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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Horrors at the Borders

The unbearable stories of children being still separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border just because they were trying to gain asylum in this country continue unabated. Over the weekend a plaintive story of a previous migrant was published in the NYTimes, and at least that story seems to be associated with a united outcome. 

But while our own border horrors continue, there are others erupting elsewhere. Venezuela is imploding and people want to get out. Who can blame them. The Guardian provides some recent accounts:
More than half a million Venezuelans have crossed into Ecuador this year as part of one of the largest mass migrations in Latin American history, the United Nations said on Friday. That is nearly 10 times the number of migrants and refugees who attempted to cross the Mediterranean into Europe over the same period. The International Organization for Migration this week announced that 59,271 migrants and refugees tried to reach Europe by sea between January and August, with most coming to Spain, Italy or Greece.
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said a daily average of up to 3,000 Venezuelan men, women and children had entered Ecuador this year but that the already “massive influx” was now accelerating further.
More than a million Venezuelans have crossed into Colombia since the exodus began in 2015. Others have fanned out across Latin American and Caribbean nations including Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Trindad and Tobago. Tens of thousands have hiked into Brazil down a remote Amazon road known as the Hunger Highway.
As is always true, these migrants are creating xenophobic reactions in the places to which they are going. It doesn't matter that they are culturally very similar to the people in the countries to which they are fleeing--they are still different, and that causes problems. So far, however, I have not seen news stories suggesting that any of these migrants out of Venezuela have been separated from their parents. Let's hope that horrible idea doesn't spread.

China Now Pushes For More Children

A story this weekend in the NYTimes discusses new moves by the Chinese government to encourage a rise in the birth rate, since the continued low birth rate is leading to a rapidly aging and eventually declining population. The one-child policy has been scrapped in favor of a two-child ideal, but Chinese couples are not hopping on the baby wagon in great numbers.

Now, keep in mind that fertility was already declining pretty rapidly in China before the implementation of the one-child policy back in the late 1970s, so the government may have helped to lower the birth rate, but its nasty, repressive policies were not the underlying cause of the low birth rate. This is at least one reason why lifting the one-child policy hasn't yet encouraged an increase in the birth rate. So, it may be that the government is going to get nasty again.
The new campaign has raised fear that China may go from one invasive extreme to another in getting women to have more children. Some provinces are already tightening access to abortion or making it more difficult to get divorced. 
“To put it bluntly, the birth of a baby is not only a matter of the family itself, but also a state affair,” the official newspaper People’s Daily said in an editorial this week, prompting widespread criticism and debate online.
A plan to end the two-child limit was floated during the legislative session in Beijing last spring and now appears to be under consideration with other measures, the National Health Commission said in a statement.
Experts say the government has little choice but to encourage more births. China — the world’s most populous nation with more than 1.4 billion people — is aging quickly, with a smaller work force left to support a growing elderly population that is living longer. Some provinces have already reported difficulties meeting pension payments.
It is unclear whether lifting the two-child limit now will make much of a difference. As in many countries, educated women in Chinese cities are postponing childbirth as they pursue careers. Young couples are also struggling with economic pressures, including rising housing and education costs.
It is my hope that these and related issues are being discussed among demographers attending this year's American Sociological Association meetings in Philadelphia. I'm sorry I can't be there to contribute. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Good Contraceptive Approved/Not so Good Contraceptive App Exposed

Yesterday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new vaginal ring that provides a year of birth control for women who use it. The method was developed by the Population Council in New York City, and I first became aware of it eight years ago. The FDA describes it this way:
Annovera is a reusable donut-shaped (ring), non-biodegradable, flexible vaginal system that is placed in the vagina for three weeks followed by one week out of the vagina, at which time women may experience a period (a withdrawal bleed). This schedule is repeated every four weeks for one year (thirteen 28-day menstrual cycles).
The efficacy and safety of Annovera were studied in three, open label clinical trials with healthy women ranging from 18 to 40 years of age. Based on the results, about two to four women out of 100 women may get pregnant during the first year they use Annovera.
That is a very good use-effectiveness rate, as you can see if you look at Table 6.2 in my book. 

On the other hand, a widely used Swedish phone app called "Natural Cycles" designed to help women avoid pregnancy through fertility awareness methods (natural family planning) is not so good, as a recent story in The Guardian points out. Indeed, it is now being investigated in the UK by the Advertising Standards Authority:
The Advertising Standards Authority has launched a formal investigation into marketing for a Swedish app that claims to be an effective method of contraception, after reports that women have become pregnant while using it. An ASA spokesman said it had received three complaints about Natural Cycles and its paid advertising on Facebook, which describes the app as highly accurate contraception that has been clinically tested. “We would require robust substantiation from any company to support such a claim,” he said.
The app was developed by two scientists from Sweden and Austria: Elina Berglund, who worked at the Cern laboratory in Geneva on the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, and Raoul Scherwitzl. The married couple originally devised the algorithm for their own family planning, and now both work full time for the company they founded. They claim to have 600,000 users worldwide, who pay an annual subscription.

Users monitor their fertility with the app by taking their temperature each morning. It tracks the results to detect ovulation, and advises which days are safe or unsafe to have unprotected sex without the risk of conception. The app relies on users taking their temperature at around the same time every morning, and cautions: “Remember that you must always measure as soon as you wake up before you snooze, sit/get up, or check your phone.”
Like all methods of natural family planning, there is a lot of room for error--which leads to unintended pregnancies and possibly then to abortions. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Poor Health Behaviors Increase Risk of Poor Birth Outcomes

My hope is that anyone reading this blog post will know immediately that if you engage in risky health behaviors before or during pregnancy you increase the chance that your baby will be born with health problems that may indeed last a lifetime. Still, additional research findings along these lines never hurt to keep driving home the point. For this reason I was very interested to read the summary of an article forwarded to me by Professor Rumbaut at UC, Irvine, demonstrating that the behavior of mothers matters for their baby's health. More specifically, mothers who smoked as teens are more likely to deliver smaller babies.

The article was recently published in the journal Social Science & Medicine by Jennifer Kane--a colleague of Professor Rumbaut at UCI, Kathleen Mullan Harris at the Carolina Population Center (UNC, Chapel Hill), and Anna Maria Siega-Riz, also at the Carolina Population Center. There are two interesting aspects to this paper: (1) the data and analysis are importantly connected to Past PAA Presidents; and (2) the whole subject matter takes me and Professor Rumbaut back to our collaborative research many years ago.

The data in this paper come from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health or Add-Health as it is popularly known. This project was put together by Kathleen Mullen Harris (PAA President in 2009) and Dick Dry (PAA President in 1994). It was highly controversial at the time, as you can read about in my interview with Professor Udry as part of the PAA Oral History Project. The paper also references the work of Past PAA President Greg Duncan at UC, Irvine, whose interview has just been posted to the PAA website.

Professor Rumbaut and I collaborated on research aimed at understanding the differential birth outcomes among immigrants to San Diego from Indochina and also from Mexico. You can get a feel for our research in this paper, in which we found that infant death rates among Indochinese refugees was lower in San Diego in the 1980s than among Hispanics, Whites, and Blacks. One of the reasons was that they were less likely to smoke. Yes, their husbands were quite likely to smoke (and that's not good, of course), but very few women smoked. Furthermore, babies were conceived almost entirely to women older than the teens who were married. These are all predictors of better birth outcomes, a topic I recently discussed.

U.S. Census Removes Its 2017 Projections from its Website

Thanks to Beth Jarosz for pointing out that the U.S. Census Bureau has removed its latest (2017) set of national population projections from its website, saying only that:
An error was identified in the 2017 population projections data release. All data files have been removed. Corrected news products and data files are forthcoming.
I most recently used these data exactly one month ago, so we will have to see if my conclusions in that blog post still hold when the revised projections are posted. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Age at First Birth Tells Us a Lot about the Status of Women and Their Children

The New York Times today led with an interesting demographic story on the average age at first birth in America, and thanks to my good friend, Professor Rubén Rumbaut for sending me the link to it last night. The story is about starting families and my wife and I have been "vacationing" at home with the family we started several decades ago when we were ourselves married college graduates.
Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.
[The analysis] was of all birth certificates in the United States since 1985 and nearly all for the five years prior. It was conducted for The New York Times by Caitlin Myers, an economist who studies reproductive policy at Middlebury College, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
The results are not necessarily surprising, but they reinforce other research findings showing that women who have their first baby at a young age tend to be disproportionately unmarried, not a college graduate, and more likely from a rural area. By contrast, the later ages at first birth tend to occur among college educated women, who are also more likely to be married and to live in urban areas. This matters more now than in the past because the growing inequality in income and wealth makes it ever more difficult to launch children in the direction you, as a parent, want them to go.
There has long been an age gap for first-time mothers, which has narrowed a bit in recent years, driven largely by fewer teenage births, Ms. Myers said. Yet the gap may be more meaningful today. Researchers say the differences in when women start families are a symptom of the nation's inequality -- and as moving up the economic ladder has become harder, mothers' circumstances could have a bigger effect on their children’s futures.
“These education patterns do help drive inequality, because well-educated women are really pulling ahead of the pack by waiting to have kids,” said Caroline Hartnett, a sociologist and demographer studying fertility and families at the University of South Carolina. “But if going to college and achieving an upper-middle-class lifestyle seems unattainable, then having a family might seem like the most accessible source of meaning to you.”
The law professors June Carbone and Naomi Cahn described in a 2010 book how red and blue families were living different lives. The biggest differentiating factor, they said, was the age that mothers had children. Young mothers are more likely to be conservative and religious, to value traditional gender roles and to reject abortion. Older mothers tend to be liberal, and to split breadwinning and caregiving responsibilities more equally with men, they found.
You can see, then, that the age at first birth is a key indicator of how a woman's life is going, and at the same time is a key predictor of how her children's lives are apt to turn out. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

How Important is Demography in American Politics? Part Two

One of the emerging issues in the increasingly polarized politics of the United States is the demographic divide being created by where people live. In the current configuration of the Republican and Democratic parties, Republicans tend to live in the suburbs and in rural areas, whereas Democrats tend to live in or near central cities. In theory that shouldn't matter when it comes to election time, but this week's Economist provides a civic lesson reminding us that the founders of the U.S. Constitution set up a system that effectively gives greater per-person electoral power to people living in less densely settled areas.
The source of this discrepancy is that Democrats will win their seats with big majorities in fewer districts, whereas Republicans will prevail by narrower margins in a larger number of districts. In 2016 Democrats who beat Republican opponents won an average of 67.4% of the two-party vote in their districts, whereas Republicans who defeated Democrats received an average of 63.8%. This imbalance is partly due to deliberate attempts to create districts that provide such results, and partly just down to the fact that Democrats tend to live more tightly bunched together in cities. Together, these two factors put up quite an obstacle. According to our model, the Democrats need to win 53.5% of all votes cast for the two major parties just to have a 50/50 chance of winning a majority in the House.
If this imbalance were limited to a single chamber of the legislature, or a single election cycle, the Democrats’ frequent carping about a stacked electoral deck might sound like sour grapes. All electoral systems have their oddities. But changes in where Americans live and contradictions in their constitution—a document designed to work with many weak factions that has instead encouraged and entrenched an increasingly polarised two-party system—have opened gaps between what the voters choose and the representation they get in every arm of the federal government. In recent decades these disparities have consistently favoured the Republicans, and there is no reason to think that trend is going to change on its own.
There are three underlying issues here. First, the Senate is deliberately set up so that each state has the same number of senators in order to keep the heavily populated states from dominating that chamber in the way that they can the House of Representatives. That aspect of the system is unlikely ever to change, even though a senator from Wyoming (the least populous state with scarcely more than a half million people) represents fewer than 300,000 people whereas a senator from California (the most populous state with almost 40 million people) represents 20 million persons.

Secondly, with respect to the presidential election, we have this strange thing called an electoral college system:
In all the world’s other 58 fully presidential democracies—those in which the president is both head of state and head of government—the winning candidate gets the most votes in the final, or only, round of voting. But due to the “electoral college” system that America’s founders jury-rigged in part to square the needs of democracy with the demography of slavery, this does not hold true for America. States vote in the college in proportion to their combined representation in both houses of Congress. This set-up means that a candidate who wins narrowly in many small and smallish states can beat one who gets more votes overall, but racks most of them up in big majorities in a few big states.
This could be changed, at least in theory, as could the third issue--gerrymandering of districts for the House of Representatives (as well as for many state and local issues). There has been a lot of action on this front, although most recently the Supreme Court has punted

Sunday, July 15, 2018

How Important is Demography in American Politics?

This week's Economist has a lengthy special report on American politics, focusing especially on the identify politics that have emerged in the widening gulf between Republicans and Democrats in this country. And how could I resist not talking about this article when the author's acknowledgments include being in debt to several prominent demographers whose names have appeared in my book and blog: Bill Frey, Steve Murdock, and Dowell Myers. Indeed, Bill Frey and Dowell Myers were featured in my blog post just a week ago

The article picks up on the fact that many observers over the years have assumed that as racial/ethnic diversity increases in the U.S. the Democratic Party would benefit more than the Republican Party because the assumption was that Democrats had a political agenda more to their liking. Indeed, there has been a lot of speculation that these kinds of analyses helped to spur on the fears of losing "power" among non-Hispanic whites, helping to propel Donald Trump to the presidency. As I noted last week, Dowell Myers has suggested that the old race-ethnic categories that most of us have been using forever hide the fact that a lot of intermarriage has been going on that has led to people identifying themselves as "white" even though they may indicate on a census questionnaire that they are of more than one race. And, of course, this kind of discussion always reminds me of the very interesting article by Mara Loveman and Jeronimo Muniz: "How Puerto Rico Became White: Boundary Dynamics and Inter-Census Racial Reclassification." American Sociological Review 42(6): 915-939, (2007). Sadly, after Hurricane Maria there were a lot of people on the mainland who didn't even want to acknowledge that Puerto Ricans were Americans, much less white Americans...

Of particular interest in the Economist article is that one of their story lines is that "Demography is not Destiny." This is actually an about-face for a magazine that has probably used the phrase "demography is destiny" more than any other that I know. In this case demography refers to the population characteristic of "race-ethnicity" and the discussion is about the extent to which our self-identified race-ethnicity determines how we think about the world. The best answer is that this is complicated. Race-ethnic categories are social constructs, in the first place, and the whole idea of the American experience is--as the Economist author ends the story--e pluribus unum: out of many, one.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Is the World More Urban Than We Thought?

I spend a lot of time at the beginning of my chapter on "The Urban Transition" on the ways in which "urban" is defined around the world. Indeed, we usually think of it as a dichotomy between urban and rural, whereas I suggest we really should think of it as a continuum or a gradient. One of my recent PhD students, Dr. Magdalena Benza, implemented such a measure using our data for Ghana and a paper from that research was published last year in the journal Population, Space and Place. The United Nations Population Division tends to define urban as a dichotomy based on the definitions of urban used by member nations. By those criteria the world's population is currently more than 50% urban and will be about 2/3 urban by the middle of this century.

But, wait a minute! What if those estimates by the UN are too low? Thanks to another of my former PhD students, Dr. Debbie Fugate, for linking me to an article today from Reuters discussing the European Commission's new methodology for defining urban populations based on the classification of satellite data. Now, to be sure, the headline of this piece--a quote from the European Commission researchers--is a bit dramatic: "Everything we've heard about global urbanization turns out to be wrong." That's a bit of an exaggeration, but the use of satellite imagery does give us a different perspective, as I and my colleagues have seen, and as a good friend of mine, Dr. Deborah Balk at CUNY has also been discovering for a long time.
Using a definition made possible by advances in geospatial technology that uses high-resolution satellite images to determine the number of people living in a given area, they estimate 84 percent of the world's population, or almost 6.4 billion people, live in urban areas.
"Everything we've heard about global urbanization turns out to be wrong," said lead researcher Lewis Dijkstra.
Asia and Africa, which are routinely cited as majority-rural continents that are rapidly urbanizing, turn out to be well ahead of figures in the U.N.'s latest estimates. Once thought to be about 50 percent and 40 percent urban respectively, the new research argues Asia and Africa are closer to 90 percent and 80 percent, or roughly double previous estimates.
Those percentages translate to billions of additional people living in cities and urban areas, such as towns and suburbs, than previously thought. "If this is true, the impact is going to be massive," Dijkstra said. "A lot of development aid was geared toward rural."
The reason for the past errors is simple, Dijkstra said, because countries self-report their demographic statistics to the U.N. and they use widely different standards.
So, the researchers at the EC derived their own consistent definition: 
According to the European Commission definition, any contiguous stretch with at least 50,000 people and a population density of 1,500 per square km is considered an urban center. Any area with at least 5,000 people and a population density of 300 per square km is classified an urban cluster. Rural areas are those with less than 300 people per square km.
You can appreciate, of course, that you can't actually count people from satellite images, so you're going to need census and/or survey data to go along with that. There's a lot of work involved here, and you can check out the European Commission's database here. You can also make your own comparisons with the UN data, which are found here. Keep me posted on what you find out!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

World Population Day 2018

Today is World Population Day, the theme of which this year is "Family Planning is a Human Right." It is genuinely sad to think we have to keep emphasizing that point, rather than all of us just taking it for granted. Another thing we typically take for granted is being alive, but I missed last year's World Population Day celebration because I was in the hospital intensive care unit as a whole team of physicians (several of them immigrants, I should point out) saved my life when I came down with sepsis (cause still unknown). So, I am very grateful to be here thinking about the 8th anniversary of this blog. 

Back in 2010 the world's population was getting very close to the 7 billion mark (which we hit the next year in 2011). As of today, the Census Bureau's population clock estimates that we are at 7.5 billion. So, in the eight years that I have been blogging, we have added 500 million people to the planet (and, no, I am not to blame for that!). Other demographic trends have been moving in the right direction during this time. The UN Population Division estimates that since 2010 the world's total fertility rate has dropped from 2.57 to 2.47, while life expectancy at birth (both sexes combined) has gone up from 69 to 72. 

We have to remember, though, that the medium variant of the UN population projections suggests that the world's population will continue to grow until at least to the end of this century, and that takes into account expected declines in fertility and mortality. Those things are not likely to happen automatically, however. We need to stay active in the pursuit of those improvements in the quality of life all over the globe.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Getting Ready for World Population Day

Tomorrow (June 11th) is World Population Day, as proclaimed by the United Nations back in 1989. In preparation for that event, two very interesting articles have been posted to the Conversation. The first one is from Andrew Hwang, a mathematician at the College of the Holy Cross: "7.5 billion and counting: How many humans can the Earth support?" His ideas will be very familiar to you if you've read my book.
Humans are consuming and polluting resources – aquifers and ice caps, fertile soil, forests, fisheries and oceans – accumulated over geological time, tens of thousands of years or longer. Wealthy countries consume out of proportion to their populations. As a fiscal analogy, we live as if our savings account balance were steady income. According to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank, the Earth has 1.9 hectares of land per person for growing food and textiles for clothing, supplying wood and absorbing waste. The average American uses about 9.7 hectares. These data alone suggest the Earth can support at most one-fifth of the present population, 1.5 billion people, at an American standard of living.
A related article by Derek Hoff, an historian at the University of Utah (and author of a very interesting book titled The State and the Stork: The Population Debate and Policy Making in US History) focuses on the Neo-Malthusianism of Paul Ehrlich, but essentially draws the same conclusion as Hwang. The title of Hoff's article is "A long fuse: ‘The Population Bomb’ is still ticking 50 years after its publication".
“The Population Bomb” created more space to hold radical views on population matters, but its impact was fleeting, and maybe even harmful to the population movement. By the early 1970s, many critics were savaging Ehrlich and the larger goal of achieving zero population growth. And the politics of “morning in America” in the 1980s successfully marginalized Erhlich as a doomsdayer. 
But he got much right, even if many details and his timing were off. Global population has increased at a remarkably steady rate since 1968, and the United Nations projects that it will reach 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. Scientists continue to extend his prescient warnings that efforts to feed all these people through pesticide-intensive monoculture may backfire. And although Ehrlich exaggerated the threat of mass starvation, about 8,500 young children die from malnutrition every day.
Human-driven climate change is an overriding threat, and is unambiguously worsened by population growth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that limiting warming in this century to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) would require cutting global greenhouse gas emissions 40 to 70 percent by 2050 and nearly eliminating them by 2100. “Globally, economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion,” the panel observes.
The point of both articles is that the problem is not simply that the number of humans has exploded in the past 100 years. For the very same reasons that we were able to dramatically reduce death rates (and thus unleash population growth) we have figured out how to dramatically increase our standard of living. What we haven't yet figured out is how even all of us currently alive can sustain our current level of living, much less continue to increase it.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Japan is Admitting More Immigrant Workers--Very Cautiously

Japan has entered its long-expected decline in population, and this seems finally to have awakened the idea that immigrants might be useful to the economy. A story in this week's Economist shows the tentative steps being taken.
Acceptance of foreign labour is gradually increasing in Japan, one of the world’s most homogenous countries, where only 2% of residents are foreigners, compared with 16% in France and 4% in South Korea. A poll conducted last year found opinion evenly split about whether Japan should admit more foreign workers, with 42% agreeing and 42% disagreeing. Some 60% of 18-29-year-olds, however, were in favour, double the share of over-70s.
Whatever Japanese think of them, foreign workers have become a fact of life, at least in cities. There are 1.3m of them, some 2% of the workforce—a record. Although visas that allow foreigners to settle in Japan are in theory available only to highly skilled workers for the most part, in practice less-skilled foreigners are admitted as students or trainees. The number of these has been rising fast. Almost a third of foreign workers are Chinese; Vietnamese and Nepalese are quickly growing in number.
Pressure from business lies behind the change in attitudes, both societal and official. Over the past 20 years the number of workers below 30 has shrunk by a quarter. In addition, the ageing population is creating jobs that few Japanese want at the wages on offer, most notably as carers. There are 60% more job vacancies than there are people looking for work. Industries such as agriculture, construction and nursing are increasingly dependent on foreigners. Some 8% of Sakura no Mori’s staff are foreign, as are 7% of workers at 7 Eleven, Japan’s biggest convenience-store chain. 
The government does not allow these immigrants to bring in family members and many are required to frequently renew their visas, presumably so that the government could send them home at any time. In most jobs they must also become fluent in Japanese which, unlike English, is not regularly learned in countries outside of Japan. It is likely that as the demographic pressure increases over the next few decades, the walls built up against immigration will have increasingly larger cracks in them.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

White Americans Are NOT Close to Minority Status

The idea that white Americans are on the verge of no longer being the majority in this country has taken root in the media and in the minds of an awful lot of people. This theme was once again pushed out to the public a couple of weeks ago by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. I have known Bill for a long time and he is a very good demographer, but I hadn't blogged about his report because it troubled me--the data he was using--even though from the U.S. Census Bureau--just didn't quite square with my own impression of what is happening demographically. Thanks to my long-time friend, Rubén Rumbaut at UC, Irvine, for pointing me to an "open letter" from Dowell Myers at the University of Southern California in which Dowell summarizes his very important work on this problem:
Most of us are using the same analysis procedures this year as we did back in the 1990s, even though the Census Bureau totally overhauled their racial definitions and measurements in 2000. Now that we are nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century, why would demographers still be using racial binaries (white vs. nonwhite) and mutually exclusive categories? At best, the public analysis I see reported only uses half of the available race data, the half that comes closest to the oldest idea of race in America, namely the “one drop” rule, that says any portion of nonwhite blood makes a person nonwhite, no matter what is their mother or father’s race or no matter how they truly identify.
Let me share exactly where I am coming from, because this was reported in two publications recently, one in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the other in the Washington Post (both co-authored with the political scientist Morris Levy). The Annals study, part of the May issue, devoted to “what Census data miss about American diversity,” reviews the changes in Census Bureau race projections since 2000 and tests the impacts of alternative versions of reporting on a randomized sample of white voters. It received favorable coverage in outlets ranging from Vox to Reason.com.
Many data consumers do not know that the Census Bureau actually tracks six definitions of white in their projections. There is a larger, inclusive count of each race and a smaller, more exclusive count, the latter having subtracted out all whites who also identify with another race (people such as Meghan Markle, who has a white father and black mother, and now is a member of the British royal family.)
The Census Bureau knows this problem of racial classification and handles it by reporting both exclusive and inclusive definitions of white. You can see the latest projections comparing these numbers out to 2060 here. [Go to Table 5]. It is up to the users to decide which version of white is best.
Thus, if we follow the Census Bureau's guidelines that Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race, and if we accept the idea that many people of mixed race also include themselves as white, then we see that the Census Bureau estimated that in 2016, 79% of the U.S. population considered themselves to be white, compared to the non-Hispanic one-race only definition by which 61% were white. Then, using the very restricted definition of white, by 2045 whites would drop to slightly less than 50% of the population. However, by the inclusive definition of whites, by 2060 (the end date for the current Census Bureau projections) whites are still 74% of the population.

To put it another way--the melting pot is working and whites are not on the way out the door in this country. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Explaining the U.S. Birth Dearth

A couple of months ago we heard the news that the U.S. birth rate was down yet again. My sense was that this was due largely to the increasing level of income and wealth inequality. The overall economy is doing OK--especially if you have money invested in the stock market--but the average person is not seeing their economic circumstances improve. The New York Times asked the survey research firm Morning Consult to see what it could find out and the results have been published today.
About a quarter of the respondents who had children or planned to said they had fewer or expected to have fewer than they wanted. The largest shares said they delayed or stopped having children because of concerns about having enough time or money.
The survey, one of the most comprehensive explorations of the reasons that adults are having fewer children [1,858 respondents — a nationally representative sample of men and women ages 20 to 45] tells a story that is partly about greater gender equality. Women have more agency over their lives, and many feel that motherhood has become more of a choice. But it’s also a story of economic insecurity. Young people have record student debt, many graduated in a recession and many can’t afford homes — all as parenthood has become more expensive. Women in particular pay an earnings penalty for having children.
The expense of child care was the top reason, as you can see in the graph below: 


This is entirely consistent with information in a blog post following up on the news about the drop in fertility. As I said then: "The policy point here is that if you want a higher birth rate, the government needs to subsidize child care for women, so that they can combine a career with parenthood. Men always have that option because society assumes that the child's mother will be the caregiver. But the evidence from Europe suggests that the government has to step in with child care to free women to be both workers and mothers. In essence, governments must accord women equal status with men on this score." The Morning Consult/NYTimes survey results are consistent with this idea.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Could We Live Forever?

Thanks to Todd Gardner and others for pointing to a research article published this week in Science on the "Demography of Longevity Pioneers." The researchers, who included James Vaupel of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany and Ken Wachter of the UC, Berkeley Department of Demography, used data from older Italians. This had the advantage of choosing a population in which a fairly large number of people have survived to the oldest ages, and using data from a single data source, thus reducing the problem of comparing data collected in different ways. Their findings suggest that while death rates continue to climb up to age 105, after that they are constant, with about a 50% chance of survival each year beyond 105.

Nature picked up on the story and invited comments from people not involved in the study:
If there is a mortality plateau, then there is no limit to human longevity,” says Jean-Marie Robine, a demographer at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research in Montpellier, who was not involved in the study. That would mean that someone like Chiyo Miyako, the Japanese great-great-great-grandmother who, at 117, is the world’s oldest known person, could live for years to come — or even forever, at least hypothetically.
That would fit into the theory of longevity promoted by people like Elmo Keep, a science entrepreneur in the Silicon Valley, as I blogged about last year. On the other hand, not everyone thinks we should yet jump to these big conclusions:
Brandon Milholland, a co-author of the 2016 Nature paper, says that the evidence for a mortality plateau is “marginal”, as the study included fewer than 100 people who lived to 110 or beyond. Leonid Gavrilov, a longevity researcher at the University of Chicago in Illinois, notes that even small inaccuracies in the Italian longevity records could lead to a spurious conclusion.
Others say the conclusions of the study are biologically implausible. “You run into basic limitations imposed by body design,” says Jay Olshansky, a bio-demographer at the University of Illinois at Chicago, noting that cells that do not replicate, such as neurons, will continue to wither and die as a person ages, placing upper boundaries on humans' natural lifespan.
Only time will tell which conclusion is correct, of course. In the meantime, the number of old-old people is increasing in the world, so we'll have a consistently larger population from which to derive data. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Demography of Aging Revisited

Yesterday I blogged about health disparities in the United States, referencing research by Jennifer Montez and Mark Hayward. The latter comes up again today, because he organized a workshop on the demography of aging for the National Academy of Science (NAS) from which the report has just been made available. Aging and health go together, of course. We wouldn't give nearly as much attention to aging as we do were it not for the fact that our health tends to deteriorate as we age. That is a personal problem, but one that our family and friends and, indeed, the entire society, winds up coping with. Our entire life course is very much influenced by health, as Mark Hayward makes clear in the introduction to the volume:
Changes in fertility, life expectancy, and population-age structure have had profound effects on the opportunities and constraints facing individuals, their families, and their communities. The older population has become more racially/ethnically diverse. Kin relationships have become more complex and fluid, and more people now approaching old age have been divorced and many have never been married. Population health now spans a web of health processes including biological risk, disability, cognition, and disease. The health and well-being of the older population are now seen as the consequences of long-run and cumulative effects of social, economic, and contextual factors over the entire life course.
The participants in the workshop, each with a chapter in this volume, are among the big names in the demography of aging, and this is a deliberate followup to a previous (1994) NAS report on the Demography of Aging. We know a lot more than we did then, thanks in part to the funding of research by the National Institute on Aging, and much of that learning tells us that the world is more complicated than we thought it was 24 years ago. This new volume dives into those complexities. Each chapter would be worthy of a blog post, but you should read it for yourself because if you are reading this you are aging, and you should know what lies ahead.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Health Disparities by State Mainly Reflect Different Levels of Education

I have blogged several times about the differences in health and life expectancy by state in the U.S. In a blog post about a year and half ago I highlighted the research of Professors Jennifer Montez of Syracuse University and Mark Hayward of UT, Austin. Their latest chapter in the story has just been posted on scientia.global and it highlights the finding that the variability in health disparities around the U.S. are largely found among people at lower educational levels.
The researchers analysed extensive data on adults living in the US from two different surveys: the National Longitudinal Mortality Study and the American Community Survey. The researchers also collected data on the policies and characteristics of all US states. For example, they collected information on the states’ economic environment, income inequality, tobacco control policies, Medicaid coverage, and socio-political factors such as whether the state tends to vote for a Republican or Democratic presidential candidate, as well as characteristics of the states’ populations such as age, sex, race, ethnicity, educational levels. The data collected was then analysed in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the factors behind cross-state health disparities.
Drs Montez and Hayward found education level to be one of the strongest predictors of health and mortality rates among US residents. This is aligned with past research findings highlighting the impact of education on an individuals’ health. ‘In the United States, one of the best predictors of how healthy and long someone will live is their education level,’ says Dr Montez. ‘More years of schooling generally translate into better health and longer life.’
When I first saw this I jumped to the conclusion that it might be due to differing levels of access to health care. But the research suggests a more complicated relationship.
‘Education provides people with a large bucket of resources that they can use to create a healthy life,’ explains Dr Montez. ‘For example, people with more schooling tend to be employed in jobs they enjoy and that stimulate their minds, to marry and stay married, to have large and beneficial social networks, to feel in control of their life, and to engage in healthy behaviours like exercising and avoiding tobacco.’
The positive effects of education on health, therefore, go beyond those derived from generally higher salaries, such as access to more expensive medical services. While imparting field-specific knowledge or skills, education also teaches people how to navigate modern society and look after themselves as well as their families and friends. This tends to improve their health and wellbeing, while also opening a broader range of social and economic opportunities for these individuals.
This is important on-going research and we need to keep our eyes open for the next round of findings. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

South Korea is Coping with Refugees from Yemen (I'm not making this up!)

East Asian societies are among the most closed countries in the world in terms of letting in migrants. So it doesn't take very many people seeking asylum to create a real problem. But refugees from the Middle East are not what you'd expect even in the most open of times, yet a story by Reuters news agency (with thanks to Foreign Policy for the link) tells us that South Korea is coping with several hundred Yemenis seeking asylum there.
South Korea will tighten laws governing the arrival of refugees, the Justice Ministry said on Friday, after a rapid rise in the number of Yemeni asylum seekers sparked anti-refugee sentiment in the racially homogeneous country.
More than 552 people from Yemen arrived on the southern resort island of Jeju between January and May, more than the 430 Yemenis who had ever applied for refugee status in South Korea, the ministry said.
The country has granted refugee status to just over 800 people since 1994. The sudden surge in Yemeni arrivals has fueled concern that many could be seeking economic advantage rather than protection and that they could lead to an increase in crime and other social problems.
Obviously the civil war in Yemen is creating hard times for people there and it is reasonable to think of getting out if you can. But why go to South Korea?
The reason the asylum seekers have chosen Jeju can be traced to a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur, established by budget carrier AirAsia X in December, a Justice Ministry official said. “A few Yemenis started to enter the country in early December and the news about the new flight spread among the 2,800 Yemenis in Malaysia,” the official said, declining to be identified by name.
So, if you can get from Yemen to the capital city of Malaysia, you can catch a direct flight to South Korea. Let's just say that nobody saw that coming. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

UN Rejects Trump's Choice for Head of International Organization for Migration

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was created after WWII to help resettle European refugees from that war. Over time it has become the world's major organization keeping track of international migrants and helping to formulate migration policies. The IOM is based in Geneva and has always had a connection to the United Nations, although that was tightened up in 2016. Since the 1960s, the director general of the IOM has been an American, most recently William Lacy Swing, a long-time American diplomat and ambassador to several countries. He recently retired and the assumption was that another American would take his place. But, no--as multiple media outlets, including The Guardian, reported today.
United Nations member states have emphatically rejected the US candidate to lead the organisation’s migration agency, despite the risk of financial reprisals from the Trump administration. Ken Isaacs finished a distant third in the last round of voting for the position of director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a position that has been held by an American since the 1960s. The decisive vote appeared to be a response to Donald Trump’s policies on migration as well as the rejection of a candidate who had tweeted Islamophobic comments and cast doubt on climate change science.
António Vitorino, a Portuguese Socialist party member who is close to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, was elected despite a determined and well-resourced campaign by the US mission to the UN.
The U.S. has been the biggest donor to the IOM and the Trump administration's response to rebuffs of this type are typically to withdraw support. We'll have to see if that happens here.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Where Have the People at the Border Come From?

Yesterday I summarized information showing that there is no crisis at the border. Rather, the sources and characteristics of people trying to cross the southern border into the U.S. without documentation is shifting from laborers from Mexico to people fleeing violence in Central America--especially the "northern triangle" of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Stephanie Leutert, who is Director of the Mexico Security Initiative at UT, Austin, published a nice analysis yesterday that adds to the picture. In particular, she takes a detailed look at the origins of these immigrants from Central America and discusses reasons for their fleeing their homes, as well as reasons why they prefer to keep going north to the U.S., rather than settling in Mexico. She put together the map below of the hometowns of people detained by the Border Patrol.


For the most part people are trying to save their lives and/or the lives of their children from gangs that will kill you if you don't cooperate, aided by governments that are too corrupt to do anything about that. Professor Rumbaut pointed me today to a story on Vice.com that is even more explicit than Stephanie Leutert's article in naming the U.S. as the instigator of much of this violence. We are experiencing "blowback" from a wide range of covert CIA operations in the region over the past several decades.

Now, as to the question of why these people don't stop in Mexico, keep in mind that southern Mexico is less prosperous than the middle and northern part of that country. My colleagues Justin Stoler and Piotr Jankowski and I showed several years ago that migrants from Mexico to the U.S. were coming increasingly from the south because that's where the economy was bad and they couldn't find jobs. Furthermore, Mexico is also a violent country, even if less so than the Northern Triangle. CNN just today reported that May 2018 hit a record for homicides in that country, and that "in the nine months leading up to this weekend's presidential election, 132 politicians have been killed. That's according to Etellekt, a risk analysis and crisis management firm. The group's report, released Tuesday, found that 22 of Mexico's 32 states have seen a political assassination since campaigning began in September. Etellekt's tally found 48 of the victims were candidates. The rest included party workers." Much of that violence is linked, directly or indirectly, to the trafficking of drugs--as is true in Central America as well--and that situation is almost entirely a result of the huge demand in the U.S. for these illegal drugs. So, once again, it comes back to things happening in or by the U.S. that has created the current situation.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

There is no Crisis at the Border

There is no one in the world who knows more about migration between Mexico/Central America and the U.S. than Professor Douglas Massey of Princeton University. That is why it is so useful that he has posted a very informative article on The Conversation about the crisis--or lack thereof--at the border. This is not just fact-checking--these are the facts.
The news today is full of dire pronouncements about the “crisis” at the Mexico-U.S. border. In reality, there is no crisis, at least as portrayed in the press and by the Trump administration. Undocumented entries across the border are, in fact, at all-time lows. The mass entry of migrants from Mexico seeking work is over and done with.  The people now arriving at the border are not Mexican workers, but a much smaller number of families from Central America seeking to escape dire circumstances caused in part by U.S. military intervention in the region during the 1980s.


Given President Trump’s demand for the construction of a border wall, many people may no doubt be surprised to learn that net undocumented migration to the U.S. has been zero or negative for a decade. Mexican migration ended not because of U.S. border enforcement, but because of Mexico’s fertility transition. The number of children per woman declined by about 68 percent between 1960 and 2016.  As a result, Mexico has become an aging society. The population’s average age has risen from 16.6 in 1970 to 28.6 today.
And what about all of those stories about rapists and criminals? Professor Rubén Rumbaut of UC, Irvine, who knows more about this than anyone else, has just published a paper showing again that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than are native-born persons. For most undocumented immigrants the only crime they committed was the "crime" of entering the U.S. Thus, they become "crimmigants" as I blogged about last year.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Plant-Based Diet is Good For You (and the Planet)

Today I came across an op-ed by a physician in south Florida extolling the health virtues of a plant-based diet, and I couldn't help but comment on it. Here's his takeaway:
The U.S. cannot prescribe our way to health. It doesn’t work. We have some of the world’s highest rates of chronic disease yet spend the most on medical care. It’s time for the U.S. to take the lead in lifestyle medicine, particularly plant-based diets, in the same way we have become leaders in prescription-based medicine — to the much greater benefit of our patients and our national healthcare budget!
And what is it that we should be doing and why? Dr. Bansal focuses on diabetes, which is closely related to diet, and which he argues could be controlled better if people adopted a largely plant-based diet.
The key is a reasonable amount of naturally-occurring, unprocessed carbohydrates, specifically from a variety of source plant materials. Additionally, plant-sourced foods provide more than enough protein. In fact, research in the U.S. back in the 1960s showed how much protein the average man and woman needs per day: the maximum is around 60 grams for 70-kg men and 50 for 60-kg women[5],[6],[7],[8]. Research also showed that eating a variety of plant-based foods, even exclusively, will supply all 9 essential amino acids (the other 11 made endogenously)[9],[10],[11]. We now eat too much protein (90 grams/day or more) with no benefit and some risk[12],[13],[14]. First, through a series of pathways, excess intake of protein gets indirectly turned to fat and prevents the burning of fat already present. Next, it overtaxes the liver and the kidneys in the processing of excess protein and then secretion and partial reabsorption in the glomerular filtration system. [The numbers are to books and journals referenced in his article.]
This is all about the Blue Zone diet and lifestyle that I blogged about nearly three years ago. About 1/3 of our healthy life expectancy (and longevity) can be attributed to genetics, but the bulk of it relates to life style and diet is a huge part of that. 

The benefit to the planet is that if we decrease the amount of meat we eat, we also lower methane gas emissions into the atmosphere, and we more efficiently grow food for humans, rather than for animals that we intend to kill for dinner. I first blogged about this back in 2013, and most recently mentioned it on Earth Day this year. And it is unlikely that this will be the last time I blog about--it is that important, in my opinion.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Supreme Court Punts on Gerrymandering Cases

I've blogged several times over the years about gerrymandering--the practice of drawing Congressional district boundaries in such a way as to influence election results. This gets to the heart of the Constitutional basis of the U.S. decennial census, the results of which are, by law, used to define the districts for members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Lower courts have ruled against several redistricting plans in states, only to have the U.S. Supreme Court set those cases aside on technical grounds without ever really deciding the issue. Of course, that actually tends to decide the issue in favor of the status quo. That just happened again this morning, as the U.S. Supreme Court punted on cases in Texas and especially in North Carolina, which I had blogged about a few months ago. CNN reports this regarding today's ruling:
In an unsigned order Monday, the court wiped away a lower court opinion that had invalidated congressional maps in North Carolina as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and instructed the lower court to revisit the case in light of the Supreme Court's recent opinion concerning maps in Wisconsin.
In that case, Gill v. Whitford, a 9-0 court held that challengers did not have the legal right to bring the suit because they had failed to prove "concrete and particularized" injury that would demonstrate that the right to vote had been burdened. Now the lower court will have to see how the Wisconsin ruling should impact North Carolina.
Even before ruling, the Supreme Court had suggested it was skeptical of the North Carolina ruling. The court voted 7-2 in January to put it on hold until it could act. That meant the maps would likely be used for the next election.
The Washington Post pointed out that the consequence of the gerrymandered districts in North Carolina is that 10 of that state's 13 Congressional representatives are Republican, even though the Republican candidates won only 53% of the state's votes overall. That pretty much defines the goal of gerrymandering.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

We Need Immigrants, Even if Some People Wish We Didn't

The headlines for the past week have all been about the Trump administration's horrific "zero-tolerance" policy at the U.S.-Mexico border that separated children from their parents, seemingly in an attempt to (a) deter potential migrants from coming; and (b) using those children as political pawns. Of course, this was just the latest move in Trump's anti-immigrant agenda, which was a key part of his presidential campaign platform. Donald Trump is not really against immigrants, of course. After all, his grandfather was an immigrant from Germany, his mother an immigrant from Scotland, and two of his three wives were immigrants from Eastern Europe. His is a racist attitude, opposed to immigrants from Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. And, speaking of Europe, there is of course a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment there, aimed largely at immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. These are moral issues, not just political issues, as noted in this week's Economist.
Take the White House’s approach, which resulted in 2,342 children being separated from their families last month. To use children’s suffering as a deterrent was wrong. It is the sort of thing that will one day be taught in history classes alongside the internment of Japanese-Americans during the second world war. To argue that the administration had to act in this way to uphold the law is false. Neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama, who deported many more people annually than Mr Trump, resorted to separations. To claim it was necessary to control immigration is dubious. In 2000 the government stopped 1.6m people crossing the southern border; in 2016, when Mr Trump was elected, the numbers had fallen by 75%. Deterrence no doubt played its part, but prosperity and a lower birth rate in Mexico almost certainly mattered more. No wonder, after a public outcry, Mr Trump abandoned the policy.
Other examples of deterrence have fared no better. Britain’s government concluded from the Brexit referendum that it should redouble efforts to create a “hostile environment” for immigrants. It ended up sending notices to people who had arrived in Britain from the Caribbean in the 1950s, ordering them to produce documents to prove they were British. The harassment, detention and deportations that followed resulted in the resignation of the home secretary. Likewise, in 2015 European governments argued that rescuing boats carrying migrants from north Africa merely encouraged more to risk that journey. Then as many as 1,200 people drowned in ten days, and Europeans were horrified at the cruelty being meted out in their name. European leaders concluded that voters were not pro-drowning after all.
The anti-immigrant sentiment is very short-sighted in the United States and throughout Europe. The post-WWII baby booms were followed by declines in fertility that helped create demographic dividends in these areas. Those birth rates are not going to back up to previous levels, even though in Southern and Eastern Europe they probably would climb closer to replacement level is gender equity were more widely practiced. But, most importantly, the demographic dividends were not used wisely. Governments did not save up in order to cope with an aging population. Rather, they lowered taxes to support a growing population of billionaires and exacerbating income and wealth inequality. A lot needs to happen to get things right again, but at least in the short term immigrants provide a ready source of bail-out labor and taxable sources to pay for pensions and health care for the rapidly aging populations. That isn't sufficiently appreciated by people living in places like retirement communities in Florida, as detailed yesterday in a PoliticoMagazine.com story.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

White Deaths Exceed White Births in 26 States

Thanks again to Professor Rubén Rumbaut for linking me to NYTimes story about a new study just out by another long-time friend, Professor (well, actually Dean) Rogelio Sáenz at the University of Texas, San Antonio. He and another demographer, Professor Kenneth Johnson, published a Research Brief for the Applied Population Lab at the University of Wisconsin that tells an important part of the story about changing American demographics. Sabrina Tavernise of the NYTimes provides a good summary:
Deaths now outnumber births among white people in more than half the states in the country, demographers have found, signaling what could be a faster-than-expected transition to a future in which whites are no longer a majority of the American population.
The Census Bureau has projected that whites could drop below 50 percent of the population around 2045, a relatively slow-moving change that has been years in the making. But a new report this week found that whites are dying faster than they are being born now in 26 states, up from 17 just two years earlier, and demographers say that shift might come even sooner.
“It’s happening a lot faster than we thought,” said Rogelio Sáenz, a demographer at the University of Texas at San Antonio and a co-author of the report. It examines the period from 1999 to 2016 using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the federal agency that tracks births and deaths. He said he was so surprised at the finding that at first he thought it was a mistake.
Here is the picture state-by-state:



Before we decide how this affect the future politics of the United States, we have to account for a couple of things. The first is that many births are to parents of different race/ethnicity. Thus intermarriage--which is historically what the melting pot is all about--could affect cultural and political attitudes in unpredictable ways. And, secondly, as I noted in discussing Wong's book about the demographics of immigrants and evangelicals, you cannot automatically assume a person's political views from their race/ethnicity. 

UPDATE: When thinking about these data keep in mind the authors' note that: "NCHS data do not allow for classification of multiple-race births or deaths—so all births are classified into one race category, that of the infant's mother; the race and Hispanic origin of the infant's father are not considered." For more on why this matters, see this more recent blog post of mine.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Separating Children From Their Parents at the Border--Historical Perspective

Thanks very much to Professor Rubén Rumbaut for linking me to an excellent op-ed in today's Fortune.com by Susan Martin, who is Donald G. Herzberg professor emerita of international migration at Georgetown University, and thus a person to whom we should pay close attention. Her article details the awful similarities between what the Trump administration is doing to Central American immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border with what the U.S. did to Jews trying to flee the Holocaust in Germany. This is not pretty.
Watching the Trump administration decimate U.S. refugee and asylum programs is not only horrific; it is a mistaken return to the equally unenlightened and dangerous refugee policies of the 1930s and early 40s. In both cases, administrative actions were used to deny admission to thousands of refugees and asylum seekers. The most notorious example of the earlier era is the refusal of the U.S. to allow the German St. Louis ship to disembark its passengers prior to the Holocaust.
She describes the way in which the U.S. government set up a variety of tests that had to be met before German Jews could apply for refugee status--tests that under the circumstances were essentially impossible to meet. 
The Trump administration is using its own labyrinth of administrative processes to keep refugees from gaining protection in the U.S. As of June 15, the number of refugees resettled from abroad is only 15,383; three-quarters of the way into the federal fiscal year, this number is on track to be the lowest since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. That’s not just because of a presidential determination to admit only 45,000 a year, but because of often unnecessary “extreme vetting” procedures that have slowed resettlement to a trickle.
Here is what people are fleeing, and this description is from the U.S. State Department:
The State Department’s own annual Human Rights Report confirmed that El Salvador’s response to rape and other sexual violence was inadequate to protect victims, noting that “laws against domestic violence remained poorly enforced, and violence against women, including domestic violence, remained a widespread and serious problem.” It also cited rapes and sexual assault committed by police officers, which serve as further evidence that the government is unwilling and unable to protect women in such marriages from persecution. For the attorney general, these findings were insufficient.
Keep in mind that, as my son, Professor Greg Weeks, has pointed out--"Before the U.S.-funded war in El Salvador, there was no MS-13 and very few Salvadoran migrants." This whole terrible situation in Central America didn't just happen on its own--we were very much complicit.

Professor Martin does a nice job of summing up where we are:
The Trump administration’s misuse of authority against refugees and asylum seekers should be of concern to all Americans, regardless of party affiliation. This country was founded by refugees fleeing their homes because of their religious and political beliefs. As we celebrate Thanksgiving each year, we recognize the welcome offered to the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock after facing persecution at home. Many of us are the descendants of refugees and others who fled violence and repression and found a safe refuge in this country. Should we not offer the same opportunity to those who will otherwise face persecution, torture, or death at home?
Yes, we should.