indoor residual spraying [IRS] and distribution of long-lasting insecticide-treated nets have likely contributed to the low transmission.
This is, of course, very welcome and encouraging news. But here's the rub: 
Malaria had been nearly wiped out of Sri Lanka back in 1963.A massive decline in incidence occurred in Sri Lanka, from 91,990 cases in 1953 to 17 cases in 1963. Then, as was the case for many other countries, IRS was scaled down, surveillance and control activities were relaxed, and financial support reduced. In combination with reduced rainfall in the wet zone, these actions led to a massive resurgence, with an estimated 1.5 million cases during the two-year period 1967–1968. IRS was scaled back up the next year, but the damage had already been done. Major epidemics have since occurred in Sri Lanka in the 1980s and early 1990s.
This is a story that has been repeated throughout history when it comes to diseases of all kinds--the bugs are out there waiting for us whenever we let our guard down. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Will Latinos Influence the Vote in North Carolina?

Today's Los Angeles Times has a story designed to be a lead-in to the Democratic National Convention, which will be held this week in Charlotte, North Carolina. The headline is "In North Carolina, Latinos Gain in Political Importance." 

North Carolina, the site of this week's Democratic National Convention, has a relatively small but fast-growing Latino population. And while Obama has lost ground since 2008 in several states that he won, he has maintained mostly steady support in North Carolina and Virginia, said Tom Jensen, director of Public Polling Policy in Raleigh — with a growing nonwhite population a major reason.
Immigrants have demographically transformed urban areas but also rural communities like Lee County, which is now almost 20% Latino. The shift could increasingly bode ill for Republican presidential candidates in this state and others, Jensen said.
"The Latino vote is one major factor for why North Carolina will maintain this newfound swing status moving forward," he said.
Keep in mind, though, that "moving forward" is the key phrase here. My son, Greg Weeks, refers us to the North Carolina Board of Elections, where we can see that only 1.5 percent of registered voters in North Carolina are currently Latino, compared to 72 percent White and 22 percent Black. To be sure, there is a large group of young Latinos born in North Carolina who will become eligible to vote over the next several years, so the future is certainly going to be influenced by this demographic change, but it's hard to see that this year's election will affected in any measurable way.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

US Government Pushes Back Against Arizona's Approach to Immigrants

If you were watching the Republican National Convention on the evening that Mitt Romney gave his acceptance speech, you may have noticed that as he came on the floor of the Convention Center shaking hands, he also pecked the cheek of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. She has led the charge against undocumented immigrants in her state, which of course lashes out at all Latinos in the state. Yesterday, however, as Reuters reports, the federal government pushed back a bit on the way in which Arizona was discriminating against kids in school who are not proficient in English.
Arizona has agreed to offer targeted reading and writing instruction to tens of thousands of public school students who were wrongly denied services under an English Language Learner program, the Justice Department said on Friday.
The settlement resolves a complaint filed with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rightsand the Department of Justice that students had been incorrectly identified as fluent in English over the past five school years or prematurely moved out of the language assistance program.
"All students are entitled to equal opportunities, and this resolution will help to make sure Arizona students receive the education they deserve," Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, said in a statement announcing a settlement in the case.
This had always seemed like a very short-sighted policy from Arizona's perspective to try to save money by not giving children the skills they need to succeed. Economic success in this country depends in almost all cases on proficiency in English. The kids in school represent the next generation of workers and we all should want them as well educated generally and proficient in English more specifically as they can possibly be. Indeed, a recent Brookings Institution study suggests that a mismatch in education between workers and jobs can add as much as 2 percentage points to the unemployment rate in urban areas in the US.