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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Way Forward Demographically

This week's Science magazine (a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and one of the world's most prestigious magazines/journals) is a special issue (Volume 332, Number 6042, 29 July 2011) devoted to an examination of "the opportunities and challenges created by demographic changes around the world." This issue is done in conjunction with the world's "achievement" this year of having 7 billion of us alive at that same time.

Although you cannot read the articles online without a subscription to the magazine, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy at your library. The website does include a nice seven-minute video providing an overview of the world's population issues, and the introduction to the special issue lays out the problem:
Today these demographic patterns spark concerns, not of a single explosion, but of “cluster bombs” in rapidly growing countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan, which are hobbled by poor governance and limited schooling capacity and already have huge numbers of poorly educated young adults without job prospects.
Debate continues over how best to address these and other problems and over whether rapid population growth is best dealt with by expanding family planning programs or implementing policies that will improve livelihoods and increase the education of girls and young women—or both. Still, many experts remain optimistic that with the right mix of policies, countries can harness the opportunities for economic growth and development offered by a young and educated workforce, congregating in dense, networked urban environments.
The [special issue] contains News stories by Science's staff and research assessments by leading experts, enhanced online with videos and dynamic graphics, explores these issues, many of which continue to split demographers.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Small Town America is Nearly a Thing of the Past

Reporters have continued to mine the recent Population Reference Bureau report summarizing findings from the 2010 Census, and have discovered that rural America is on the verge of disappearing.

The latest 2010 census numbers hint at an emerging America where, by midcentury, city boundaries become indistinct and rural areas grow ever less relevant. Many communities could shrink to virtual ghost towns as they shutter businesses and close down schools, demographers say.
More metro areas are booming into sprawling megalopolises. Barring fresh investment that could bring jobs, however, large swaths of the Great Plains and Appalachia, along with parts of Arkansas, Mississippi and North Texas, could face significant population declines.
A key element in all of this has been the decline of mining and timber industries that created jobs in rural areas in the past but no longer do so. Farming is a now a big business, so there are relatively few farm families any more. Furthermore, almost everyone has access to the same TV and internet as everyone else, so rural areas are not socially isolated in the way that they once were.
"Some of the most isolated rural areas face a major uphill battle, with a broad area of the country emptying out," said Mark Mather, associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau, a research group in Washington, D.C. "Many rural areas can't attract workers because there aren't any jobs, and businesses won't relocate there because there aren't enough qualified workers. So they are caught in a downward spiral."
Rural towns are scrambling to attract new residents and stave off heavy funding cuts from financially strapped federal and state governments.
Will Latin American immigrants revitalize some of these places? Maybe. We'll see.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Asian Immigrants in Jordan

The discussion over the past few months related to the Middle East has obviously been of the events generally known as the Arab spring, and surrounding that discussion has been the issue of whether or not the violence and conflict have roots in a youth bulge. A report today from the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC indirectly suggests that the youth bulge may not have been such a big issue after all. Here's why: An increasing fraction of the labor force in Jordan is composed of Sri Lankans and Filipinos (actually Filipinas--see below), rather than Arabs, who have traditionally made up the immigrant labor force. 

Unskilled and semi-skilled migrant workers from the Arab region have been filling labor shortages in Jordan for decades, shaping its labor market and sustaining its economy. Although Arab nationals still account for a majority of migrant workers in Jordan today, the migration flow to Jordan has changed in recent years with the growing importance of non-Arab migrants from Asia.
Jordan’s census data suggest that the non-Arab Asian population’s share of the total foreign population more than doubled from 7 percent in 1994 to 15 percent in 2004. Among economically active migrants, non-Arab Asians comprised an even larger share, reaching nearly 30 percent by 2004.1A significant proportion of this new migration flow from Asia comes from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, which together account for nearly a third of the total.

The fact that Jordan needs immigrant labor suggests that there is not a bulge of youth in that country who are otherwise unemployed. The fact that other Arab countries cannot fill the jobs suggests that they, in turn, do not have an excess of young people to send off to a neighboring country. The only caveat is that a large fraction of these Asian immigrants are women engaged in domestic labor. "Filipinos and Sri Lankans who received work permits in 2009 were mostly female." It is likely that cultural prohibitions within the Arab world prevent Arab women from taking jobs such as these, and so women from other societies are recruited instead. Another possibility, of course, is that governments and recruiters recognize that it is easier to exploit and send home people from more distant places than it is to do with your neighbors.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Small Crack in the Chinese One-Child Wall?

This week's Economist reports that the director of Population and Family Planning in China's Guangdong Province has applied to the central government for a "relaxation" of the one-child policy as applied to his province. The proposal is to allow a couple to have a second child if only one of them is a singleton, compared to the current policy which allows a second child only if both potential parents are singletons.

Zheng Zizhen, a demographer at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences (GASS), says even a modest change would help. “Every couple, in Guangdong and all over China, should be able to have two children. But before we take a second step or a third step in that direction, we need to at least take a first step like this one.”
Most demographers think the one-child policy has imposed huge costs on the country. The 2010 census showed that population growth was even slower than expected, rising just 0.57% a year over the past decade. The policy has caused conflicts with ordinary people and been a target of intense foreign criticism, worries Peng Peng of GASS (who nevertheless worries about relaxing it too fast). The costs were highlighted recently by revelations of a long-running scandal in Hunan province, where officials are accused of brutalising parents who violate the policy by confiscating “illegal” babies and putting them up for sale in the adoption market.

In its leader to the issue, the Economist opines that this may indicate some softening of attitudes about the one-child policy, especially taking into consideration the enormous age structure and gender imbalance implications that are now in place. In the end, however, there seems to be little chance of change in the near-term:
Few expect significant reforms soon. The family-planning bureaucracy is a vast and entrenched interest group defending the status quo at all levels of government. Senior officials fear that any change would unleash a population boom, despite predictions to the contrary by most experts. With only a year to go until China’s first leadership change in a decade, no high-level figure in the central government is likely to back significant changes now. “If the government has political reasons for not being able to change the policy, then there is nothing I can do,” says Zheng Zizhen. “I can only say that from a scientific point of view, it is clear the policy needs to change.” Guangdong thinks so, too.
Note, by the way, that the article has a good map showing the different provincial levels of strictness with respect to the one-child policy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

North Koreans Are Having Trouble Feeding Themselves

North Korea makes the news largely for its nuclear program and human rights abuses, but it now appears to be facing a serious food shortage, as well. This is almost certainly not as bad as that in Somalia, but it still seems to be bad.
North Korea's food shortage has reached a crisis point this year, aid workers say, largely because of shocks to the agricultural sector, including torrential rains and the coldest winter in 60 years. Six million North Koreans are living "on a knife edge" and will go hungry without immediate food aid, the World Food Program said, calling in April for $224 million in emergency aid.
The country has not had the resources to invest heavily in agriculture, so the ability to grow food is limited.
North Korea, population 24 million with an annual per capita income of $1,800, has the manpower but lacks the economic and natural resources to succeed at farming, said Kim Young-hoon from the Korea Rural Economic Institute in Seoul, South Korea. He said the North Koreans continue to pursue new ways to stimulate the agricultural sector but cannot fund their ambitious projects.
The demographic effect of this can be seen in the vital statistics. According to the UN Population Division the average North Korean woman is bearing only 2 children each, although this is more than the 1.4 children on average being born to women in South Korea. However, life expectancy at birth for females in North Korea is 12 years lower than in South Korea (72 compared to 84). As a reminder, life expectancy in Somalia for females is only 53 years.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Killings in Norway Appear to be Racist Response to Immigration

Norway was rocked yesterday by the killing of more than 90 people and the wounding of many others by a single person, identified as a Norwegian.
The man blamed for killing at least 93 people during terrorist attacks on Norway's government headquarters and an island retreat for young people wanted to trigger an anti-Muslim revolution in Norwegian society, his lawyer said Sunday.
The attacker picked targets linked to Norway's left-wing Labor Party. Breivik's manifesto pilloried the political correctness of liberals and warned that their work would end in the colonization of Europe by Muslims.
Such fears may derive, at least in part, from the fact that Norway has grown increasingly multicultural in recent years as the prosperous Nordic nation has opened its arms to thousands of conflict refugees from Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia. The annual Labor Party retreat — which the prime minister, Stoltenberg, fondly remembers attending in his own youth — reflected the country's changing demographics as the children of immigrants have grown increasingly involved in Labor politics.
This is very tragically the same kind of racism that is seen throughout the world and which is why the Greeks long ago created the word xenophobia (fear of strangers). Norway has been a country of emigrants, not immigrants, for most of the past 200 years, so the new immigrants represent a genuine break from the past, but this same kind of racist attitude obviously exists in the US, which is the quintessential nation of immigrants.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Deportation of Undocumented Immigrants on the Rise in the US

The Obama administration has put a new de facto immigration policy into effect in the last couple of years. This involves a considerable jump in the number of immigrants, especially those without documentation, who are deported after committing a crime in the United States. This is not quite what it seems, however, seems a large fraction of arrests are for misdemeanors, especially traffic violations.

The U.S. deported nearly 393,000 people in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, half of whom were considered criminals. Of those, 27,635 had been arrested for drunken driving, more than double the 10,851 deported after drunken driving arrests in 2008, the last full year of the Bush administration, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data provided to The Associated Press.
An additional 13,028 were deported last year after being arrested on less serious traffic law violations, nearly three times the 4,527 traffic offenders deported two years earlier, according to the data.
The spike in the numbers of people deported for traffic offenses as well as a 78 percent increase in people deported for immigration-related offenses renewed skepticism about the administration's claims that it is focusing on the most dangerous criminals.
Kumar Kibble, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deputy of immigration, said in some cases people picked up on traffic offenses are found to have committed other crimes. But ICE attempts to categorize each deported immigrant in its statistics based on the worst crime in the person's record. ICE says the statistics involve only people who have been convicted of a crime.
Some of the increase in deportations is due to a new system that identifies people on the basis of fingerprint records through the "Secure Communities" program, "now in place in more than 1,400 jurisdictions, up from 14 in 2008. It's expected to be in more than 3,000 jurisdictions nationally by 2013."
Secure Communities is the Homeland Security Department's system of identifying immigrants for deportation through fingerprints taken by local officers when booking people on criminal charges. The local law enforcement agencies routinely send the prints to the FBI for criminal background checks. The FBI shares the fingerprints with Homeland Security to look for potentially deportable immigrants, who can be in the country illegally or legally.

Friday, July 22, 2011

UN Declares Famine in Somalia

The drought situation in the Horn of Africa, which I mentioned three weeks ago, has been upgraded (if that is the right word in this horrendous situation) to a famine, especially in Somalia.
The UN officially declared famine in two southern Somalia regions Wednesday as the world slowly mobilised to save 12 million people battling hunger in the region's worst drought in 60 years.

UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden declared that southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions had been hit by famine.
In total, the UN said an estimated 3.7 million people -- or nearly half of the war-torn country's population -- were facing a food crisis.
"If we don't act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks," Bowden told reporters in neighbouring Kenya.
The Economist this week notes that the situation may well be as bad in Eritrea, but it is even more difficult to get information from there than from Somalia.
True to form, the Eritrean government is mostly keeping mum on food shortages. Since winning independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year civil war, the country has changed from a poster child for liberty to Africa’s most autocratic and reclusive country. Ethiopian officials claim that almost half of Eritrea’s 5.3m inhabitants are in need of food assistance, though that is likely to be an exaggeration. The hungriest bits of the country are in the Danakil depression, where nothing grows and only small numbers of Afar nomads live. It is the harvest in the highlands that really matters; the Eritrean government insists that people there have enough food.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Media Demographics Follow the Boomers

The Economist this week has a good analysis of the changing demographics of the media, and what that means for people trying make a profit by aiming at different demographic groups. For a long time, the prime target audience was the 18-49 "demographic," but that is so yesterday.
The noisy disruption of media business models by the internet in the past decade has obscured a profound demographic transformation. Whether they are buying music, listening to the radio, reading newspapers or watching television, media consumers are ageing even more quickly than the overall population. Rather than trying to reverse this trend by attracting younger people, many companies are attempting to profit from the greying of media.
The practice of measuring television audiences by the number of 18- to 49-year-olds they contain is simply an historical anachronism, argues Mr Wurtzel of NBC. David Poltrack, his counterpart at CBS, agrees. It used to be assumed, he says, that older people had already worked out which brands they liked and could not be persuaded to try new things. But the middle-aged have taken to toys such as e-readers and iPads. Mr Poltrack has devised an alternative way of classifying viewers that emphasises tastes and attitudes to media (for example as “sports enthusiasts” or “surfers and streamers”) rather than age.
This latter point underscores the fact that the importance of age has been transformed both by longer, healthier lives, and by the bulge of boomers. There are a lot of boomers, they are still relatively young and healthy, and they have money to spend. If you want to make money, they still represent a good market, even if they are all older than 49.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Safer Deliveries in Sierra Leone

Data from the World Health Organization show that Sierra Leone has the highest rate of maternal mortality of any country in the world, with 2,100 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (compared, for example, with 11 in the US and 7 in Canada). The New York Times reports on a new internationally-funded program in Sierra Leone to waive fees for pregnancy and delivery in order to improve birth outcomes.

Sierra Leone is at the vanguard of a revolution — heavily subsidized for now by international donors — that appears to be substantially lessening health dangers here in one of the riskiest countries in the world for pregnant women and small children.
Country after country in sub-Saharan Africa has waived medical fees in recent years, particularly for women and children, and while experts acknowledge that many more people are getting care, they caution that it is still too early to declare that the efforts have measurably improved health on the continent.
In Sierra Leone, though, it seems clear that lives are being saved, providing an early and concrete lesson about the impact of making health care free for the very poor and vulnerable.
By waiving the requirement for payments — which sometimes amount to hundreds of dollars and clearly represent the main barrier to using health facilities — the government here appears to have sharply cut into mortality rates for pregnant women and deaths from malaria for small children.
The results in Sierra Leone have been “nothing short of spectacular,” said Robert Yates, a senior health economist in Britain’s Department for International Development, which is paying for almost 40 percent of the $35 million program, with most of the rest coming from donors like the World Bank. Since waiving the fees, Sierra Leone has seen a 214 percent increase in the number of children under 5 getting care at health facilities, a 61 percent decrease in mortality rates in difficult pregnancy cases at health clinics, and an 85 percent drop in the malaria fatality rate for children treated in hospitals, according to figures Mr. Yates supplied.
International donor agencies are unlikely to fund this program forever, so the hope is that with better health will come greater economic productivity (the country has diamond and other mineral resources), political stability and eventually the ability to pay for programs like this from the country's own pockets.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Educating Our Way Out of the Great Recession

There is no question in my mind that the single most important thing a person can acquire in life is a good education. But as college professor, I can easily be accused of bias on this issue, so it was good to read Nicolas Kristof's Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times, in which he laments that the Great Recession is taking its toll on our nation's greatest asset--our educational system.

The United States supports schools in Afghanistan because we know that education is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to build a country.
Alas, we’ve forgotten that lesson at home. All across America, school budgets are being cut, teachers laid off and education programs dismantled...The Center on Education Policy reports that 70 percent of school districts nationwide endured budget cuts in the school year that just ended, and 84 percent anticipate cuts this year.
And he hits a target close to my home:
In higher education, the same drama is unfolding. California’s superb public university system is being undermined by the biggest budget cuts in the state’s history. Tuition is set to rise about 20 percent this year, on top of a 26 percent increase last year, which means that college will become unaffordable for some.
The immediate losers are the students. In the long run, the loser is our country.
Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, two Harvard economists, argue in their book “The Race Between Education and Technology” that a prime factor in America’s rise over the last two centuries was its leadership in educating the masses.
American pre-eminence in mass education has eroded since the 1970s, and now a number of countries have leapfrogged us in high school graduation rates, in student performance, in college attendance. If you look for the classic American faith in the value of broad education to spread opportunity, you can still find it — in Asia.
When I report on poverty in Africa and poverty in America, the differences are vast. But there is a common thread: chipping away at poverty is difficult and uncertain work, but perhaps the anti-poverty program with the very best record is education — and that’s as true in New York as it is in Nigeria.
Granted, budget shortfalls are real, and schools need reforms as well as dollars. Pouring money into a broken system isn’t a solution, and we need more accountability. But it’s also true that blindly slashing budgets is making the problems worse. As Derek Bok, the former Harvard president, once observed, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
Education is the key to lifting people out of poverty, and of achieving modernization and the realization of liberal democracy. We need to support it here in the US, and we need to do whatever we can to support it in other countries as well. There is no investment that will pay off as well as this.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Dangers of Demographic Deception

I have already commented on the tendency of cities to think that they have been under-counted by the census--although there is never a complaint about over-counting. Mark VanLandingham, a demographer at Tulane University, has a very good Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times pointing out the dangers of over-estimating the population. 

Such overestimates have been especially problematic for New Orleans. According to the original census estimates for 2007, the city’s population stood at 239,124, which independent sources, like voter turnout and death records, indicate was a reasonable guess. But after heavy lobbying from then-Mayor Ray Nagin’s office — claiming the bureau’s methods missed large numbers of poor residents — the number was revised upward by about 20 percent, to 288,113.
A similarly successful challenge to the 2008 initial estimate led to yet another substantial uptick; combined, these revised estimates put the city on pace to recover almost all the residents it had lost after Hurricane Katrina within a few years.
Until, that is, the 2010 census count was released this year, showing the actual population size was almost 100,000 people smaller than what the revised numbers implied it should be — a psychological bucket of cold water thrown on a still-fragile city. The inflated estimates misled government, businesses and residents as they made life-altering decisions about where, when and how much to invest in the city’s recovery, and they diverted attention from some of the most serious problems that New Orleans was facing — and still faces — after the disaster.
VanLandingham notes, in particular, that the overestimation of New Orleans' population has allowed the city to ignore its very high murder rate.
The revised estimates of population size diluted the city’s murder rate, since a larger population results in fewer murders per capita. The lower rate may have stemmed some damage to tourism and investment; certainly the numbers allowed the government to spend its precious resources on items other than public safety. But in reality, they obscured the fact that in the years after Katrina, New Orleans had not only the nation’s highest murder rate, but a rate never before recorded for any American city.
This is a good reminder that you need to be careful what you ask for. An inflated population is not necessarily a good thing.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Children of Immigrants as a Demographic Force in America

The Pew Hispanic Center has just released a new report showing that births among immigrants from Mexico (the largest source of migrants to the US) are now more important a factor in demographic growth than is immigration itself. This is, of course, an old story. Until the implementation of the racist national origins quota laws in the late 1920s, the children of immigrants had historically been more important to growth in the US than had the immigrants themselves. So, we are really just returning to a familiar theme from the past. 
Miriam Jordan of the Wall Street Journal has reported on the story:
The population of Latinos of Mexican origin, who represent nearly two-thirds of U.S. Hispanics, grew by 7.2 million between 2000 and 2010 as a result of births, but the Washington-based research center attributed only about 4.2 million to immigrant arrivals. In the previous two decades, the number of new Mexican immigrants in the U.S. either matched or exceeded the number of births.
The current surge in births follows the massive wave of Hispanic immigration to the U.S. that began in the 1970s. The tilt suggests that descendents of immigrants could be the main engine of U.S. population growth for decades to come.
Mr. Potter, the Texas state demographer, says the higher fertility among Hispanics is unlikely to last forever. "As the Hispanic population becomes more mainstream, fertility rates will decline," he said.
Some towns say Hispanics have helped them weather the economic downturn. But their arrival has also has posed challenges, such as pressure on schools to absorb new children.
"We just have to get through this transition time," says John R. Weeks, a demographer at San Diego State University. Ultimately, he says, "the children of immigrants are going to buoy up the economy. They are going to pay for Medicare and Social Security for the aging white population."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Smoking Slowly Being Snuffed Out in US

Janet Lavelle of the San Diego Union-Tribune followed up today on a report just issued by the California Department of Public Health showing that the smoking rate has fallen to a record low in California. This is a very encouraging sign since smoking is one of the major "real" causes of death throughout the world.
The rate of adult smokers statewide dropped to a record low of 11.9 percent in 2010, making California and Utah the only states to reach a federal target to cut smoking rates to 12 percent by 2020.
Officials attributed at least some of the drop to California’s aggressive public anti-smoking campaign launched in the late 1980s. While the latest statistics are encouraging, health officials said smoking remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death, killing more than 400,000 Americans annually.
It is important to note that this overall drop is not just a result of the overall aging of the population. It is very importantly dropping in the teen years--the ages at which people are  most likely to get addicted to cigarettes.

Colleen Stevens, chief of the tobacco control media campaign for the state public health department, said the pattern in teen smoking could be related to the price of cigarettes.
Between 1997 and 2002, tobacco companies raised prices and the state levied a 50-cent tax per pack, she said. The price remained relatively unchanged until 2009, when the federal government instituted a 62-cent per pack tax.
Smoking rates in California have declined since 1985. The state’s anti-smoking education program began in earnest in 1989, shortly after voters approved a 25-cent tax on every cigarette pack in 1988. A nickel from each sale helps fund the California Tobacco Control Program, which includes a statewide media campaign, local educational and enforcement efforts, and programs to help smokers quit.
“Our feeling is that we have to simultaneously keep the environment and social norms such that teens and young adults don’t start smoking, while also helping those who smoke to stop,” she said.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Children Are at an All-Time Low as a Percent of US Population

The Population Reference Bureau this week released a report on some of the major findings from the 2010 Census, and among the things picked up by the press was that children now represent an historic low as a percent of the US population.

Currently, the share of children in the U.S. is 24 percent, falling below the previous low of 26 percent of 1990. The share is projected to slip further, to 23 percent by 2050, even as the percentage of people 65 and older is expected to jump from 13 percent to 19 percent due to the aging of baby boomers and beyond.
In 1900, the share of children reached as high as 40 percent, compared to a much smaller 4 percent share for seniors 65 and older. The percentage of children in subsequent decades held above 30 percent until 1980, when it fell to 28 percent amid declining birth rates, mostly among whites.
Social theory would suggest that as the number of children declines, then there should be greater investment in each child--trading quality for quantity. That may work in the classic family setting of two parents and their children, with no older people to care for, but the analogy may not cross over into the community setting.
"There are important implications for the future of the U.S. because the increasing costs of providing for an older population may reduce the public resources that go to children," said William P. O'Hare, a senior consultant with the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, a children's advocacy group.
Pointing to signs that many children are already struggling, O'Hare added: "These raise urgent questions about whether today's children will have the resources they need to help care for America's growing elderly population."
Part of the problem lies in the potential difficulty of "generational bonding" when the older US population is predominantly non-Hispanic white, whereas an increasing fraction of younger people are children of immigrants.
The latest 2010 census data show that children of immigrants make up one in four people under 18, and are now the fastest-growing segment of the nation's youth, an indication that both legal and illegal immigrants as well as minority births are lifting the nation's population.
"The `minority youth bulge' is being driven primarily by children in immigrant families," said Mark Mather, associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau who co-wrote a report released Tuesday on the subject. "They are transforming America's schools, and in a generation they will transform the racial-ethnic composition of the U.S. work force."
"Policymakers are paying a lot of attention to the elderly, but we have a large population of children who have their own needs," he said.
The numbers come as states around the nation are seeking to cut education spending and other programs — rather than raise taxes — to close gaping budget holes as schools districts run out of $100 billion in federal stimulus money that helped stave off job losses over the past two years.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Another Reminder About the Future Food Supply

I was probably attracted to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald because I agree with everything it says, and I couldn't have said it better. 

Decades of rapid population growth, especially in developing countries, means there are more mouths to feed. The world's population will reach 7 billion this year and is forecast to top 9.5 billion by 2050. That will be three times more than in 1950. But it's not just the extra people adding to food demand - rising prosperity, especially in Asia, is playing a role. As people get wealthier they eat more and they eat differently. The consumption of products such as meat and milk has been growing rapidly. Dietary shifts linked to rising wealth that took centuries to occur in Western countries are taking place over a few decades in developing counties.
The push for biofuels - fuel made from plants - is another factor stoking demand. High global energy prices prompted many Western governments to encourage the production of biofuels with a combination of subsidies and mandates. As a result, millions of tonnes of cereals have been diverted away from food markets to energy needs.
The arrival of new investors in food commodity markets, including large pension funds, has also been blamed for adding to demand. This trend, and related allegations of speculation in food markets, have sparked calls for more regulation.
"There is a structural shift in the demand and supply balance of food on the planet," says Dr Bill Pritchard, a Sydney University economic geographer and food security expert. "It's a pattern that is going to face us over the coming decades."
It is important that we all keep this bottom line in mind as we face the future. Most of us in the rich world are completely separated from the sources of our food, and we just take for granted that there will always be enough food. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

World Population Day 2011

Today is World Population Day and is also the first anniversary of this blog. We are still officially in the countdown to 7 billion people being alive on the planet at the same time, but of course the official counter is only approximate since we are continually trying to get a better handle on data through censuses and vital statistics. 
In reality, every day is world population day because the population is constantly growing and constantly testing the limits of the earth's resources. A terrible reminder of this is the current drought in Somalia:

The head of the U.N. refugee agency said Sunday that drought-ridden Somalia is the "worst humanitarian disaster" in the world after meeting with refugees who endured unspeakable hardship to reach the world's largest refugee camp.
The Kenyan camp, Dadaab, is overflowing with tens of thousands of newly arrived refugees forced into the camp by the parched landscape in the region where Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya meet. The World Food Program estimates that 10 million people already need humanitarian aid. The U.N. Children's Fund estimates that more than 2 million children are malnourished and in need of lifesaving action.
Trying to avoid these kinds of situations involves a lot of things, including making it as easy as possible for people to limit their family size, which is the reminder that USAID has put out as its thought for the day (world population day, that is).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The New Nation of South Sudan

Today was the first day of reality for the nation of South Sudan, which came into being as a result of a "divorce" (as the BBC calls it) from the rest of the nation of Sudan. This followed a vote for secession that took place this past January, which I noted at the time was itself the result of a peace agreement made back in 2005.

The population of the new country is estimated to be somewhere between 7.5 and 9.7 million, and it is described by everyone as one of the poorest nation's in the world, although it does have oil reserves, and apparently has been getting some direct foreign investment from China. However, there are still rebel groups working in the new nation, so it will probably have a rocky start to life, hampered by very low levels of literacy, and very high rates of infant and maternal mortality.

BBC News has a nice set of maps with data from the Demographic & Health Surveys (DHS) and other sources that do a nice job of orienting you to South Sudan, with comparisons to the new, now slightly-less-populous-than-before Republic of Sudan.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Alabama's Anti-Immigration Law Challenged in Court

The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a lawsuit challenging Alabama's recently passed anti-immigration law that is set to take effect on September first. The law has been described by the director of the Center as making Arizona's law look like child's play. The New York Times has called it blatantly racist, and the Southern Poverty Law Center suggests that it hearkens back to the Jim Crow era because it will "create an underclass of people who are denied equal protection under the law, just like the racist laws that stained Alabama and the Deep South for many decades."

The lawsuit, filed in Huntsville, claims the new law will make criminals out of church workers who provide shelter to immigrants and even citizens who give their neighbors a ride to the store or to the doctor's office.
"This law interferes with the free exercise of religion. It criminalizes acts of love and hospitality," said Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries.
The lawsuit said the measure goes well beyond similar laws passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Federal judges already have blocked all or parts of the laws in those states. It asks a judge to declare Alabama's law unconstitutional and prevent it from being enforced.
Alabama's law, which takes effect Sept. 1, allows police to arrest anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant if the person is stopped for some other reason. It also requires businesses to check the legal status of new workers; makes it a crime to knowingly give a ride to an illegal immigrant; and makes it a crime for landlords to knowingly rent to illegal immigrants.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Is the Demographic Fit With Mexico Ending?

Damien Cave of the New York Times has pieced together evidence that the net flow of undocumented migrants from Mexico to the US may have dropped to zero or even have reversed itself. That does not mean that no one is crossing the border heading north, but the flow is considerably lower than it used to be, and may be matched by people heading back to Mexico from the US. Elizabeth Aguilera of the San Diego Union-Tribune has also pulled together a similar story. 

The evidence comes collectively from the latest round of data collected by the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University (which interviews migrants in Mexico about their experience in the US), the calculations of undocumented migration by the Pew Hispanic Research Center, which are based especially on the Current Population Survey, by Border Patrol apprehension data, and by organizations such as the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC, San Diego which regularly track data from selected communities in Mexico.

The reasons for the decline represent a type of "perfect storm". The "Great Recession" is an obvious factor, along with the greater cost of crossing the border as a result of increasingly tighter border security, the increased Federal deportation of undocumented immigrants, and the increasingly hostile legislation passed in a variety of states over the past few years. At the same time, as I (and my son and co-author, Greg Weeks) have been noting for some time, the long-term decline in the birth rate in Mexico (accompanied in the US by the birth of children of immigrants) is closing the gap in the age structures of the two countries that has been filled by immigrants for the past several decades. If this really is the end of the demographic fit between the two countries, it happened even more quickly than we would have predicted largely because of the unexpected impact of the Great Recession.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

World Bank Opens its Data Vault

If you are new to research that involves comparisons between countries, you may not appreciate how important it is that over the past year or so, the World Bank has made its huge international database increasingly available to the public over the internet. 
Created in 1944 and, by custom, headed by an American, the World Bank initially helped finance the reconstruction of war-torn Europe. Since then, it has extended many trillions in loans for a wide variety of projects, be they institutions like schools and hospitals, infrastructure like roads or, controversially, environmentally unfriendly projects like coal-fired power plants and hydroelectric dams. Along the way the World Bank, like the I.M.F., has tinkered with entire economies, sometimes with disastrous results.
In the process of handing out gobs of money, the World Bank has collected gobs of data and until very recently parsed it out sparingly and usually only for a fee. That approach began to change when Robert Zoellick became head of the Bank four years ago.
“As opposed to some imperious bureaucracy in Washington, we’re making things open and accessible to people,” he says. “That makes for better performance, it makes for a more open system, it makes for people having a different attitude about the World Bank.”
This has been a very welcome change and I encourage you to explore the data available online at

Monday, July 4, 2011

Anti-Immigration Legislation Bubbling Through the South--Redux

The Fourth of July is a good time to contemplate various aspects of freedom, and the opposite of that--namely the anti-immigrant laws recently enacted in several states in the south. An editorial in the New York Times picks up the theme:
If you thought the do-it-yourself anti-immigrant schemes couldn’t get any more repellent, you were wrong. New laws in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina are following — and in some ways outdoing — Arizona’s attempt to engineer the mass expulsion of the undocumented, no matter the damage to the Constitution, public safety, local economies and immigrant families.
The laws vary in their details but share a common strategy: to make it impossible for people without papers to live without fear.
Keep in mind that for the first 100 years after the American Revolution there were no restrictions on immigration to the US--if you wanted to come, you came. Period. But, the very first restrictions were, like those today, essentially racist in origin. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Then in 1924 Congress passed the Japanese Exclusion Act, following the 1921 passage of the Quota Law of 1921 which put the first numerical limit on migration into the country, aimed especially at southern and eastern Europeans uprooted by World War I. The fact that we have a rather sad history of racist immigration laws does not, of course, excuse the current round of legislation. Rather, it should serve as a reminder that those whom we used to wish to exclude are now regular members of American society, and we can hope that the same will be said in the future about those currently being discriminated against simply for wanting to take the jobs that are on offer in this country.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

South Suburbs of Chicago Grow as Blacks Leave the Loop

The New York Times today followed up on a story that I commented on several months ago as the first data from the 2010 Census were being released--the City of Chicago has been shrinking because the black population has been heading to the suburbs. More specifically, the southern suburbs of Chicago.
One path that so many black middle-class home buyers have followed from Chicago’s South Side in recent years ends just off Lincoln Highway, past the entrance to the Newbury Estates subdivision in Matteson.
The subdivision, about 30 miles from the Loop, represents only part of a much greater migration to the south suburbs from 2000 to 2010. In all, Chicago’s black population declined by about 181,000 people, or 17 percent, in that period, according to recently released figures from the 2010 census. The rapid contraction of the black population was the main driver of the city’s overall population loss of about 200,000 in the last decade, a fact noted by Rahm Emanuel in his mayoral inauguration speech in May.
“No great city can thrive by shrinking,” Mr. Emanuel said. “The best way to keep people from leaving is to attract the jobs that give them a good reason to stay.”
But many left despite having good jobs in the city. Although the census data does not indicate where those who left Chicago ended up, the new population figures show that Matteson recorded the largest numerical increase in blacks of any city in the Chicago area.
This is a pattern repeated almost everywhere in the US, and the people involved in suburbanization would probably think that is really as a type of "smart" growth. One person interviewed by the Times talked about the fact that the old neighborhood in Chicago was like a shooting gallery every night. It's smart to get out of there if you can. But it also raises important questions about the adaptability of older cities in the face of the suburban transition (part of the overall urban evolution). The roles and functions of inner cities have been changing for a long time, and some cities have done better than others in realizing this and adjusting to it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kansas Anti-Abortion Rules Blocked for the Time Being

The state of Kansas has tried to stop legal abortions from taking place there by creating a new set of rules by which all abortion providers (of whom there are only three) must abide. However, a federal judge has temporarily blocked the implementation of those rules until a trial is held to determine their legality.

U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia's injunction will remain in effect until a trial is held in a lawsuit challenging the Kansas rules. A new licensing law and state health department regulations had taken effect Friday, and abortion providers were given the latest version of those regulations less than two weeks ago.
The new law requires hospitals, clinics and doctor's offices to obtain an annual license from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to perform more than five non-emergency abortions in a month. The regulations tell abortion providers what drugs and equipment they must stock and, among other things, establish minimum sizes and acceptable temperatures for procedure and recovery rooms.
In blocking the law, Murguia said evidence presented in court documents showed the providers would "suffer irreparable harm" through the loss of business and patients, and that at least two women currently seeking abortions would be harmed by not being able to go to the provider of their choice.
The licensing law was part of a wave of anti-abortion measures enacted this year by Kansas and other states with new Republican governors or GOP-dominated legislatures. Utah and Virginia are also imposing new regulations on abortion providers, but Kansas moved with unusual speed to enact its rules by Friday — a major issue in the lawsuit.
Interestingly enough, one of the state's three providers--Planned Parenthood--had actually met the requirements and had been issued a license to perform abortions.