This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Friday, December 29, 2017

National Academies Press Top Ten Highlights Demography Connections

It has always been my contention that demography is related to everything going on in the world. Sometimes distantly, I admit, but still connected. I had exactly that thought as I went down the list of the Top Ten of the most downloaded publications of 2017 from the National Academies Press. Keep in mind that all of these publications from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine are free to download in PDF format--they only charge if you want a hard copy or an e-book copy. So, there is no price barrier to downloading and reading these reports. Here is the Top Ten and my evaluation of their connection to demography, even if no demographers were involved in the committees that wrote the report.

1. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. You might think that this is only about getting high, but there are clearly demonstrated medicinal uses for marijuana which may not keep you alive longer, but may allow you to enjoy life a bit more. Of course, as with almost anything of this nature, too much may kill you (and others) earlier than expected.

2. Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda In this era where the lessons of science, including demographic science, seem often to be under attack, it is important that we figure out how to get the messages out there successfully.

3. The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration I blogged about this when it came out: http://weekspopulation.blogspot.com/2016/09/costs-and-benefits-of-immigration.html

4. Human Genome Editing: Science, Ethics, and Governance Human genome editing is one of the ways in which we may be able to forestall death and/or improve health as we age, so this can affect mortality and the aging process.

5. Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity Once again the theme is on health care, in this case the issue of getting rid of major inequalities in death rates and causes of death.

6. Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Way Forward This deals with our ability to function as we age. Success in this area could greatly diminish the cost to families and society in general of our staying alive longer.

7. Seeing Students Learn Science: Integrating Assessment and Instruction in the Classroom Again the issue is making sure that science is separated from fiction as children learn how the world works.

8. Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide The growing population, and our growing use of resources to sustain and improve people's lives have consequences and understanding and mitigating those costs is crucial to the future of human existence on this planet.

9. Information Technology and the U.S. Workforce: Where Are We and Where Do We Go from Here? A key demographic in any part of the world is the set of livelihoods of the population. The Industrial Revolution created a whole new set of jobs in the world and the Information Technology Revolution is doing the same.

10. Review of the Draft Climate Science Special Report The Trump administration may not be interested in climate change, but American scientists continue to monitor the damage that we humans are doing to the planet--and more specifically our own country--as we grow in numbers.

Of course, I have to admit that my obviously selfish all time favorite read from the National Academies Press is this one:  Tools and Methods for Estimating Populations at Risk from Natural Disasters and Complex Humanitarian Crises (2007).

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Is There a Mormon Influence on State Growth Rates in the US? UPDATED

Just before Christmas the U.S. Census Bureau put out its latest estimates of population growth by state in this country. It was a big enough deal that the day of the release actually showed up on the weekly calendar that the CBS Sunday Morning program always posts right at the end of its program. You may already have seen in various media that Idaho got the prize for growing at the fastest rate of any state between 201 and 2017.
“Domestic migration drove change in the two fastest-growing states, Idaho and Nevada, while an excess of births over deaths played a major part in the growth of the third fastest-growing state, Utah,” said Luke Rogers, Chief of the Population Estimates Branch.
Idaho and Nevada are, of course, contiguous to Utah--the home base of the nation's Mormon population--so it may be that internal migration into those states is influenced also by the growth of the Mormon population as it spreads out from its base. A Wikipedia page with data purported to be official membership data of the Church of Latter Day Saints shows that 68% of Utah's population is Mormon, and the next highest percentages are all in the states neighboring Utah--Idaho (26%), Wyoming (12%), Nevada (6%) and Arizona (6%). [See map below.]  Of some interest, though, is the fact that Wyoming actually had the highest percentage drop in population between 2016 and 2017. Maybe they went to Idaho and Nevada? This is hard to know, of course, since the U.S. government does not track religion as one of the demographic variables collected in the census or surveys.



If we look at the absolute change in population by state, the picture is quite different. Texas added more people than any other state, followed closely by Florida, and then California (which houses more Mormons in absolute terms than any other state outside of Utah). Keep in mind that these estimates are from mid-year 2016 to mid-year 2017, so they don't take this Fall's hurricanes into account. We'll have to wait another year for that news from the Census Bureau.

UPDATE: Today's Washington Post carries a story comparing the population growth rates in Idaho (nation's highest as noted above) with its next-door neighbor Wyoming (nation's lowest--indeed it is negative as noted above). Andrew Van Dam has crunched some numbers and concludes that Wyoming is suffering from a declining demand for and price in coal, which is the state's main economic engine. On the other hand, Idaho has shifted over the years from mining to agriculture to manufacturing, technology, and services. He does not, however, mention Mormons in his story...

Friday, December 22, 2017

Undocumented Migration into the US is NOT Going Up

You will recall that two of the top ten migration stories of 2017 as put together by the Migration Policy Institute related to the Trump administration's attempts to limit immigration (both legal--story #1; and undocumented--story #4). The latest attempt to scare people from trying to come to the U.S. is reported by the NYTimes and outlines a new policy being considered by the Trump administration to separate family members when they are arrested upon arrival. 
Under current policy, families are kept intact while awaiting a decision on whether they will be deported; they are either held in special family detention centers or released with a court date. The policy under discussion would send parents to adult detention facilities, while their children would be placed in shelters designed for juveniles or with a “sponsor,” who could be a relative in the United States, though the administration may also tighten rules on sponsors.
It seems that the motivation for doing this is the idea that, as the NYTimes says, "The debate comes as the administration faces an influx of people crossing the southern United States border illegally." Really? Well, that is what a recent report posted on the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website says:
CBP has seen an uptick in individuals month-to-month apprehended while trying to enter the country illegally in between the established ports of entry, and an increase in those presenting themselves for entry, without proper documentation, along our Southwest border. The majority of these individuals are single adults, while the largest percentage increases come from family units and unaccompanied children who increased 45 percent and 26 percent respectively compared with the previous month.
But if you look at the graph on that page (see below) you come away with a very different impression. What you actually see is that October and November of this year had fewer arrests than either of the previous two years. Furthermore, the past several years have seen consistently fewer than half a million border apprehensions compared to 1.6 million in 2000, and 1.2 million in 2005. Indeed, 2009 was the most recent year in which there were as many as 500,000 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants. 



So, the story is really not that we are facing some new "influx" of immigrants. That is just an excuse for them to do what they want to do. Sad!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

U.S. Life Expectancy Drops Yet Again

The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (part of CDC) has just released a report showing that for the second year in a row the life expectancy at birth has gone down in this country. Wrong direction! The likely culprit is the opioid epidemic, which also took the blame last year when the mortality statistics took a turn for the worse, as I noted a year ago. CNN took a close look at the numbers.
Life expectancy in the United States has dropped again following last year's decline, which marked the first downturn in more than two decades.
On average, Americans can now expect to live 78.6 years, a statistically significant drop of 0.1 year, according to a report on 2016 data published Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics. Women can now expect to live a full five years longer than men: 81.1 years vs. 76.1 years.
The last time the agency recorded a multiyear drop was in 1962 and 1963.
The graph below illustrates the changes, which are small but important. Keep in mind for comparative purposes that the PRB's World Population Data Sheet shows that in Switzerland life expectancy at birth for women is 85 (4 years higher than the U.S.) and 81 for men (5 years higher than the U.S.), whereas in Mexico life expectancy for women is 79 (only two years lower than in the U.S.) and for men it is 75 (only a year less than in the U.S.). In other words, life expectancy in the U.S. is closer to Mexico than it is to Switzerland. I'm guessing that geography is not the explanation...


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Trump Effort to Limit Immigration to U.S. is Top Migration Story of 2017

The Migration Information Source of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC is indeed the migration information source. It has become over the years the go-to place for global migration issues. Today they came out with their Top Ten list of migration stories for this past year. If you click on each separate link you will find the details:
  1. Under Trump Administration, United States Takes Steps to Narrow Legal Immigration
  2. Surge in Violence Against Myanmar's Rohingya Spurs World's Fastest-Growing Refugee Crisis
  3. European Leaders Pursue Migration Deals with North African Countries, Sparking Concerns about Human Costs
  4. Trump Administration Makes Down Payment on Campaign Pledges to Address Illegal Immigration
  5. As Displacement Becomes Long-Term, Refugee Hosts Grapple with New Normal
  6. In Wake of Cuts to U.S. Refugee Program, Global Resettlement Falls Short
  7. Increased Focus on Forced Return of Migrants and Asylum Seekers Puts Many in Peril
  8. Despite Progress on Brexit Negotiations, Fate of Millions of EU and UK Nationals Still Hangs in the Balance
  9. Nativism Goes Mainstream, Moving the Needle on Migration Policy
  10. In Latin America, Spike in Migrant Arrivals Prompts Flurry of Responses
I have blogged about the top three on the list, but not so much on the other seven. Time to get caught up!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

More Troubling Signs for Census 2020

The 2020 Census in the U.S. is in dire straits, as I've noted many times over the past couple of years, including the recent comment about the impending use of the internet as a platform for responding to the census. Other countries do this, and it may well help with the response rate, but of course only among those with internet access. 

A blog post today from the Census Project points out that rural counties, in particular, are prevalent among the hard to count (HTC) places in the country. The source of their information is a report from William O'Hare, who is one of the world's foremost applied demographers.
In a new report issued this week, demographer Bill O’Hare says “little has been written about the special challenges that will make some rural areas and populations difficult to enumerate accurately.” 
Dr. O’Hare’s report notes five particular regions or populations in rural America that will be particularly hard to count in the 2020 Census: 
Blacks in the South
Hispanics in the rural Southwest
American Indians living on reservations and Alaska Natives
Residents of deep Appalachia
Migrant and seasonal farmworkers 
O’Hare’s report says a majority of Hard-To-Count (HTC) counties (79 percent) in the U.S. are rural areas. Overall, 16 percent of all the most rural counties fall into the HTC category.
Unfortunately, there is nothing going on in Congress at the moment that can offer any hope that these problems will be worked out in time to provide us with a good census count scarcely two years from now.

Monday, December 18, 2017

What Lies Ahead Demographically?

The end of one year and the start of the next are traditional times for taking stock of where we are where we're headed. Joseph Chamie, former director of the UN's Population Division, has done a nice job of setting the table for us demographically--not just for the coming year, but for the next several decades. Here is his top ten list:

1. Larger world population
2. Population growth concentrated in developing regions
3. Population decline in many countries
4. More urbanization and larger cities
5. Lower mortality and higher life expectancies
6. Lower fertility and more countries below replacement
7. Population aging and increased longevity
8. Progress in women's equality
9. Changing family composition and household structure
10. Increased international migration

He provides numbers and other facts about these trends in his article, and I encourage you to read these details. Of course, you could write a whole book about these. Oh, wait a minute--I already did that!!

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Rich Keep Getting Richer

The latest version of the World Inequality Report shows the unmistakable fact that the rich just keep getting richer. This is true not just in the U.S., but in most of the world. The Guardian has a summary of findings.
The richest 0.1% of the world’s population have increased their combined wealth by as much as the poorest 50% – or 3.8 billion people – since 1980, according to a report detailing the widening gap between the very rich and poor.
The World Inequality Report, published on Thursday by French economist Thomas Piketty, warned that inequality had ballooned to “extreme levels” in some countries and said the problem would only get worse unless governments took coordinated action to increase taxes and prevent tax avoidance.
As I noted yesterday, the general consensus is that the tax bill that Congress is now considering will contribute to ever more inequality in the U.S., pushing the global trend in income and wealth inequality, as the graph below illustrates.


The economists said wealth inequality had become “extreme” in Russia and the US. The US’s richest 1% accounted for 39% of the nation’s wealth in 2014 [the latest year available], up from 22% in 1980. The researchers noted that “most of that increase in inequality was due to the rise of the top 0.1% wealth owners”.
While inequality was high in north America and Europe, the researchers warned that the problem was even more acute in Africa, Brazil and the Middle East, where they said “inequality has remained relatively stable at extremely high levels in recent decades”.
“The top 10% receives about 55% of total income in Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Middle East, the top 10% income share is typically over 60%,” the report said. “These three regions never went through the postwar egalitarian regime and have always been at the world’s high-inequality frontier.”
The current tax bill shows us that there is not yet a movement afoot to worry about much of anybody except the very wealthy. This is not a good thing.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Paul Ryan Thinks That Raising the Birthrate is What the US Economy Needs

It is no secret that the tax plan about to be voted on by Congress will massively increase the federal debt, despite the Republican Party's historical aversion to higher national debt. It also seems well established that in a few years Congress will push to lower the debt by slashing government benefits such as Medicare and Social Security. If we are to listen to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, this could be avoided if only Americans had more babies. Here is the report of his press conference today, courtesy of TheHill:
“This is going to be the new economic challenge for America: people. Baby boomers are retiring — I did my part, but we need to have higher birth rates in this country,” Ryan, a father of three, told reporters as he riffed on how Republicans will tackle entitlement and welfare reform in 2018. “Baby boomers are retiring and we have fewer people following them in the workforce.
The comment came at least partly in response to the news last summer that the birth rate had dropped a bit in the U.S., as I noted at the time. Of course, a big problem with the idea that babies will bail out the tax reform is that the tax plan will in fact make it harder to have kids, as elitedaily.com reported today:
As having and raising children becomes increasingly more expensive in the United States, year over year, many of Ryan's legislative proposals would compound that difficulty by slashing social programs and raising taxes on average Americans. So, even aside from the fact that women's bodies are not factories to be used to pump out productive workers and taxpayers, Ryan is actually de-incentivizing what he says is one of the key factors to keeping the American economy afloat. 
During his Dec. 14 press conference, Ryan was discussing entitlement programs like Social Security when he told reporters that the American economy will only function properly if the nation's birth rate increases.
The reality is that if Congress passes the current tax reform bill that is being considered, the economy is very unlikely to get better. The rich will get richer, but the economy will not get better. That scenario is not going to be affected by the birth rate. On the other hand, passage of the bill may push the birth rate even lower.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

India Says No to Condoms and Yes to Abortion

The New York Times reports today that India has banned condom ads from prime-time TV, saying that they are not appropriate for children.
Conservative groups were outraged by recent ads, including one that featured a former porn star undressing piece by piece, and they pressured the government to step in.
But progressive social groups said it was a bad move. India, they argue, desperately needs more condom use, not less. “We need to reach out to more people with more and more advertising, not less,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India, a private organization. ‘‘Condoms are one of the few methods of birth control which prevent H.I.V. and unwanted pregnancies. And they have no side effects.”
The NYTimes piece refers to a recent Deutsche Welle article about the unpopularity of condoms in India.  
While European countries have an overall 30 percent condom usage, India has less than six percent, even when it ranks third in the number of HIV cases worldwide.
Abortion, on the other hand, is very widely used in India as a means of fertility limitation, according to a paper just published in Lancet Global Health. 
We estimate that 15·6 million abortions (14·1 million–17·3 million) occurred in India in 2015. The abortion rate was 47·0 abortions (42·2–52·1) per 1000 women aged 15–49 years. 3·4 million abortions (22%) were obtained in health facilities, 11·5 million (73%) abortions were medication abortions done outside of health facilities, and 0·8 million (5%) abortions were done outside of health facilities using methods other than medication abortion. Overall, 12·7 million (81%) abortions were medication abortions, 2·2 million (14%) abortions were surgical, and 0·8 million (5%) abortions were done through other methods that were probably unsafe. We estimated 48·1 million pregnancies, a rate of 144·7 pregnancies per 1000 women aged 15–49 years, and a rate of 70·1 unintended pregnancies per 1000 women aged 15–49 years. Abortions accounted for one third of all pregnancies, and nearly half of pregnancies were unintended.
The authors conclude that the demand for abortion currently exceeds the capacity of the health system to provide safe abortion services. Of course, if more people used condoms, this problem would be lessened.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Can We Save the Census? Part Two

The problems surrounding the upcoming 2020 census came under additional scrutiny in today's NYTimes. Michael Wines has a lengthy piece covering the issues I mentioned a couple of days ago, but going into even greater depth than had the previous articles. In particular, he discusses some of the planned changes to the administration of the census that could be problematic if there is too little money to go around, especially if that were to be coupled with an inexperienced person at the helm.
The bureau has been working on the 2020 count since the 2010 census was completed. The complete overhaul now underway seeks to shrink the count’s costliest and toughest task: sending hundreds of thousands of enumerators to find and interview the millions of people who fail to fill out their census forms.
An online head count, the reasoning goes, should reach more households more efficiently than mailed forms. The enumerators who track down those who do not respond (in 2010, almost 3 in 10 households) will use smartphone apps that instantly send data to the bureau’s computers and track the canvassers’ progress.
The bureau also hopes to mine federal databases and even satellite images for information that could reduce wasted trips by enumerators — to vacant buildings, for example — and automatically fill in personal data like addresses and ages.
The consequences of a flawed census are, of course, enormous and the Times article points out a scary political scenario:
A marked undercount, especially one that appeared driven by partisanship, could spark an unsettling battle between the census’s political winners and losers. There is precedent: Article 1 of the Constitution requires a decennial census for reapportionment purposes. But after Republicans took control of Congress and the White House in 1920, the House of Representatives refused to allow reapportionment of House seats, fearing that the rapid urbanization the census had documented would shift political power from rural areas to cities.
The last word in the article goes to one of the very best directors that the Census Bureau has ever had:
“The record of the census in counting people from all income groups, all racial and ethnic groups, is really extraordinary,” said Steve H. Murdock, a Rice University sociologist who led the Census Bureau under President George W. Bush. “Once you break that belief in the activity, it’s hard to replace.”

Saturday, December 9, 2017

More Evidence That Contraception is a Good Thing

With reproductive rights generally under assault by the Trump administration, it is helpful that a new study just came out highlighting the importance of having contraception available to young women. This week's Economist reports on a working paper (presumably about to be published) by researchers at Stanford University.
Few tasks in developing countries are as tricky—or as important—as convincing parents to keep their daughters in school longer. One way of doing so is to make contraceptives available, concludes a new working paper by Kimberly Singer Babiarz at Stanford University and four other researchers.
Conducted in Malaysia, the study used a happy coincidence of surveys going back decades and family-planning programmes rolled out in a way that made it possible to measure their effect. Starting in the 1960s, these programmes were introduced in some areas a few years earlier than in others. So researchers could compare what happened to girls in areas where contraceptives became available when they were very young with girls from the same cohorts in areas with no contraceptives.
It turns out that girls in the areas with higher contraceptive availability stayed in school longer, had better jobs when they left school and were more likely to invite their parents rather than the in-laws to live with them. Of course, you could argue that correlation is not necessarily causation, but the impact of family planning programs is something that this group of researchers has been working. Check out the article published last year in Population and Development Review. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Can We Save the 2020 Census in the U.S.?

Ever since the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress there have been concerns about funding for the 2020 census in this country. A poorly funded census will be a lower quality census which will be troublesome for research of all kinds, including for businesses who rely heavily on that information. Remember, though, that the Constitutional mandate for a census is that those data are the basis for forming Congressional Districts. Thus, the census is inherently political, even as we demographers view it as a key source of data about the country. The Census Bureau has been without a director for several months now, following the resignation of John Thompson. The Director and Deputy Director positions have gone unfilled in the meantime, but there is growing concern that the Trump administration is going to put a possibly biased and almost certainly unqualified person in charge of census operations. 

Today's Washington Post has a detailed story about this:
This week the Population Association of America and the Association of Population Research Centers, whose members include over 3,000 scientists and over 40 federally-funded organizations, sounded an alarm bell about one of their most sacred cows: the United States Census Bureau.
Reports had surfaced saying the White House planned to install as the bureau’s deputy director Thomas Brunell, a political science professor with scant managerial experience who is best known for his testimony as an expert witness on behalf of Republican redistricting plans and a book that argues against competitive electoral districts.
News of the appointment, which sources close to the bureau say is imminent, sparked handwringing among statisticians, former bureau directors, and civil rights leaders.
The appointment would “undermine the credibility” of the traditionally nonpartisan bureau, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a statement. Brunell “appears to lack the necessary management and statistical agency experience, and may be viewed by many to have a very political perspective,” the president of the American Statistical Association wrote.
In a recent letter to Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce (which houses the Census Bureau), the Population Association of America urged him "to promptly submit to the United States Senate a qualified nominee to serve as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau and to reserve the agency’s Deputy Director position for a qualified candidate who can help lead the agency during these critical years leading up to the 2020 Census." We should all be writing a similar letter.



Monday, December 4, 2017

Europe and Africa Struggling With Migrant Issues

I recently blogged about the horrific situation in which African migrants trying to reach Europe wound up in slave markets in Libya. A video of a slave market was shown on CNN and that helped to galvanize the world's attention. In particular it was a top item on the agenda of last week's meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, between the European Union and the African Union. But, as Abu Daoud pointed out to me a couple of days ago, the result was disappointing. CNBCAfrica had a very mundane view of the proceedings:
Most of the discussion at the summit was about migration, with a horrific recent video of a slave auction in Libya at the forefront of delegates’ minds. The summit agreed on the formation of a special task force to protect migrants’ and refugees’ lives, including in Libya.
There was also much talk of how Europe might help African countries to build their economies in such a way that fewer Africans seek to migrate. The speeches on the subject were generic and general, but did show, we think, a widely shared will to do something to address the iniquities and deterioration in living conditions that make people flee their homes.
On the other hand, Deutsche Welle reports that while the UNHCR was very enthusiastic about the discussion, the German chapter of Amnesty International was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic:
The plan to evacuate refugees stuck in Libya's camps will not work in practice, says Franziska Vilmar of the German branch of Amnesty International. It has only been designed to help the EU shirk its responsibilities.
An even more dire view of the meeting was reported by the right-leaning gatestoneinstitute, which has a rather dire view of the proceedings:
The African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit, held in in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, on November 29-30, 2017, has ended in abject failure after the 55 African and 28 European leaders attending the event were unable to agree on even basic measures to prevent potentially tens of millions of African migrants from flooding Europe.
Despite high expectations and grand statements, the only concrete decision to come out of Abidjan was the promise to evacuate 3,800 African migrants stranded in Libya.
The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said that Europe is "underestimating" the scale and severity of the migration crisis and that "millions of Africans" will flood the continent in the next few years unless urgent action is taken.
The bottom line here is that population growth in Africa is higher than local economies can absorb, and so people are looking around to see what the other options might be. Given the low birth rate in Europe, it seems as though the European economies beckon. At the moment, however, the European people are doing less beckoning at the same time that they are not willing to invest in African economies (which would indirectly encourage a lower birth rate), and so the problem is compounding. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

U.S. Pulls Out of Global Compact on Migration

Thanks to Rubèn Rumbaut for pointing me to the sad story that the United States has pulled out of the United Nations Global Compact on Migration. This was a non-binding political declaration agreed to a little more than a year ago by all 193 member states of the United Nations. The Telegraph in the U.K. notes that the motivation behind the agreement was that migration (especially forced migration) is a growing global issue and success in dealing with this is probably greater if all nations can help "to to uphold the rights of refugees, help them resettle and ensure they have access to education and
jobs."

The withdrawal by the U.S. comes the day before the start of a UN-sponsored meeting on global migration to be held this week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Although the Compact on Migration is voluntary, CNN notes that a statement from the U.S. State Department indicates that it "undermines the nation's sovereignty."

"While we will continue to engage on a number of fronts at the United Nations," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement Sunday, "in this case, we simply cannot in good faith support a process that could undermine the sovereign right of the United States to enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders." 
The US supports "international cooperation on migration issues," the statement added, "but it is the primary responsibility of sovereign states to help ensure that migration is safe, orderly, and legal."
Of some interest is a report by Foreign Policy magazine that U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley was opposed to pulling out:
White House chief of staff John Kelly, who previously led the Department of Homeland Security’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions strongly backed a pullout, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the deliberations. The State Department initially opposed the withdrawal, but its policy planning chief, Brian Hook, who represented Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the principals’ meeting, reversed course and recommended ditching the negotiations.
The meeting ended in deadlock, with Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, expressing the lone dissent. Haley had argued that the United States would have a better shot at influencing the outcome of the negotiations if it participated in the process.
She was ultimately overruled by the president, according to diplomatic sources.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

It Isn't Easy Being an "Undocumented Immigrant" in Beijing

Yesterday's NYTimes had a lengthy story about neighborhoods of migrant workers in Beijing being destroyed by the government [see the photo below]. You may recall that China has a household registration system that is designed especially to keep rural villagers in their rural villages, rather than respond to the demand for workers in the city. But, of course, people do move to the cities where the jobs are and they become illegal migrants in the process. 

The city government says they are being pushed out for their own safety, after a recent deadly fire in a migrant settlement. But many migrants say the government is using the fire as an excuse to ramp up efforts to drive them out and ease pressures in a city whose population has already soared beyond 20 million people.
Beijing has set a goal of limiting its population to 23 million residents by 2020, while also making room to attract more higher-paid, university-educated professionals. 
Despite such efforts, officials have so far failed to deter migrants from settling in the city, largely because Beijing still relies on them to be its cooks, couriers and cleaners.
This is exactly the situation that the U.S. faces with undocumented immigrants. The economy is very reliant on them, and an increase in deportations would have very negative effects not just on the migrants themselves, but on local communities whose businesses would be suddenly shorn of needed workers. China, like the U.S., has to come to grips with the idea that you can't need undocumented immigrants and want to destroy their lives at the same time. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The "Chain Migration" Effect of DREAMers Is Apt to be Small

Chain migration is a process whereby someone moves to another country, gets established, and then is able to help others make the same move. It is institutionalized in family reunification provisions in the immigration laws of the U.S. and many, if not most, other countries. Sentiment has increased in the U.S. Congress to do something about the DREAMers (young people born outside the U.S. but brought to the country when young by their undocumented immigrant parents) before the DACA provisions run out and these people run the risk of being deported, even though they've spent their lives in this country. The main objection raised to legalizing these people is the idea that it will unleash a huge chain migration as they apply for their relatives to come to the U.S. A new report by the Migration Policy Institute analyzes this claim and finds it to be very overblown.
While research shows that after obtaining legal permanent resident (LPR) status or citizenship, immigrants in past decades have sponsored an average of about 3.5 relatives each, these comparisons cannot be applied to DACA recipients and the broader population of young unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children (known as DREAMers). There are two key reasons for this, [and detailed in the report]: DREAMers have very different characteristics than most green-card holders, and their family members face constrained immigration possibilities.
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates that by the time DREAMers obtain citizenship—a process that would take at least five years—an average of 0.36 of their spouses and parents would be able to obtain a green card under the most generous of the DREAM Act-type bills introduced in Congress. Because of existing visa backlogs, it would take them another 13 years or more to sponsor 0.34 to 0.67 siblings (a number that includes the spouses and minor children of those siblings).
In other words, over a lifetime, the average legalizing DREAMer would sponsor at most about one family member—a number that is a far cry from the estimates of 3.5 to 6.4 relatives that rely on older data and cover different populations.
With any luck, enough members of Congress will get this message and not be intimidated by the made-up numbers from right-wing media such as Breitbard. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Can Venezuela Handle a Higher Birth Rate?

The birth rate has gone down a lot in Venezuela in recent years. According to the UN demographers, it was nearly 3 children per woman only a couple of decades ago, and it is now nearly down to replacement level. The recency of this decline means that the country has a very large youth population--almost 4 out of every 10 Venezuelans is under age 20. But, a story today in the Washington Post suggests that contraceptives are not just priced out the market (as I had blogged about almost three years ago), they are nearly gone from the market.
For years, oral contraceptives, IUDs and condoms were available free at many public hospitals or through government programs. But the cash-strapped government has largely suspended those handouts, leaving some forms of contraception impossible to find and others prohibitively expensive.

“It’s hard for young people especially to access them,” said Vanessa Diaz, a gynecologist at Caracas University Hospital. “Contraceptives like condoms used to be given out and there were many brands available, some of them cheap. But that’s just not the case anymore.”
As you might expect, this is not keeping people from having sex. It just means that they are (a) more likely to get pregnant when they don't want to; (b) possibly going to have a dangerous unsafe abortion if pregnancy occurs; and/or (c) more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases. None of these outcomes is going to be good for the future of the country. Under the severe conditions existing in Venezuela, it is sadly possible to imagine a situation in which an increase in the birthrate through unintended pregnancies is balanced by a rise in the death rate from STDs and other diseases for which medicines are no longer available. 


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Turkey Tries to Leverage the Syrian Refugees

You may recall that the EU is paying Turkey a fairly large amount of money to effectively warehouse 3.5 million refugees from the Syrian civil war, rather than letting them head into Europe. A story in today's Guardian reports that Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has threatened to let those people go if the upcoming Syrian peace talks include the Kurds, whom the Turkish government considers to be terrorists.
A sixth round of UN-sponsored Syrian talks to find a political solution for the six-year conflict is due to resume in Geneva on Tuesday, and Turkish opposition to any role in the talks for the Kurdish forces, the YPG, is likely to prove one of many stumbling blocks. Turkey regards the Syrian Kurds as inextricably linked to the Kurdish militant organisation, the PKK, which operates inside Turkey.

Speaking after a meeting with Theresa May in London on Monday, Binali Yıldırım said it was possible for Turkey to renege on its agreement with the EU, under which 3.5 million refugees from neighbouring Syria have settled inside Turkey instead of heading for western Europe. 
Insisting Turkey is essential to Europe’s security and had prevented more than 53,000 foreign fighters reaching Syria and Iraq, he said: “We know how much [of] a headache the PKK constitute. If there is tolerance vis-a-vis these organisations in the long term, Europe will be endangering its own.”
The Prime Minister insisted this was not a threat (really??) but he did point that while Turkey has kept the refugees out of Europe, the EU has failed "to stick to a bargain struck in March 2016 in which Turkey would be granted visa liberalisation and cash in return for keeping Syrian refugees within its borders."

The article does not mention whether the fate of those Syrian refugees now in Turkey will be discussed at the Peace talks. One would assume that repatriation to Syria would be the preferred solution, although it is not clear how well they would all be received, nor what resources there would be for them to restart their lives.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A New Form of Election "Fraud" in the US

Michael Wines has a very interesting article in the NYTimes detailing the way in which the attempt to "clean up" lists of voters in several states wound up disenfranchising people who were, in fact, eligible to vote. At issue is something that I have been involved in for a long time--matching records. 

The motivation for cleaning up the voter lists is the requirement of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 that voter registration officials should make a reasonable effort to cull their lists of people who have died, moved away, are not citizens, or are convicted felons whose rights have not been restored. How do you do that? Largely by comparing lists of people, like those who died or who are felons, with the voter registration list.
Officials do tap databases kept by state vital records agencies, the Social Security Administration and the Postal Service, which has a change-of-address list. But the databases cannot assure matches; some jurisdictions do not collect personal information like Social Security or driver’s license numbers that could make a positive ID easier. 
And the databases themselves have flaws and anomalies. Voters with similar or identical names compound the odds of accidental delisting. A University of Pennsylvania study of 125 million voter registration files from 2012 found that some three million registrants shared a common first name, last name and date of birth. And registrants from groups where a few surnames are commonly used are especially vulnerable to being mistakenly struck from the rolls.
In California, for example, where there is a large Hispanic population, many people have the same surname, and often the same first name, as well. This issue came to my attention many years ago, when I asked by the defense lawyers for Richard Ramirez (the "night-stalker") to analyze why there were too few Hispanics showing up for jury duty in the Los Angeles downtown courthouse. When I examined the program that the county was using to match DMV and Registrar of Voter lists, I discovered that it was throwing out people as matches on the two lists when they were actually different people. This disproportionately affected Hispanics. The county rewrote its code and then handed over the job of matching records to a private firm. How did I know what to look for? My doctoral dissertation involved a matching of birth, marriage, and infant mortality records and I had scoured the literature on matching and had written my own program (see Appendix A in Teenage Marriages if you are interested!).

In the legal system, it is obviously important that a person have a jury of his or her peers, and race/ethnicity is the most important characteristic of "peers" according to rulings by the US Supreme Court. So, inclusion of all jury-eligible persons on a master list from which jurors are chosen is important. In voting, it is important that a person who is eligible to vote not be erroneously thrown off the voting rolls and prevented from voting. As Wines points out, this practice in Florida may actually have been the difference in George Bush winning the presidency in 2000.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Doing a Better Job of Feeding Africans

As the most rapidly growing region on earth, sub-Saharan Africa needs to figure out ways to feed itself, even as it fends off land grabs from outsiders. This week's Economist shows how this could be done--it's all in the DNA. The story is about so-called orphan crops--foods that Africans eat, but which are not cash crops and so they don't get the same kind of attention as do global staples such as wheat, rice, and maize.
The cereals which dominate human diets—rice, wheat and maize—have had their yields and nutritional values boosted over the years by scientific breeding programmes. In the modern era of genomics, they have had their DNA scrutinised down to the level of individual base pairs, the molecular letters in which genetic information is written. They are as far removed, nutritionally, from their ancestors of as little as two centuries ago as those ancestors were from the wild plants which begat them. Orphan crops have yet to undergo such a genetic revolution.
The neglect has two important consequences: (1) these traditional crops, such as cassava, sweet potatoes, lablab beans, water berries, bitter gourds and sickle senna, elephant ears (leafy vegetables) and African locusts (tree-borne legumes) do not have as high a yield per acre as might otherwise be possible; and (2) they are not as nutritious in vitamins as they could be.
Even for adults, a lack of calories and essential nutrients is harmful. For children it can be devastating. Poor childhood nutrition leads to stunting—inadequate bodily development, including the development of the brain. A report published by the World Health Organisation on November 16th suggests that almost a third of Africa’s children, nearly 60m of them, are stunted. And stunted children grow into adults unable to achieve their potential. Researchers at the World Bank reckon the effects of stunting have reduced Africa’s GDP by 9-10% from what it would otherwise be.
Fortunately, African agricultural scientists are at work on these issues. What Nobel Prize-winning Norman Borlaug was able to do for wheat and maize, people like Dr. Robert Mwanga of the International Potato Centre in Uganda are trying to do for these African "orphan" crops. Note that Uganda's International Potato Center is part of a global network of CGIAR centers whose goal is to improve nutrition and food security in developing nations. I had the opportunity to learn about them first hand when I was doing spatial demographic consulting for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN. The world is clearly a better place for the work they do.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Eating More Animals Isn't Good for Your Health

I recently blogged about the fact that dogs are good for your health. That's because they are good family members. And you wouldn't eat your family members, right? Indeed, my wife and I stopped eating meat more than 30 years ago because we couldn't stand the thought of animals being killed so that we could consume them. And, of course, most people don't have to cope with the agony of doing the killing--they hire others to do that for them. In point of fact, with an increasing global population, especially a population that is ever more urban and affluent, the number of animals being raised for slaughter has increased over time, and that turns out to be bad for our health. 

The bad part is less a function of eating meat itself (although too much meat is not generally very good for you), but rather a function of the diseases that spread between livestock and humans. Making--and trying to fix--this connection is the goal of the One Health approach to life on the planet. A Dutch veterinarian, Thierry van den Berg, recently made the case in a blog post.
The One Health approach acknowledges that population health is dependent on interactions between animal and human diseases. In a globalized world, Humans and animals interact with greater frequency and intimacy. This interaction offers the opportunity for the emergence and spread of disease agents (chemicals, pathogens, etc.) that could adversely impact animal health, human health, or both. A multidisciplinary approach is required to address these questions.
It is reported that 61% of known pathogens can infect multiple animal species and 75% of all diseases that have emerged in the last two decades are of wildlife origin. Newly emerging and re-emerging infections are now recognized as a global problem, and 75% of these are potentially zoonotic.
One of the most significant changes in our society has been the “livestock revolution”, whereby the stock of food animals, their productivity and their trade has increased rapidly to feed the fast expanding and urbanized human population. This has led professionals involved in both animal and public health to recognize “veterinary public health” (VPH) as a key area for their activities to address the human-animal interface.
The reality is that we put ourselves at risk of emerging diseases when we raise ever more livestock for slaughter. And, as I have noted on more than one occasion, our ability to feed a growing population is almost certainly dependent on our eating less meat per person, rather than more. We need to turn things around for the sake of the future human health.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Can We Blame the World's Troubles on Illegal Immigration?

It sounds like it came from Donald Trump, but in fact it was Suu Kyi, the leader of the country of Myanmar, who reportedly told a group of visiting foreign ministers that illegal immigration is a cause of a lot of the problems in the modern world. The story comes from the Associated Press:
Suu Kyi said the world is in a new period of instability as conflicts around the world give rise to new threats and emergencies, citing “Illegal immigration’s spread of terrorism and violent extremism, social disharmony and even the threat of nuclear war. Conflicts take away peace from societies, leaving behind underdevelopment and poverty, pushing peoples and even countries away from one another.”
This seems to be a classic case of blaming the victims, since Myanmar considers its predominantly Muslim Rohingya population to be "illegal immigrants" who have no legal status, despite the fact that Rohingyas have lived in what is now Myanmar for a very long time. 
Myanmar has been widely criticized for the military crackdown that has driven more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh. The United Nations has said the crackdown appears to be a campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” and some have called for re-imposing international sanctions that were lifted as Myanmar transitioned from military rule to elected government.
I blogged yesterday about the UN's attempt to enumerate and provide aid to the Rohingya refugees now living in Bangladesh. Myanmar has, for all intents and purposes, violently expelled these people from their own country and is now claiming that they had it coming to them.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Enumerating and Mapping Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Thanks to Debbie Fugate for pointing me to a newly posted video by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees showing us how they are conducting an interactive census of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who have fled Myanmar in recent weeks. The UNHCR has a crew of about 100 enumerators who are visiting each of the households that have been set up in a huge refugee encampment housing about 500,000 people. Enumerators give each household an ID number and tag. Those tags have GPS coordinates, allowing the UN to know where each household is located physically. You can see this in the map below, that I have grabbed from their video:


On their real-time maps, they are able to click on a red dot, and the characteristics of that household are displayed. This is really pretty cool, I must say. And, of course, the hope is that with these kinds of data, the refugees will more easily receive the kind of aid they need.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Dogs Are Good for Your Health!

Thanks to Todd Gardner and several others for pointing to a great study reported on by BBCNews showing that dogs are associated with better health among their owners than among people without dogs. The analysis is drawn from a large population-based longitudinal database in Sweden and the findings were just published in Scientific Reports.
We aimed to investigate the association of dog ownership with incident cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death in a register-based prospective nation-wide cohort (n = 3,432,153) with up to 12 years of follow-up. Self-reported health and lifestyle habits were available for 34,202 participants in the Swedish Twin Register.
Their overall conclusion is as follows:
[I]n a nationwide population based study with 12 years of follow-up, we show that dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in single households and with a reduced risk of cardiovascular and all-cause death in the general population.
Taken together, we believe our longitudinal population-wide design provides the most robust evidence so far of a link between dog ownership and health outcomes, although bias from reverse causation, misclassification and confounding cannot be excluded.
Note that the authors are careful about the direction of causation. It may be that healthier people are generally more likely to have dogs, but even if that were true it doesn't negate the possibility that dogs can improve your health.

The one caveat that I would throw into the mix is that dog ownership is not always associated with loving the dogs. Our current German Shepherd was abandoned by its owner at a high-kill animal shelter here in Southern California when he was about one year old. Fortunately for Larry Bear (our name for him--his photo from just a few minutes ago is below) and for us, he was rescued by Coastal German Shepherd Rescue, and then he "rescued" us as we gave him his forever home. He's good for our health, and we're good for his health--it's a nice combination
.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Land Grabs and Hunger in Africa

A few days ago I posed the question: Can we keep feeding a growing population? My answer was don't bet on it, and other news this week speaks to some of the problems. Yesterday Reuters reported that the United Nations now estimates that the number of hungry people in Africa rose by 10% in 2016, pushing the overall number to 224 million. The explanation given was that the combination of conflict and climate change has made it harder to grow and distribute food in the sub-Saharan region. 

Keeping in mind that Africa has the fastest growing population in the world, what happens there has a huge impact on the global hunger picture. And one of the things happening in Africa is a land grab by wealthier countries who want to increase food productivity not necessarily for Africans, but rather as a source of food for themselves. Timothy Wise of the Small Planet Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts (and also a senior researcher at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University) has been studying these issues for some time now and his group recently sent out this summary of some of the events he has been covering:
Tim was in Maputo October 23-24 for the Trinational People’s Conference on ProSAVANA, the controversial Mozambique-Brazil-Japan agricultural development project widely denounced by local farmers and communities as a land-grab. Fifty farmers took turns lecturing ProSAVANA director Antonio Limbau that they did not want large-scale foreign investments, they wanted support for their own food production. Tim has covered the conflict since 2014 (see previous articles here and here). This year he has also researched a controversial Chinese rice project; look for an in-depth report on the project soon.
While in Maputo, Tim presented at an African Union-sponsored three-day conference on “Climate Smart Agriculture,” the new catch-all term for agricultural practices that mitigate and adapt to climate change. He was part of an ActionAid-sponsored event on agro-ecology, where he laid out the evidence supporting a transition to soil-building agro-ecological practices, in contrast to the Green Revolution practices of monoculture fed by synthetic fertilizers. Colleagues from Zambia and Malawi presented case studies, and Tim offered observations of the successful project he’s seen in Marracuene, Mozambique. (See articles here and here.)
The point is that Africa needs its land to grow food for its rapidly growing population and it needs help (meaning investments, but not ones that are essentially confiscatory) to implement sustainable methods for increasing per acre productivity. The region's population growth will not be sustainable if Africans are routinely taken advantage of with respect to their agricultural land. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Weaponized Mosquitos May be Headed Your Way

Malaria continues to be one of the biggest killers of humans in the world, and since mosquito bites are the method by which the malaria parasite infects a human, controlling mosquitos is a big deal. And, of course, mosquitos help spread other deadly diseases besides malaria, including dengue fever and the Zika virus. Over the years I have often blogged about both mosquitos and malaria--most recently in April of this year on World Malaria Day, when I discussed a new malaria vaccine being introduced. Last week we had yet another development, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the release of what are called "weaponized mosquitos" in 20 U.S. states.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has given its approval for MosquitoMate, a Kentucky-based biotechnology company, to release its bacteria-infected male mosquitoes in several parts of the United States.
The company’s lab-grown mosquitoes, which it calls ZAP males, are infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, naturally occurring in many insects, but not in Aedes aegypti, a vector for viruses such as yellow fever, dengue and Zika. When bacteria-infected males mate with uninfected females, the females produce eggs that don’t hatch. In addition, infected mosquitoes are less likely to spread disease.
Entomologist Stephen Dobson, CEO of MosquitoMate, told Quartz that the company could start selling the infected mosquitoes in the summer for use by municipal bodies and individual homeowners. The male mosquitoes don’t bite, which should make the release of these insects sound less alarming. 
The 20 approved states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia, as well as Washington, DC. The permitted states include mostly those with similar weather conditions to Kentucky, New York, and California, states where the company earlier conducted trials.
While companies like MosquitoMate are trying to make mosquitos less dangerous, a report today from Nature News suggests that an old-fashioned anti-malaria strategy is being brought back in Africa:
In a sea of high-tech malaria fixes — everything from drug-delivery by drone to gene-edited mosquitoes — an old-fashioned approach is saving thousands of children in West Africa, according to studies presented this week at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. 
The measure, called seasonal malaria chemoprevention, involves giving children a dose of antimalarial drugs once each month in the rainy season to prevent the disease in hard-hit regions. Researchers have previously demonstrated this strategy in large clinical trials but they had feared that their positive results wouldn’t be replicated in the messy, real world, because chemoprevention requires thousands of local health workers to deliver drugs to children in villages far from hospitals, pharmacies and paved roads.
I personally have always taken anti-malaria drugs with me to Africa, and the idea that these drugs could help save children from malaria through this selective dosage strategy is very intriguing. We are still at that stage where we have employ all of the "weapons" we can. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Migration Morphs Into Slavery in Libya--UPDATED

CNN has put together a very troubling report on the way in which human migration from Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe by way of Libya has morphed into not just human trafficking, but into real slavery.
Each year, tens of thousands of people pour across Libya's borders. They're refugees fleeing conflict or economic migrants in search of better opportunities in Europe. Most have sold everything they own to finance the journey through Libya to the coast and the gateway to the Mediterranean.
But a recent clampdown by the Libyan coastguard means fewer boats are making it out to sea, leaving the smugglers with a backlog of would-be passengers on their hands. So the smugglers become masters, the migrants and refugees become slaves.
As the route through north Africa becomes increasingly fraught, many migrants have relinquished their dreams of ever reaching European shores. This year, more than 8,800 individuals have opted to voluntarily return home on repatriation flights organized by the IOM.
This turn of events is probably not a surprise to the researchers at the "Human Costs of Border Control" project at the University of Amsterdam. 
On the basis of globalization theories, as well as on the basis of developments in European migration policies, we hypothesize that since 1990 migration law has witnessed a shift from migration control (reactive, focus on concrete individuals) to migration management (pro-active, focus on potential migrant populations). A second hypothesis is that the increased number of ‘irregular’ migrants dying on their way to Europe is an unintended side-effect of this shift. Thirdly, we propose that as a consequence of the shift to border management, the human rights protection previously available regarding migrant fatalities under border control, has become considerably less effective.
After ten years of work, they have just wrapped up their research, the results of which remind us that migration policies are actually matters of life and death in their consequences.

UPDATE: The Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC has just posted a very interesting review of the changing migration policies between Spain and Morocco and between Italy and Tunisia. Reading this helps to illustrate how complicated the policy issues are with respect to migration from South to North.