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.

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

It Isn't Easy Being the Poorest Country in the Western Hemisphere

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere--and by quite a bit. Data from the PRB World Population Data Sheet suggest that per person income there (in PPP) is $1,710 per year. The next closest is Bolivia at $5,750. Haiti's income is comparable to several countries in West Africa, such as Sierra Leone at $1,750 or Burkina Faso at $1,560. Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic, whose per person income is several times higher at $9,800 per year. And therein lies the problem. Haitians have been migrating illegally to the Dominican Republic for work, but this has created a backlash, as the New York Times reported. The government has been registering these undocumented immigrants and plans to deport a great many of them.
The Dominican government’s threat to deport Haitians has been popular domestically, playing on the frustrations many Dominicans feel toward their poorer neighbors on the island of Hispaniola. 
The politics are pretty straightforward. President Danilo Medina recently announced his campaign for re-election next year. Many praise his efforts to register migrants and expel those in the country illegally. 
Sporadic deportations have happened, but so far, with the world watching, the Dominican government has not carried out the mass expulsions many Haitians fear. 
Still, the threat of being seized has led more than 31,000 Haitians to leave on their own, according to government figures, opting to cart their belongings across the border rather than risk losing everything in a sudden deportation.
At the moment the two countries have roughly equal populations--both at about 11 million. Both countries are growing at a rate that is probably unsustainable, given the island's resources, but Haiti is growing faster and so there is a constant pressure to do something. One thing that both countries need to do is to have fewer children. Although the birth rate is lower in both places than it used to be, women in Haiti are still having more than 3 children, whereas in the DR they are "only" having 2.5 each. Haiti's infant death rate is the highest by far in the hemisphere (Bolivia is second, not surprisingly), but fertility is still well above replacement level, leading to the projection that by mid-century it could increase to 17 million people, while the DR might increase "only" to 13 million. Investments in both the economy and the population are urgently needed, but neither country seems to be on anyone's wish list for help.

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