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

Friday, March 31, 2017

Famine Looms

While the rich countries worry about a flood of refugees, and the Middle East continues to cope with armed conflict (thus generating many, if not most, of the refugees), a less noisy crisis is looming--that of famine, especially in Africa, but also in the Middle East. The full report is available here, and Reuters has the story summarized:
Global food crises worsened significantly in 2016 and conditions look set to deteriorate further this year in some areas with an increasing risk of famine, a report said on Friday.
"There is a high risk of famine in some areas of north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen because of armed conflict, drought and macro-economic collapse," the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) said.
FSIN, which is co-sponsored by the United Nations food agency, the World Food Programme and the International Food Policy Research Institute, said the demand for humanitarian assistance was escalating.
FSIN said that 108 million people were reported to be facing crisis level food insecurity or worse in 2016, a drastic increase from the previous year's total of almost 80 million.
The four countries named above as facing a high risk of famine share many things in common, but an important demographic characteristic of all four is high fertility and thus high rates of population growth:

Nigeria: TFR of 5.5 (but nearly seven in the northeast)
Somalia: TFR of 6.4
South Sudan: TFR of 6.7
Yemen: TFR of 4.2

These countries all need assistance with food and contraception. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A "Win" of Sorts for Planned Parenthood Even as it is Attacked Yet Again

I have blogged many times over the years about the threats to women's reproductive health. In the U.S., the recent threats come from well-to-do white male politicians who want to make sure that the government does not support the one national program offering reproductive health care services to women--Planned Parenthood. The Obamacare replacement bill that was pulled from consideration before a vote could be taken on it last week contained provisions to defund Planned Parenthood, but The Hill reports that yesterday House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested that they had a new plan to defund it through a "reconciliation bill."
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that Congress shouldn’t try to defund Planned Parenthood in a measure to fund the government, but instead should use a separate healthcare reform bill.
“We think reconciliation is the tool, because that gets it into law,” Ryan told reporters in response to a question about Planned Parenthood funding.
“Reconciliation is the way to go,” he added, referring to a legislative process that prevents the Senate from filibustering legislation that doesn’t impact federal debt.
We'll have to see how this plays out, but in the meantime it was encouraging that anti-abortion activists who falsely accused Planned Parenthood of selling baby parts were indicted in California on 15 different charges. Whether or not you approve of abortion, you cannot possibly approve of this kind of illegal activity organized with the intent of preventing a legal activity.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Middle East Produces Most of the Refugees--and Hosts Them, As Well

President Trump's travel ban has once again been put on hold on by the courts and has dropped out of general view, although it has reverberated around the world. It was motivated not just by threats of terrorism by especially by the xenophobia associated with having to cope with refugees. NPR yesterday had a very nice story reminding us that while the Middle East and Western Asia are currently producing the vast majority of refugees in the world, they are also hosting most of those refugees. 
The flow of refugees is steadily increasing, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). As of mid-2016, there were 16.5 million refugees globally, 5 million more than in mid-2013. More than 30 percent of all refugees as of mid-2016 came from Syria, the largest source of global refugees.
If we look at total numbers you can see in the graph below that Turkey is currently hosting the greatest number of refugees--mostly from Syria. And, by the way, the U.S. State Department Humanitarian Information Unit has a nice infographic with more detail about Syrian refugees in Turkey




The picture looks a little different if we consider refugees per capita. That puts Lebanon, rather than Turkey, on top. 


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Governments Can Lower Smoking Rates--If They Want to

Smoking is one of the biggest health risks in the world. It greatly increases your risk of dying at a younger age than non-smokers, and before you die it has a high chance of having created multiple (and often very expensive) health problems. I saw that with my own father-in-law, who started smoking as a teenager and then had a stroke at age 67 that kept him confined to a wheel-chair until his death at age 83 from complications with lung cancer. Now that the world has been able to move beyond the "fake news" stories that there was no link between smoking and lung cancer and other health problems, the question is why rates of smoking are as high as they are in some parts of the world? Three years ago, for example, I blogged about the fact that there are more smokers in China than there are people in the U.S. This does not bode well for China's ability to deal with its aging population. 

This week's Economist reports on a study just out in The Lancet showing that smoking rates are directly related to the willingness of a government to step in and do something.
The study examined the link between smoking prevalence and measures to curb it in 126 countries. The authors considered five measures: taxation to raise cigarette prices, smoke-free places, cessation programmes, warning labels on cigarette packs and bans on tobacco advertising. They took stock of the countries which, between 2007 and 2014, had introduced these measures at the level of stringency recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It advises, for example, that taxes comprise at least 75% of the retail price of the most popular brands of cigarettes, and that countries ban all forms of advertising, including billboards, promotional discounts and sponsorship of events by tobacco companies. 
Countries that introduced more measures had greater declines in smoking between 2005 and 2015. In a country that introduced three such measures, for example, the number of smokers shrunk on average by about a fifth. 
These data suggest that it is not necessary to leave it up to individuals to change behavior on their own. Government policies do make a difference. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Contraceptives Being Priced Out of the Market in Egypt

A few days ago I blogged about Egypt's continuing struggle with population growth. This week's Economist adds some detail to the dilemma. Contraceptives, like other medicines in Egypt, have been in short supply because the government has for decades set the price of medicines, but the fact that most are imported, or rely on imported ingredients, means that the drop in value of the Egyptian pound has created a situation in which drug firms would have been losing money if they sold the medicines at the government-fixed price.
By the time the government agreed to raise the price of medicines in January, 95% of the local factories that make drugs had stopped production, says Ali Ouf of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce. For now, shortages are easing. “Most missing medicine is now available, but in very small quantities,” says another pharmacist. “For contraceptives, one person cannot buy more than one pack.”
There has been talk of the government playing a larger role in the drugs market. (When there was a shortage of baby formula last year, the army intervened.) But its bureaucracy is already part of the problem. Several ministries regulate the import, manufacture and sale of drugs. The IMF has urged Egypt to abandon fixed prices. Locals want the government to widen and improve coverage.
The Economist notes that access to contraceptives is rarely a matter of life and death. But, of course, while that may be true in the short term, in the long run a population that is already exceeding its available resources is facing a genuine life-or-death situation. And, to its credit, the Economist hints at this when it says that "...Egypt’s population is growing at 2.4% a year, much faster than most other developing countries. Water and food are in short supply. The government can hardly serve the 92m Egyptians alive today."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The "Sea of Despair" Among White, Working Class Americans

Thanks to Rebecca Clark for pointing to a story in today's Washington Post about a new Brookings Institution report just out by Princeton economists (and demographers) Anne Case and Angus Deaton. They made the news in late 2015 with their discovery of the increasing mortality among white, working class males due especially to opioid overdose. They describe a "sea of despair" in this segment of the population.
The two Princeton professors say the trend affects whites of both sexes and is happening nearly everywhere in the country. Education level is significant: People with a college degree report better health and happiness than those with only some college, who in turn are doing much better than those who never went.
Offering what they call a tentative but “plausible” explanation, they write that less-educated white Americans who struggle in the job market in early adulthood are likely to experience a “cumulative disadvantage” over time, with health and personal problems that often lead to drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease and suicide.
“Ultimately, we see our story as about the collapse of the white, high-school-educated working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline,” they conclude.
 The story actually sounds like the academic version of J.D. Vance's very popular memoir titled "Hillbilly Elegy."  It also gets us back to the discussion about the income and wealth inequality in the country that is only getting more exaggerated.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Infant Mortality Down in US; Still Highest Among Rich Nations

The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics has just come out with a new report on trends over time (2005-2014) in infant mortality in the U.S., and it is a genuine case of good news/bad news. The good news is that the infant death rate has declined over time, but the bad news is that it still remains the highest among rich countries. Indeed, when you consider the overall high level of per person income in the U.S., the fact that our infant death rate is so high is astounding. But, when you plumb the data a bit, you can see that income inequality in the country puts the burden of infant mortality disproportionately on blacks and native Americans. NBC News offers a good summary of the findings:
The report shows African-American babies by far are the most likely to die as infants, with an infant mortality rate in 2014 that's just under 11 percent. Still, that's down from 13.6 percent in 2005.
For white babies, the rate's 4.89 percent and it's 5 percent for Hispanic babies.
For 2005-2014, the highest infant mortality rates were observed among infants of non-Hispanic black women, and the lowest rates were observed among infants of API women.
The causes of infant deaths remain the same: Birth defects are the no. 1 cause, although the rate fell by 11 percent between 2005 and 2014.
"The second leading cause of infant death (infant deaths due to short gestation and low birthweight) declined 8 percent, "Driscoll and Mathews [the authors of the report] wrote. 
"The infant mortality rate for sudden infant death syndrome had the largest decline of 29 percent, from 54 in 2005 to 38.6 in 2014."
The trend data do not show any discernible effect from the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2010, although to be sure the data being analyzed here do not go past 2014. Still, it is hard to imagine that the type of repeal and replace legislation currently being considered in Congress is going to help improve the infant mortality rate in this country. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Egypt Struggles With Population Growth

Thanks to Todd Gardner (@PopGeog) for pointing out a story in today's Newsweek about the  continued rise in population in Egypt. The last time I blogged about Egypt was two years ago when I noted that the latest Demographic and Health Survey in Egypt revealed that the birth rate in Egypt was going up, not down. Furthermore, this was happening even to more educated women. Yikes!
Egypt’s population is multiplying fast. From a little over 66 million at the turn of the century, it hit almost 93 million earlier this year. If current birth rates hold, demographers project that the country’s total will be 150 million by 2050.
That kind of growth would be a challenge for almost any state, but for Egypt, politically fragile after three regime changes in six years and in the throes of food and water shortages, this population boom threatens to undermine the country’s already fragile stability. “It even constitutes a threat to national security,” says Amal Fouad, director of social research studies at CAPMAS [Central Agency for Population Mobilization and Statistics], the state statistics-gathering body.
Egypt is a huge importer of wheat and they pretty much already use up all the water in the Nile River, so it is very hard to know how they will cope a larger population. Let's just say that they aren't doing very well at the moment. 
Severe food and water shortages could lead to bread riots or other kinds of civil unrest, which worries the country’s security services. The revolution of 2011 was sparked, in part, by the economy’s inability to cope with the hundreds of thousands of young men entering the workforce each year. Now, with economic growth rates even weaker, and the education system still among the worst in the region, it’s no wonder some officials fear Egypt’s population growth. It’s “worse than terrorism,” Abu Bakr al-Gendy, the general in charge of CAPMAS, told a Cairo newspaper in December.
As I indicated back in 2015, the current government has to get back into the family planning game, but they have been more preoccupied by short-term security issues than long-term societal survival issues. The economy has to grow and it can't do it in the face of continued population growth. Thinking about the above quote that the 2011 revolution was sparked by unemployment among the large group of young men in the country, I am reminded that one of the most popular of my blog posts over the years has been the one in 2011 about "How poor is the average Egyptian?" Using World Bank data I concluded that:
So, Egypt has fewer desperately poor people (as a percentage of the population) than China, but the average income in China is higher than in Egypt. Will a change in government in Egypt change this situation? A lot of people on the street seem to think so.
So far, they have been wrong... 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Can the Central African Republic Survive?

I last blogged about the Central African Republic (CAR)  three years ago, and things were bad then. Now, they're even worse. The country was the topic of discussion at the UN Security Council this week, but it's not clear that the UN's approach of just trying to keep a lid on violence is doing very much. The country is also the victim of a huge humanitarian crisis, created by a near-genocidal culture clash, as the Economist has explained:
Few countries have been dealt a worse hand by geography and history than the CAR. It is not just landlocked; it is farther from the coast than anywhere else in Africa. Moreover it is in an unstable neighbourhood, sharing borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan. The diamonds under its soil are valuable enough to be worth fighting over and portable enough to fund militias. It has mostly been ruled by dictators since independence in 1960.
The most recent crisis started in 2013 after Seleka militias ousted the government and installed the country’s first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia, before burning villages and massacring civilians. The militia that formed to oppose them was itself soon going door-to-door, killing Muslims, until a French military intervention—some reckon its seventh in the country—put a lid on the fighting.
The CAR is one of those "troubling" African countries, as Hans Rosling put it in his last interview with the BBC, and that is a genuine understatement. Despite very high fertility and mortality levels that are among the world's highest, the population is still projected  by UN demographers to double in size between now and the middle of this century--assuming that genocide is avoided and recognizing that out-migration options are fairly limited, given the instability of neighbors. What no one seems to be talking about is something that the country really needs--family planning to reduce fertility and maternal and infant mortality. The Trump administration's reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule would rule out help from the U.S., but other countries need to step in. The situation reminded me of the cartoon below that was published after the most recent UN Population Conference in Cairo, which was held back in 1994:


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Is Turkey's Erdogan Trying to Play the Demographic Card in Europe?

Thanks to Abu Daoud for linking me to a very provocative story that he came across in Commentary and the Daily News suggesting that Turkish President Erdogan wants Turkish-origin residents in Europe to increase their level of fertility and thereby become the "future of Europe."
“I am calling out to my citizens, by brothers and sisters in Europe,” Erdoğan said at a rally in the Central Anatolian province of Eskişehir on March 17. “Have not just three but five children.” “The place in which you are living and working is now your homeland and new motherland. Stake a claim to it. Open more businesses, enroll your children in better schools, make your family live in better neighborhoods, drive the best cars, live in the most beautiful houses,” he said. “That’s because you are the future of Europe. It will be the best answer to the vulgarism, antagonism, and injustice made against you.”
This seems to be Erdogan's way of lashing out at Europe--especially Germany and the Netherlands--for their having pushed back on his open attempt to persuade Turkish citizens living in Europe to vote for a new law in Turkey that would give Erdogan more power. Like many countries, including the U.S. and Mexico, Turkey allows registered voters who live outside of the country to vote in national elections. The controversy in this case is that Erdogan has wanted to actively campaign in Europe on behalf of his referendum. You can imagine the reaction in Europe and elsewhere if candidates for U.S. president sent their campaign representatives around the world to influence the votes of U.S. citizens living abroad. It is also true that the European Union's highest court has just ruled that employers can ban the wearing of head scarves at work, as long as they ban all other religious symbols worn by employees. Erdogan was vocally upset at the policy, according to The Guardian.

Unfortunately, these kinds of provocative statements by the Turkish President are likely to feed right into the populist rhetoric, which just experienced at a least a small setback this week when anti-immigrant Geert Wilders in the Netherlands fell short of gaining power in the country.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Final Demographic Thoughts From Hans Rosling

Thanks to Stuart Gietel-Basten for pointing me to an article from BBC summarizing their last interview with Hans Rosling before he died last month. This is not just a must-read article, it is one to be saved and trotted out periodically. Here are just a few of the highlights:
Why do I as a professor from public health speaking about health and demography get invited to Goldman Sachs [and] all these big banks around the world? Because I tell them I can see on my screen when economic growth comes, before you can see it. In the past, economic growth was driving demographics, and now it's the other way around.
First, I see decent life coming and I see children born-per-woman drop. I see the two-child family, and I see the economic growth starting in Vietnam, in Thailand… not only in China.
And this change is coming, so if you want to know where to invest in Africa go and look at demographics. Governments can't run bedrooms. Bedrooms run the world.
Many people who have a big heart and haven't thought so much they may think that Western Europe can solve the problems of the world by receiving all poor people and all refugees. That won't work. I think it's good that we receive many refugees, but I'd rather have them coming with their families together rather than forcing them out on these dangerous trips where they lose all their money to criminal organisations.If we can manage migration in the world, it can benefit the person who migrates with their family, the country from where they come and the country to where they go.
I didn't try to summarize what he was saying, because he had a wonderful way with words. He also had a wonderful handle on demography. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What If There Had Been No War in Syria?

Today a federal judge in Hawaii put a hold on the Trump administration's latest "watered down" travel ban on the grounds that it was blatantly aimed at a specific religion group. President Trump has never really wavered on the idea that this is a Muslim ban, and that is how the court interpreted it. At the same time, the very existence of the travel ban--even if not implemented--may be enough to hold back immigrants and other travelers from heading to the U.S., as I noted a few days ago. A story in today's NYTimes offers up the idea that rising populism and anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe may be having the same effect there. A related article in the NYTimes reports that even Denmark, which has been generally welcoming of refugees, has added a new layer of restrictions on their entry.

I think it is reasonable to guess that none of these things would be happening were it not for the fact that the war in Syria is now heading into its seventh year. Here's a summary of the wreckage:
Syria’s civil war has raged on for six years. The UN children’s agency says a record number of children were killed in Syria last year. More than a third of them in or near a school. Fighting in Syria has claimed the lives of between 300,000 and 400,000 people. Before the war, Syria’s population was 22 million. Today, half of those people have fled their homes and more than 13 million people are in urgent need of assistance. Nearly five million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries. Turkey hosts more than 2.7 million.Hundreds of thousands of others are in Lebanon and Jordan. At least 800,000 have applied for asylum in Europe.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has had the kind of durability only dreamed of by the other dictatorial victims of the Arab Spring. And there is no real end in sight, as nearly as I can tell. From the beginning, this seemed like a more complicated battle than in the other countries, as I noted four years ago, with no group really being able to claim the moral high ground. Now, to be sure, if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq in 2003 and then essentially abandoned it in 2011, the mess in the Middle East would be less messy, but we have to deal with what we have now. In my view, the anti-immigrant sentiments in the U.S. and Europe will die down pretty quickly if world leaders can bring an end to conflict in Syria. And, yes, I get it that this is vastly harder to do than say, but we can't let it out of our sight and be deflected by whether or not Trump Tower was wire-tapped during the election...

Monday, March 13, 2017

U.S. Safety and Science Under Threat

It has become clear that the Trump administration has a world view that disparages the discussion of global issues while also denigrating science. Two stories help to illustrate this troubling trend. Public Radio International today aired a story about the fact that positions at the U.S. State Department are going unfilled, and the Trump budget proposes a huge cut to the department. 
One of those empty chairs at State once belonged to Thomas Countryman, who served in the US foreign service for 35 years. His most recent post during the Obama presidency was assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation. Countryman says there are two possible explanations for why the White House is leaving so many State Department slots unfilled. One is benign, and one is more sinister.
"The benign explanation is that it's difficult to find somebody who has perfect, unthinking loyalty to Mr. Trump and who also is minimally qualified for the job that they would have to do and would need Senate confirmation. Those two groups of people may not intersect at all," he says. "The more difficult explanation, [which] unfortunately, I believe to be true, [is] that there's a deliberate policy on the part of the White House to let the State Department and other agencies atrophy to ensure that there remains a vacuum in the analytical and leadership capabilities of State and other agencies."

Countryman says vacancies at State mean fewer voices might speak out to challenge the snap decisions emanating from the White House.
The second story comes from here in San Diego, but is being repeated in many places in the country. It relates to the concern of scientists that the Trump administration will actively try to destroy data related to climate and other environmental change. The San Diego Union-Tribune reveals that scientists at the University of California, San Diego are trying to make sure that their data are preserved.
The situation at UC San Diego resembles efforts by scientists, librarians, environmental activists and others across the country to preserve climate data housed at colleges and on government websites. Representatives of places such as the University of Michigan and MIT said they’re worried that President Donald Trump and his team could suppress information that’s central to policy discussions, international treaties and business regulations.
The president has repeatedly denied the existence of global warming or cast doubt on it. He has called climate change an “expensive hoax” and said, “I am not a great believer in man-made climate change.” 
And Scott Pruitt — head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the federal government’s leading enforcer on climate-change issues — said Thursday that he doesn’t believe carbon dioxide is a “primary contributor” to climate change.
These are very unsettling developments and we need to do what we can to keep safety and science at the top of the national agenda.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Federal Judges Rule That Texas Gerrymandered Congressional Districts

A panel of three Federal judges has struck down Congressional maps created by the Texas state legislature in 2011, following the 2010 census, ruling that they deliberately discriminated against African-Americans and Hispanics.
The ruling striking down the maps was made late Friday. It is the latest development in a long-running and racially charged redistricting case that locked Democratic lawmakers, minority groups, the Obama administration and the Texas Republican leadership in a legal battle for nearly six years. Democrats and civil-rights lawyers accused the majority-white Texas Republican leadership of drawing district maps in ways that diluted the voting power of Democratic-leaning minority voters, accusations that Republicans denied.
The State of Texas argued that political party might have been involved in drawing districts, but not race/ethnicity. That is important because the U.S. Supreme Court has generally ruled that you can do almost anything in drawing boundaries as long as race/ethnicity isn't involved. So, this case is likely to wind up in the Supreme Court, and we'll have to see what happens. However, one possibility of this ruling is that Texas could be back under federal supervision with respect to Congressional district boundaries.
Texas had been one of several mostly Southern states that required federal approval before making changes to its voting laws, because of the states’ history of discrimination. But the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling that struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act freed Texas and the other states and localities from requiring advance federal permission before changing their voting procedures, a process known as preclearance. 
The Supreme Court’s decision left intact provisions of the Voting Rights Act that allow federal courts to put a state or jurisdiction back under preclearance if it is found to have intentionally discriminated against minorities.
Keep in mind that race/ethnicity is not the only criterion that courts look at with respect to state-level legislative districts. I noted last November that a federal court ruled that Wisconsin had gerrymandered its legislative district boundaries and in January a federal judge ordered the state to redraw those boundaries.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Should We Be Worried About a Lack of Age Diversity in Neighborhoods?

A few days ago I discussed the important role that demographic diversity can play in keeping us open to new ideas, thus allowing us to better solve societal problems as they emerge and evolve. The discussion in that blog post revolved largely around race and language. A paper out this week in Demographic Research suggests that we should also be concerned about an increasing lack of age diversity in neighborhoods. The paper focuses on the UK, but the authors (Albert Sabater, Elspeth Graham and Nissa Finney) point to studies showing that age segregation is also increasing in the U.S. So, what's the big deal?

While arguments favouring age segregation on the grounds of efficient service provision may make economic sense, they are seriously challenged by the potentially adverse consequences for social cohesion (Hagestad and Uhlenberg 2006). For instance, age segregation can become exclusionary by physically separating one age group from another, with potentially serious implications such as fostering distrust, stereotypic thinking, and misunderstanding, thus impeding the well-being benefit from intergenerational mixing (World Health Organisation 20077). Additionally, in a context of increasing age segregation, austerity measures, and reduction in the capacity of the local state, competition between age groups for limited public and private resources to support their age-specific interests and agendas has the potential to generate intergenerational conflict as well as affect political outcomes (Binstock 2010).
While the data do not yet allow one to draw causal inferences, it is nonetheless the case that older people in the U.K. were disproportionately likely to vote to leave the European Union, as I noted at the time, and the authors note, as I did at the time, that in the U.S. the older population was more likely to vote for Donald Trump. Would these votes have been different if there were more regular interaction between the young and the old? It's an intriguing question.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Immigration Reform Gets Harder the Longer You Wait

Today's The Atlantic has a very nice conversation about immigration policy between two of its well-known writers, David Frum and Conor Friedersdorf.  They have different views both about what has been happening with respect to immigration, and what should be done. It is a long article, not capable of easily being summarized, especially since I disagree with some of what each of them has to say, but also agree with a lot. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here is a snippet from David Frum:
Democrats and Republicans alike collude in gutting enforcement at the workplace. Policing the border isn’t immigration enforcement. It’s a visually spectacular (and of course hugely expensive) substitute for enforcement. And even those Americans who don’t know the policy details understand that politicians are making immigration promises that they do not intend to keep. The all-pervading bad faith on immigration enforcement opens space for immigration demagogues. 
Which is where we have arrived. There’s more to say, including about the obsolescence of refugee policy and the dysfunction of America’s legal immigration system.
The reality is that we do have a dysfunctional immigration system, which was made all the more poignant by the headline today was that arrests of undocumented immigrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico are down significantly since Donald Trump took office. The explanation offered is that threats from the Trump administration have discouraged people from trying to make the crossing. It would be nice if it were that easy (so that we could get rid of the silly idea of building a wall), but we will have to see. It is the case, though, that the number of undocumented immigrants represents a very clear failure of Congress to implement an effective immigration policy. For example, one of the big complaints routinely leveled is that someone should not be allowed to stay in the country without papers when there is a very long line of people waiting for visas to enter the country legally. The problem is the mismatch between those people--a large fraction of whom are family members of currently legal immigrants--and the jobs for which employers are looking for workers. Canada has dealt with this issue with its point system that gives higher priority, even to family members, if they have a job skill needed by the Canadian economy. This is one of many ideas that exist for effectively cutting down on undocumented immigration by improving the legal migration system, but so far none has gained much traction in Congress, and I'm not completely sure why they haven't.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Demography Now and Then

It has been my pleasure recently to become acquainted with Professor Alan Berstein at Gordon State College in Georgia. His doctorate is in demography from the University of Pennsylvania and he taught at Washington University in St. Louis for several years before leaving academics for a couple of decades. He then returned to academia a few years ago and just this past year was able to teach demography again. He recounted his experience to an audience of colleagues at Gordon State and at my request has provided a link to the essay that he shared. Since he's only a little younger than I am, his perceptions of changes over time in how demography is taught mirror mine very closely. The essential ingredients of demography are not much different now than they used to be--these are universal principles we're talking about--but the approach to teaching is a lot different (and I think better) now that it used to be. Here is one of my favorite paragraphs from his essay:
It’s the change in doing demography that has transformed my teaching it. Fifty years ago, my first forays into demographic research as a sophomore in college inevitably led me to library stacks and dozens of census and vital statistics volumes; armed with magnifying glass and legal pad, I withstood the ravages of book dust in pursuit of quantitative truth. Today, a few weeks into my class, I took my students to one of our computer labs to visit, hands on, data sites at the U.S. Census Bureau’s magnificent American Fact Finder, the CDC's "WONDER" (which actually isn't really), the Georgia Department of Public Health’s OASIS, and the Vinson Institute, where it’s all there for the clicking! Students can engage with the data and hence the field immediately and in real time. Further, we can all follow developments in the field not only with online access to scholarly journals, but with resources more intellectually accessible to all my student like the population blog maintained by John Weeks, the author of my textbook (Weeks 2017). Hence demography today jumps out from the textbook and data to motivate students to look at their world through a demographic lens almost as soon as the semester starts.
I have devoted my entire adult to understanding how the world works, and I am convinced that demography is in the center of everything. When I see other teachers and students as excited as I am about learning I know that everything is going to be all right.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Mapping the Famine in South Sudan

Last week I commented on the seeming disintegration of the world's newest country--South Sudan--now barely 6 years old. After its "divorce" from the predominantly Arab Muslim Sudan to the north, the people of South Sudan have not been able to unify and move forward. The bottom line is that people are starving, and the Humanitarian Information Unit of the U.S. State Department has assembled a very nice infographic to summarize the situation.

What the map cannot easily show is that the battle between two anthropologically famous ethnic groups--the Nuer and the Dinka--is at the root of the violence and dissembling of the country. These are culture wars at their very worst.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What Does Diversity Do For You?

Today's NYTimes has a very interesting Op-Ed piece by Moises Velasquez-Madoff on "What Biracial People Know." He summarizes academic research from the U.S. pointing to the conclusion that people who are themselves biracial, or even who grow up with people of other races, are less "tribal" and this can translate into greater success economically, socially, and politically. This is not unlike what happens to people who grow up being bilingual:
Consider this: By 3 months of age, biracial infants recognize faces more quickly than their monoracial peers, suggesting that their facial perception abilities are more developed. Kristin Pauker, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and one of the researchers who performed this study, likens this flexibility to bilingualism.
Early on, infants who hear only Japanese, say, will lose the ability to distinguish L’s from R’s. But if they also hear English, they’ll continue to hear the sounds as separate. So it is with recognizing faces, Dr. Pauker says. Kids naturally learn to recognize kin from non-kin, in-group from out-group. But because they’re exposed to more human variation, the in-group for multiracial children seems to be larger.
This is, by the way, one of the major points made by Rubén Rumbaut and his collaborators (who include Marta Tienda, Past President of the Population Association of America and also Professor Rumbaut's sister-in-law) in a recently published volume from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences titled "America's Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century". Being different and knowing people who are different, and knowing more than one language, are all ways in which people enhance their capacity to solve problems. 

There is a limit to the value of differentness, however, and culture is the problem. Looking different and speaking a different language are one thing, but having a different cultural world-view can be much more problematic. Velasquez-Madoff hints at this issue when he talks about an experiment carried out a Duke University.
Closer, more meaningful contact with those of other races may help assuage the underlying anxiety. Some years back, Dr. Gaither of Duke ran an intriguing study in which incoming white college students were paired with either same-race or different-race roommates. After four months, roommates who lived with different races had a more diverse group of friends and considered diversity more important, compared with those with same-race roommates. After six months, they were less anxious and more pleasant in interracial interactions. (It was the Republican-Democrat pairings that proved problematic, Dr. Gaither told me. Apparently they couldn’t stand each other.)
If we could minimize racism on the basis of skin color and language, we would have made great strides in this country, as in any country (and here I am reminded of Mara Loveman and Jeronimo O. Muniz's interesting paper in the American Sociological Review a few years ago (2007) about "How Puerto Rico Became White: BoundaryDynamics and Intercensus Racial Reclassification"). But getting past cultural patterns such as how women are treated in society is a bigger next step.
 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Migration Flows Are Not Always Easy to Track

The "mess in the Middle East" has created the most recent flood of refugees with which western nations are coping. Having the spotlight on these flows has raised alarms about an increase in global migration flows. But this week's issue of Nature cautions us to step back a minute and make sure that we have good data before we make too many pronouncements.
The headline “710,000 migrants entered EU in first nine months of 2015” blared from a press release that year by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency in Warsaw. Not so, said social scientist Nando Sigona, an expert on refugees and migration at the University of Birmingham, UK. Frontex, he pointed out, had been counting the same people two or three times or more — for example, a person who was recorded on arrival in Greece and left the EU by going to Albania was again counted on re-entering the bloc by a different route. Frontex has since made this caveat clear in its releases of cross-border data. But it is often the headline numbers that are retained by the media, and by the many populists and politicians who abuse data on refugees and migrants for political ends. We simply do not know the true figure.
As I read that, I thought about a paper that my colleagues Justin Stoler and Piotr Jankowska and I published a few years on "Who's Crossing the Border" (referring to the U.S.-Mexico border). The U.S. Border Patrol gave us access to a database that included fingerprint IDs so that we could figure out the unduplicated counts of people apprehended at or near the border in the fiscal years 1999-2006. We found a consistent pattern of about 60% of total apprehensions representing the actual number of people. In other words, you need to downsize the reported numbers of people being apprehended in order to arrive at an actual picture of flows across the border. I suspect that this is true everywhere in the world.

Migrant stock is a little easier to estimate accurately if you have good census or survey data, but not all countries do, so there can be a lot of guesswork involved there, as well.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Geography of Low Life Expectancy is Similar to that of Medical Debt in US

Thanks to Anna Carla Lopez for pointing to an article in The Atlantic about medical debt in the U.S. The story draws on data from an Urban Institute report.
Nearly one in four American adults under the age of 65 has medical debt, according to the results of a new study by the Urban Institute, and southerners are hit hardest by past-due doctors’ bills.
The study authors, Michael Karpman and Kyle J. Caswell, found that eight of the ten states with the highest rates of past-due medical debt were in the South: Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Georgia. The rate was lowest in Hawaii, at 6 percent of adults, and the highest was Mississippi, at 37 percent. Nationwide, African-Americans and people aged 25 to 34 were most likely to have past-due doctors’ bills.
Unfortunately, the authors do not include a map in their report, but had they done so it would have looked very much like the one below, which shows life expectancy at birth by county in the U.S. (red is low and blue is high). These calculations were done by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, as I noted at the time. 



The cause of high medical debt and low life expectancy are the same--poverty. Every other rich country in the world has a system of national health insurance that lowers the chance of high medical debt and increases the chance of high life expectancy. However, there does not seem to be any serious movement in this country to alter the current health care system in any meaningful way. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

An Annotated Guide to President Trump's Speech to the U.S. Congress

Yesterday I asked the question whether or not the Trump administration might actually think about a process of legalization for at least some of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. He did not touch on that in last night's speech, so we will just have to wait and see. His speech did, however, offer a wide range of policy possibilities without providing any specific details about how he would do things like bring back jobs, rebuild the country's infrastructure, reconfigure health care, deal with immigration, and play a key role in world affairs. These are not simple things to do. First, you have to diagnose the real problem, and then find answers that a majority of people in Congress can agree on. That's a lot of work, but the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine today provided a helpful online resource by pointing to books put out by American scientists (the people who really do know more than others about their subject areas) that offer the diagnoses and treatments for many (albeit not all) of the points made in President Trump's speech last night. 
The President’s Joint Address to Congress focused on topics including immigration, health care, and infrastructure. The National Academies Press provides resources directly related to these issues.
In keeping with our seven-year tradition of providing resources on the topics in Presidents’ State of the Union addresses, we’ve annotated the complete text of President Trump’s Address to Congress with relevant reports from the National Academies that provide authoritative, independent guidance on these issues.
Each of the books can be downloaded for free as PDF files. Enjoy!