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:

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 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 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 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. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change

I just finished reading a newly released book by Janelle S. Wong, Professor of American Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland. Her doctorate is in Political Science and her book--Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change--reveals her breadth of social science knowledge. Protestant evangelicals represent a large and growing segment of the American population. They are found not just among non-Hispanic whites, but also among blacks, Latinos (she uses the non-gender-specific term Latinx) and Asian-Americans. Among all race/ethnic groups, evangelicals are politically more conservative than non-evangelicals. But her analysis of new survey data comparing evangelicals and non-evangelicals leads her to the clear conclusion that race is what drives political conservatism among this group. The heart of the matter is that immigration--hugely in the news as a result of the Trump administration's policy of separating children from parents at the border--is changing the demographic mix of the country, and xenophobia has reached levels not seen since the Depression era.
I show in this book that part of what underlies white evangelicals' more conservative policy attitudes compared with the attitudes of nonwhites [and compared to white non-evangelicals] is the belief that whites face as much discrimination as outgroups, such as Muslims, or even more. About half of white evangelicals in this study held this belief, and those who hold it are likely to support conservative policy positions across a range of issue areas. This measure, I believe, captures a sense of white embattlement against a changing world. (p. 95)
She adroitly calls upon theories of social or symbolic boundaries to help explain this type of xenophobia:
Social theorists have long attended to boundary-making as a fundamental process of social interaction...Most important for the research presented in the current study is the notion of "symbolic boundaries." Cynthia Fuchs Epstein [a Past President of the American Sociological Association] argues that while boundaries may be "mechanical and physical," they may also "be conceptual and symbolic." Symbolic boundaries, according to Epstein, vary in meaning, but this variability does not detract from their social power. Rather, because individuals may attach their own meanings to symbolic boundaries, boundaries are maintained even in the face of different interpretations. (p. 94)
The book is a relatively short, but very well written research monograph, whose analysis and conclusions help us understand the role of demographic change in producing the Trump era.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Has Iran's Fertility Level Climbed Back up to Replacement?

A couple of months ago, I discussed the eye-popping drop in fertility experienced by Iran's population. In 1980 the average woman in Iran was having about 6 children, but by 2000 that had dropped to replacement level, and it has recently been below replacement level, according to data from the UN Population Division and the Population Reference Bureau. There may have been a recent rise back up to replacement level, however, according to a story in The Tehran Times that Abu Daoud linked us to. The report is from December 2017, but this is the first time that I had seen it:
Announcing the results of a research on ‘changes in population status’, Mohammad Jalal Abbasi highlighted that fertility rate has had a growing trend in recent years and that the replacement-level fertility has been achieved.
This in-depth research encompasses areas such as changes in fertility and childbirth rate, family and marriage variations, mortality and health status, domestic migration, urbanization, and population trends, ISNA news agency quoted Abbasi as saying.
The official went on to say that the growing trend of fertility rate in Iran can be a temporary result of modifying delayed childbearing and that taking measures to facilitate marriage and childbirth are needed to stabilize this rate.
I was impressed by the fact that Dr. Abbasi, who is Professor of Demography and Chair of the Division of Population Research of the University of Tehran, pointed out that the rise back up to replacement level might be a tempo adjustment. Fertility had fallen below replacement because women were delaying births, not necessarily deciding permanently not to have a child or another child. They have recently been making up at least some of those delayed births. Will the fertility level go back up above replacement level? My guess is that it won't, given the high correlation (mentioned in the article) between female education and the birth rate, and the fact that the rapid drop in fertility was accomplished by a combination of wide accessibility of contraceptives along with a sharp increase in female levels of education.

I'm guessing that the next round of population estimates by the UN Population Division and by the Population Reference Bureau will reflect this apparent uptick in Iranian fertility to a level right around replacement, especially since it already seems to have been picked up by the CIA in its World Factbook.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Should Countries Enforce Population Control?

An opinion piece with this evocative title was published over the weekend by encouraging people to weigh in with their own opinions.  I'm guessing that the whole topic was inspired by the a book titled "Choosing Daughters: Family Change in Rural China," by Lihong Shi, an anthropologist at Case Western Reserve University, since much of the written space is given over to China's one-child policy. The editors also seem to accept the somewhat controversial analysis of David Goodkind that the one-child policy averted 400 million births in that country. As I said when that issue first emerged: "The one-child policy was a human rights disaster and, in my view, was not necessary to the drop in fertility in China. The Chinese were going to avert those births with or without that policy."

The title of the article suggests that "population control" means population limitation, with references to trying to limit births in China and India, and also getting into sterilization programs among mentally-ill people that arose during the social Darwinist movement early in the 20th century. However, if you watch the video of people interviewed on the street somewhere, you actually see a more nuanced view of "control." Human society controls many aspects of demographic change in ways that both encourage and discourage population growth. For example, we regulate human fertility by regulating age at marriage, and often by limiting your options once you are married, limiting incestuous sexual relationships, controlling access to contraception and abortion, as well as access to health providers who might be able to save lives were they more available. We allow access to guns that can kill people, but delay our reaction to finding lead or other contaminants in the water (keeping in mind that clean water is essential to human health). We control access to toileting and sewerage. We control who can come into and, in some cases, who can leave countries. In other words, as humans we control aspects not just of fertility, but mortality, and migration as well. Some of these regulations encourage lower rates of growth, at least in local places, and others encourage higher rates of growth. 

In my view, the bottom line is that a successful future for human society requires giving each of us as much control as possible over our own lives, especially in terms of reproduction and health and the ability to move where we want at least within our own country, but always keeping in mind that humans are a social species and we need to have a set of rules ("laws") that we can agree upon and make sense to us. A key element of this kind of "positive" control is education and on this point I am in 100% agreement with the conclusion: "Educating and empowering women just might save us all".

Friday, June 8, 2018

Suicide Is a Disturbingly Common Cause of Death

This week has witnessed two high-profile suicides, that of fashion designer Kate Spade, and of celebrity chef/world cultural explorer Anthony Bourdain. Sadly, those deaths come just as the Washington Post has summarized a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing that suicide rates are going up in this country.
Suicide rates rose in all but one state between 1999 and 2016, with increases seen across age, gender, race and ethnicity, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In more than half of all deaths in 27 states, the people had no known mental health condition when they ended their lives.
Increasingly, suicide is being viewed not only as a mental health problem but a public health one. Nearly 45,000 suicides occurred in the United States in 2016 — more than twice the number of homicides — making it the 10th-leading cause of death. Among people ages 15 to 34, suicide is the second-leading cause of death.
Suicides are especially prevalent in rural counties, and this was picked up on by
“While we’ve seen many causes of death come down in recent years, suicide rates have increased more than 20% from 2001 to 2015. And this is especially concerning in rural areas,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director, in a news release. “We need proven prevention efforts to help stop these deaths and the terrible pain and loss they cause.”
The map below tells the story of the rural contribution to suicide rates.

And here is one interpretation of what's going on in these places:
The peace and quiet of country living can be the American dream. But that dream can turn to a nightmare for those who become isolated and disconnected from their communities, says Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri Extension safety and health specialist. 
Rural communities are typically tightly-knit towns, where everyone knows everyone. While this may be the case for many, rural life poses risks for marginalized groups, Funkenbusch notes. These groups include racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ persons, those living in poverty, and newcomers. 
Funkenbusch says rural communities often lack mental and behavioral health services and transportation. CDC reports that more than half of U.S. counties don’t have a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. There also may be sociocultural factors such as stigma against seeking help, especially for males, she says.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

UN Asks US to Stop Separating Migrant Kids and Parents

Thanks to Liz Kennedy for linking me to an AP story that the United Nations has called upon the United States to stop separating children from parents as they are detained after crossing the border into the U.S. seeking asylum. 
The United Nations human rights office called on the Trump administration Tuesday to “immediately halt” its accelerating policy of separating children from their parents after they cross the U.S. border with Mexico, insisting there is “nothing normal about detaining children.”
Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, scolded the United States over the hundreds of children removed from parents who were jailed for entering the country illegally. She said border control appears to take precedence over child protection and care in the U.S.
Nikki Haley, who is the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, responded just as Martin Short did in one of his great comedy sketches several years ago: "Go interview yourself!"
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, lashed back: “Once again, the United Nations shows its hypocrisy by calling out the United States while it ignores the reprehensible human rights records of several members of its own Human Rights Council.”
Liz also pointed to another recent article detailing the horrible conditions in which the separated children are living, and which also reminds us of the Trump administration's "rationale" for the separations:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has defended the practice of separating parents and family members from children at the border, which comes as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said in a speech last month. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
The idea here is that Jeff Sessions wants to send a message to potential migrants to not bring their children with them. It turns out that if the Trump administration wants this message to be out there, it needs to come from the passage of immigration legislation by the U.S. Congress. Instead, a U.S. Senator from Oregon tried to visit a facility in Texas that was housing some of the children, and the facility called the local police to escort him away. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Demographics of Primary Voters

Today is primary Election Day here in California. My wife and I have already voted via mail ballot (as we always do), and there is a lot of buzz around the state--and the country--about the results. California now has what has been called a "jungle" primary system, in which everybody running for office is on the same ballot, and the top two vote-getters will be on the November ballot, regardless of their party affiliation (or "preference" as the ballot calls it).

Elections are obviously based on who turns out to vote and so the demographic characteristics of voters, rather than the voter-eligible population, is what matters in the end. A story on NPR's "Here and Now" this morning illustrated the issues facing California. The state has a large immigrant and second-generation population that, even when eligible to vote, has lower turnout rates than the now-minority non-Hispanic white population. This means that within the state, Northern California is more influential politically than the more populous Southern California because voter turnout is higher in the north than in the south. Both parts of the state have high percentages of Asian and Latinos, with the latter especially prevalent in Southern California. Historically, their voter turnout rates have been relatively low, but are perhaps on the upswing. That latter conclusion is not just from California, but my son, Greg Weeks of UNC Charlotte, has noted that trend in North Carolina in a recent TV interview.

So, the bottom line is that the candidates vying for election to national, state, and local offices in November will be determined today by a group of voters whose demographics are not likely to accurately represent the voting-eligible population. This helps to explain some of the funny stuff going on in American politics.