Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What demographic issues do you think deserve coverage?


I know I ask this periodically of our readership, but I remain curious. What population-issues do you think should be covered, here or elsewhere? Are there particular regions or particular themes you would like explored?

(I can promise a post on Puerto Rico for tomorrow. More to come after that, too.)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On a devastating hurricane season in the Caribbean and migration futures


Hurricane season this year in the Caribbean is shaping up to be terrible. I had not quite realized how terrible, the imagery of devastation aside, until I learned that the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma had forced the evacuation of Barbuda, smaller of the two major islands which make up the country of Antigua and Barbuda. The island has been emptied of its population of some eighteen hundred people, breaking a centuries-long history of continuous habitation.

"The damage is complete," Ronald Sanders, the Antigua and Barbuda ambassador to the United States, told Public Radio International. "It's a humanitarian disaster."

"For the first time in 300 years, there's not a single living person on the island of Barbuda -- a civilization that has existed in that island for close to, over 300 years has now been extinguished."

[. . .]

When the storm hit, Antigua received minimal damage but the storm obliterated Barbuda's infrastructure, flattening structure after structure. At least one death was reported. Rescuers evacuated residents to Antigua and a state of emergency has been declared.

"We've tried to make living accommodations as good as humanly possible in these circumstances. Fortunately, we had planned ahead for this hurricane, and we had ordered supplies in from Miami and the United States before the hurricane hit," Sanders told PRI.

He told CNN about 1,700 people were evacuated from Barbuda to Antigua and said others went to Antigua on their own.

The living conditions aren't perfect and they can be "cramped," he said. But the evacuees are safe and the young people from Barbuda will be going to school in Antigua, for the time being.

"It's government facilities in which they are being located. We've opened some others. We've taken a nursing home for instance and converted that into accommodation and Antiguans have been very generous in opening their homes to some of the Barbudans, particularly those with young children," he told PRI.

The government believes that while some Barbudans might choose to stay in Antigua even after their island is rebuilt, many will want to go home.


NBC reports that apparently some hope revenues from online gambling sites based in the island nation could finance reconstruction.

Other islands have not faced such utter catastrophe, but are not far from there. As Jordyn Holman noted for Bloomberg, the US Virgin Islands' fragile tourism-based economy has been wrecked entirely by Irma. Without any way to sustain themselves, many inhabitants are already leaving.

Many local residents are giving up and getting out after losing everything to the category 5 storm, even as the local authorities in the U.S. territory say they are determined to rebuild the islands.

"I have no job, I have no house, I have no money," said Miriam Martinez, who works as a housekeeper and chef on St. John. "I can’t stay here."

The US Coast Guard arrived Tuesday to help transport evacuees and some tourists off the island. Many people are heading to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for medical care, or to reunite with their families and find out where they can go next. Martinez waited on the dock for hours to see her daughter, son and two grandchildren off as she planned to stay another month on the island. She couldn’t afford to leave herself.

Many of the islands’ 100,000 population have come from the U.S. and are now going back to their families on the mainland, said Ian Samuel, a volunteer and resident of St. John, who was helping evacuees this week. Some are comparing Irma to Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which cost the territory about $3.6 billion.

"Our main staple as an economy is tourism and we want folks from the wider U.S. community or the market to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands on a regular basis," the US Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp said. "We don’t want to be wiped off the list” of tourist destinations.

The New York Times reported similar levels of devastation on the island of St. Martin, divided between France and the Netherlands. The news from across the Caribbean has been grim, with reports coming in of thorough devastation from points as widely separated as Dominica and the Florida Keys. More recently, this evening I have learned that Puerto Rico just hit by Hurricane Maria, may not have electric power running for months.

Is the intensity of this hurricane season a consequence of climate change? Maybe. If it is, there's something of an irony in the fact that it is the islands of the Caribbean, the place that saw the first extension of imperialism beyond Europe--the extra-continental expansion that resulted in, eventually, our globalized industrial age--that it is the place that is starting to get hit most visibly by the negative environmental consequences of this globalized industrialism. The consequences for the peoples of the Caribbean will be severe. Where will they go? When will they be forced to go, in search of viable lives if not in an effort to save their lives?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

On the labour shortages of Sarufutsu, Hokkaido


Late last month, I came across Masahiro Hidaka's Bloomberg article "Japan's Richest Village Can't Find Workers for Its Factory". In this article, Hidaka describes how the village of Sarufutsu, northernmost village in Hokkaido and thus all Japan, is facing a shutdown of its hugely profitable scallops fishery because it is literally running out of workers.

The village -- which is closer to the Russian island of Sakhalin than Tokyo -- boasts some of the highest average incomes of any town in Japan, thanks to the earnings of some of the fishermen. But the new scallop factory isn’t running at full capacity because it can’t get enough workers for lower paying but important jobs.

It’s a problem for the economy as a whole because it shows that some industries may not survive as the population ages and shrinks, even if they are profitable.

The scallops from the nearby waters are dried and then mostly exported to Hong Kong and elsewhere as a premium ingredient in Chinese food. By value, scallops are the biggest international export from Hokkaido. But the workers in the factory are mostly older women, and in about seven or eight years, there won’t be any more Japanese working there, according to Koichi Kimura, an executive of the fishing cooperative that runs the facility.

"If we wanted to we could run 24 hours a day and triple production," says Kimura. "But we would need more than 100 new people for that."

The village’s population isn’t shrinking, but it’s flat, and while the factory employs 19 Chinese trainees among its 90 staff, it can’t legally increase their numbers without adding more Japanese employees. So the village authorities are trying to encourage people to move to the town.

[. . .]

"Young Japanese people aren’t interested if we just raised pay a little," says Kimura. "If we were to double or triple wages, we could attract workers, but we wouldn’t be able to make ends meet."

While economists and the Bank of Japan point to the shrinking population as an opportunity for companies to increase automation and productivity, not all jobs can be done by machines. The 2.4 billion yen ($22 million) new factory was opened in April 2016 with new machinery, but it still requires workers.


(Spike Japan, incidentally, had visited northernmost Hokkaido in one visit. He was impressed by the village's prosperity, but also by its steady emptying out.)

As goes Sarubetsu, arguably as well-off a village as one can find Japan, so too wider rural Japan? I know, from my visits back east in Canada, that some Atlantic Canadian communities in similar situations have managed to avoid problems like this through migrant labour, temporary or otherwise. Is this going to be politically viable? At what point will the economic pain from industries shut down for want of labour overcome the reluctance to engineer shifts, whether through international immigration, a rapid improvement in pay scales that would attract young Japanese, or--perhaps most plausibly--a combination of the two?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Five links about refugees and migrations: border debris, Cornwall's camps, and online fraud


Earlier today at my blog, I linked to an article published earlier this month in the Toronto Star. In "Fleeing to Canada, asylum seekers’ old lives revealed in the scraps found along New York’s Roxham Rd.", journalist Allan Woods looked at the debris discarded by refugee claimants fleeing potential threats in Trump's America.

There were airplane boarding passes and luggage tags from Haiti, Florida, Ethiopia, Salt Lake City and New York; Greyhound bus tickets from Albany and Indianapolis; a Delaware driver’s licence and a U.S. Social Security number; Florida detention records; immigration documents from Orlando; and medical laboratory test records for a Delaware man.

Dampened by rain and dried by sun, the scraps of papers discarded while fleeing for a new life in Canada offer insight into the journeys made by asylum seekers. They may have been thrown away as simple garbage from a life abandoned or been purposefully left behind for fear of complicating an expected refugee claim in Canada.

Canadian officials said this week that there have been about 250 people crossing each day at Roxham Rd. in the past few weeks, with a one-day peak of 500 about a week ago.

About 85 per cent have been Haitian nationals worried that the U.S. government intends to get rid of a special immigration designation, known as a Temporary Protected Status, that prevents deportation back to Haiti and nine other countries.

Among them is the Baptiste family — mother Sophonie, father Michel and son Colby — who stepped off a Greyhound bus at 6 p.m. Wednesday along with an elderly grandfather, an aunt and a cousin after deciding to leave behind the life they had built over the past decade in Queens, N.Y.

In Haiti, they ran a successful home renovation business that was abandoned over fears of kidnapping. Colby Baptiste said he was employed by Honda and was a registered real estate agent in New York before the family decided to seek refuge in Canada.

Pushing them to take that decision was a letter they received from immigration authorities advising them to prepare for the expiration of their Temporary Protected Status and an eventual return to Haiti.

With tears welling in her eyes, Sophonie Baptiste said she saw Canada as a more generous and open country and was confident her family would be able to rebuild once again.


More recently, the Star carried Mike Blanchfield's Canadian Press article interviewing some of the people fleeing.

The Francois family are among nearly 7,000 asylum seekers — most of them Haitian — who have flooded across the Quebec-New York state border since mid-July when the Trump administration announced it might end their “temporary protected status,” which was granted following Haiti’s massive 2010 earthquake. They are among the first few hundred the government has relocated to this eastern Ontario processing centre.

Few here have heard of Justin Trudeau and no one says they saw his now-controversial January Twitter message welcoming immigrants facing persecution. The tweet was heavily criticized by the Conservative opposition for sparking the American exodus.

But many here say they uprooted their new American lives because of something more primal: they were driven by fear of the anti-immigration politics of President Donald Trump.

“I decided to come to Canada because the politics of migration in the United States changed,” says Haitian-born Justin Remy Napoleon, 39. “I was scared. I came here to continue my life.”

Like Frank Francois, Napoleon says he feared deportation over Trump’s policy shift, so he left his adopted home in San Diego, flew to the eastern seaboard and boarded a bus for the northern border. It wasn’t the first time he decided to start over in another country. He left Haiti in 2006 for the Dominican Republic and then went to Brazil.

Napoleon says he dreamed of coming to Canada from as far back as his time in Haiti. When he crossed the border earlier this month, “I thought I was entering a paradise.”


The eastern Ontario city of Cornwall, close to the Québec and New York borders, has--as reported by, among others, Global News--been scrambling to find housing for hundreds, even thousands, of people.

Const. Daniel Cloutier, a Cornwall police spokesman, says almost 300 Haitians have arrived recently and, so far, there have been no problems and none are anticipated.

About 3,800 people crossed into Quebec in the first two weeks of August following the 2,996 who crossed in July after the Trump administration said it was considering ending “temporary protected status” for Haitians in the U.S. following their country’s massive 2010 earthquake.

Last week, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced a temporary shelter would be set up in Cornwall.

The newcomers are being housed at the Nav Centre, which is run by Nav Canada, the private non-profit corporation that owns and operates the country’s civil air navigation service. The military is erecting tents on its grounds.

The centre sits on more than 28 hectares of parkland abutting the St. Lawrence Seaway and is billed as a government conference centre with all the amenities of a luxury resort. Its website boasts 560 “comfortable” rooms, as well as a swimming pool, sauna, fitness centre and outdoors sports fields.


Amy Minsky, also at Global News, reported that many of the refugee and asylum candidates who came to Canada have been misled by false rumours, carried on social media.

Amid the federal government’s assurances it has everything under control at the Canada-U.S. border, where thousands of would-be refugees are crossing over in droves, is an aggressive campaign to combat one element seen to be behind the most recent wave: the viral spread of potentially deliberately misleading information about Canada’s refugee and asylum systems.

The Liberal government has said it is aware of misinformation spreading via instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and through other social media platforms.

Much of the misinformation has targeted the Haitian population living in the United States with “temporary protected status” granted to more than 50,000 Haitians, primarily in the wake of 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 222,570, injured another 300,000 and displaced almost 100,000.

With that status likely to expire without renewal in mere months, however, many have packed their bags, made their way to Champlain, N.Y., and walked across to Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. – seemingly, according to the Canadian government, encouraged by false information.

“The misinformation that Haitians in the United States, for example, could get permanent residency easily in Canada if they have temporary protected status in the United States. That’s completely untrue,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said in an interview with Global News.

“Those [are the] kinds of myths we’re working really hard to dispel, and we’re engaging all available means to attack that misinformation.”

Videos on YouTube are also spreading misinformation about Canada’s system.


At VICE, meanwhile, Cole Kazdin described how fraudsters in the United States are taking advantage of refugees and immigrants there desperately trying to legalize their status.

When Andrea Mora took her grown daughter Karla to get her green card two years ago, she could barely contain her excitement on the drive to the immigration office. "The happiness…" Mora tells me in Spanish. "We were looking so forward to the interview." Finally, she would have her entire family together in the US.

But instead of walking out of the immigration office with a green card, Karla was given a deportation order on the spot. She was a victim of the sort of misinformation and sometimes deliberately misleading advice that experts say is all too common among immigrants looking for permanent resident status.

Mora, who asked that I change her name, came to the US 11 years ago from Costa Rica to be further from her alcoholic husband and closer to her eldest daughter, who is married to a US citizen. After being sponsored by her daughter, Mora now has resident status. She was hoping to sponsor her younger daughter, Karla, who came to the US on a tourist visa. So she borrowed money from friends to get the $5,000 to pay a notario—a term for a notary or immigration consultant—who advised her and helped them fill out the paperwork to apply for Karla's residency.

But notaries don't have law degrees. The one that Mora saw not only filled out the paperwork incorrectly, she also promised an outcome—a green card—that attorneys familiar with the case say would never have been possible.

Those errors led to her interviewer at the immigration office not just turning her application down but telling her to leave the country. Heaping injury upon injury, the notario's high fees meant that Mora is still paying back the friends who lent her money two years ago.


I wonder if anything similar is going on in Canada.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

On the recent fall in American fertility rates: Is this American convergence?


The Washington Post was just one of many news sources to note a recent report provided by the National Vital Statistics System of the Centers for Disease Control, "Births: Provisional Data for 2016" (PDF format). This report noted that not only had the absolute number of births fallen, but that the total fertility rate in 2016 was the lowest it had been in more than three decades: "The 2016 total fertility rate (TFR) for the United States was 1,818.0 births per 1,000 women, a decrease of 1% from the rate in 2015 (1,843.5) and the lowest TFR since 1984." The Washington Post's Ariana Eunjung Cha noted that this fall was a consequence of a sharp fall in births among younger Americans not wholly compensated for by rising fertility rates in older populations.

According to provisional 2016 population data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, the number of births fell 1 percent from a year earlier, bringing the general fertility rate to 62.0 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. The trend is being driven by a decline in birthrates for teens and 20-somethings. The birthrate for women in their 30s and 40s increased — but not enough to make up for the lower numbers in their younger peers.

[. . .]

Those supposedly entitled young adults with fragile egos who live in their parents' basements and hop from job-to-job — it turns out they're also much less likely to have babies, at least so far. Some experts think millennials are just postponing parenthood while others fear they're choosing not to have children at all.

Strobino is among those who is optimistic and sees hope in the data. She points out that the fall in birthrates in teens — an age when many pregnancies tend to be unplanned — is something we want and that the highest birthrates are now among women 25 to 34 years of age.

“What this is is a trend of women becoming more educated and more mature. I’m not sure that’s bad,” she explained.

Indeed, as fertility treatments have extended the age of childbearing, the birthrates among women who are age 40 to 44 are also rising.


Total fertility rates in the United States were last this low, as noted above, in 1984, after a decade where fertility rates had hovered around 1.8 children born per woman. The United States' had sharply dropped to below-replacement fertility occurring in 1972, with a sharp increase to levels just short of replacement levels only occurring in the mid-1980s.

There has been much talk this past half-year about the end of American exceptionalism, or at least the end of a favourable sort of American exceptionalism. To the extent that fertility rates in the United States are falling, for instance, this may reflect convergence with the fertility rates prevalent in other highly developed societies. Gilles Pison's Population and Societies study "Population trends in the United States and Europe: similarities and differences" observed that, although the United States and the European Union saw the same sorts of trends towards lower fertility rates and extended life expectancies, the European Union as a whole saw substantially lower birth rates and lower completed fertility.

The strong natural growth in the United States is due, in part, to high fertility: 2.05 children per woman on average, compared with 1.52 in the European Union. In this respect, it is not the low European level which stands out, but rather the high American level, since below-replacement fertility is now the norm in many industrialized countries (1.3 children per woman in Japan, for example) and emerging countries (1.2 in South Korea, and around 1.6 in China). With more than two children per woman in 2005, the United States ranks above many countries and regions of the South and belongs to the minority group of highfertility nations.

Average fertility rates conceal large local variations, however: from 1.6 children per woman in Vermont to 2.5 in Utah; from 1.2 in Poland to 1.9 in France. The scale of relative variation is similar on either side of the Atlantic. In the north-eastern USA, along a strip spreading down from Maine to West Virginia, fertility is at the same level as in northern and western Europe (Figure 3). Close to Mexico, on the other hand, the “Hispanic” population (a category used in American statistics) is pushing up fertility levels. Over the United States as a whole, Hispanic fertility stands at 2.9 children per woman, versus 1.9 among nonHispanic women [4]. Between “White” and “AfricanAmerican” women, the difference is much smaller: 1.8 versus 2.0.

The highest fertility levels in the European Union are found in northern and western Europe (between 1.7 and 1.9 children per woman) and the lowest in southern, central and eastern Europe (below 1.5). Exceptions to this rule include Estonia (1.5), with higher fertility than its Baltic neighbours, and Austria (1.4) and Germany (1.3), which are closer to the eastern and southern countries.


This overall pattern seems to have endured. Why this is the case, I am uncertain. Even though the United States lacks the sorts of family-friendly policies that have been credited for boosting fertility in northern and western Europe, I wonder if the United States does share with these other high-fertility, highly-developed societies cultural similarities, not least of which is a tolerance for non-traditional families. As has been observed before, for instance at Population and Societies by Pison in France and Germany: a history of criss-crossing demographic curves and by me at Demography Matters back in June 2013, arguably the main explanation for the higher fertility in France as compared to West Germany is a much greater French acceptance of non-traditional family structures, with working mothers and non-married couples being more accepted. (West Germany's reluctance, I argued here in February 2016, stems from the pronounced conservative turn towards traditional family structures without any support for government-supported changes following efforts by totalitarianism states to do just that, first under Naziism and then in contemporary East Germany.)

It's much too early to come to any conclusions as to whether or not this fall in American fertility will be lasting. From the perspective of someone in the early 1980s, for instance, the sharp spike in American fertility in the mid-1980s that marked arguably the single most importance divergence between the United States and the rest of the highly developed world would have been a surprise. Maybe fertility in the United States will recover to its previous levels. Or, maybe, under economic pressure it will stay lower than it has been.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hans Rosling, in memoriam


I was shocked and saddened to learn of the death earlier this week of Gapminder's Hans Rosling. 68 was too young for anyone, certainly too young for someone so dedicated to helping the world know itself through the truth. Scott Gilmore's article in MacLean's is one I recommend.



From Davos, to the White House, to the offices of the World Bank, Rosling could be found tirelessly preaching the gospel of facts, data, and truth. For generations, aid and charity decisions were taken for reasons of vanity, simplicity or self-interest. Billionaires gave money in ways that would grant them the most publicity. Bureaucrats channelled aid dollars to projects that were the easiest to administer. And western governments built dams in Africa solely to help their own construction companies. The real impact of aid on poverty was rarely considered and almost never measured. Rosling helped change that, by explaining to donors that ignorance is the first battle that must be fought in the war against extreme poverty.

This idea, as obvious as it seems in hindsight, was new. And it mattered. Governments listened. Donors became converts to Rosling’s religion of evidence-based policy. He was not its only apostle, but he was among its most well-known, and the only one with millions of views on Youtube.

Ironically, Rosling had a much more critical assessment of his own influence on the world. He called himself an “edutainer”, and in a 2013 interview he bemoaned the fact that the average Swede still overestimated the birth rate in Bangladesh: “they still think it’s four to five.”

“I have no impact on knowledge,” he said. “I have only had impact on fame, and doing funny things, and so on.”

The deputy prime minister of Sweden, Isabella Lövin, disagreed. After Rosling’s death was announced, she wrote: “He challenged the whole world’s view of development with his amazing teaching skills. He managed to show everyone that things are moving forward … I think the whole world will miss his vision and his way of standing up for the facts—unfortunately it feels like they are necessary more than ever at the moment.”


What can I say but that I wish that his vision be continued?

Sunday, January 01, 2017

On Max Roser's A history of global living conditions in 5 charts and the future


Some days ago, I saw shared on Facebook an essay, Max Roser's "A history of global living conditions in 5 charts" at the Our World in Data project. In this essay, Roser makes the argument--contrary to the zeigeist of 2016--that, in fact, in the longue durée things have been getting decidedly better for people. Extreme poverty and premature mortality have faded, rates of literacy and education have risen, and both living standards and levels of political freedom have increased hugely. (Fertility rates, Roser has noticed, have fallen markedly worldwide as a result of these trends' conjunction.) Towards the end of this, Roser created a chart exploring just how radically things have changed.



The shift has been marked. Back in December 2010, I wrote about the demographic dynamics of the Roman Empire and other pre-modern polities, noting after Vaclav Smil that there are no modern equivalents to the terrible suffering of the past anywhere on our world now. Even central Africa, probably the least developed area of the world, is better off. More, as Roser notes, the dynamics to date are positive: rates of premature mortality and undereducation are falling, for instance.

Why is there unfounded pessimism about the world's future prospects? Roser suggests that the answer can be found in our failure to adequately understand the significance of long-running trends.

One reason why the media focusses on things that go wrong is that the media focusses on single events and single events are often bad – look at the news: plane crashes, terrorism attacks, natural disasters, election outcomes that we are not happy with. Positive developments on the other hand often happen very slowly and never make the headlines in the event-obsessed media.

The result of a media – and education system – that fails to present quantitative information on long-run developments is that the huge majority of people is completely ignorant about global development. Even the decline of global extreme poverty – by any standard one of the most important developments in our lifetime – is only known by a small fraction of the population of the UK (10%) or the US (5%). In both country’s the majority of people think that the share living in extreme poverty has increased. Two thirds in the US even think the share in extreme poverty has ‘almost doubled’. When we are ignorant about global development it is not surprising that few think that the world is getting better.

The only way to tell a history of everyone is to use statistics, only then can we hope to get an overview over the lives of the 22 billion people that lived in the last 200 years. The developments that these statistics reveal transform our global living conditions – slowly but steadily. They are reported in this online publication – Our World in Data – that my team and I have been building over the last years. We see it as a resource to show these long-term developments and thereby complement the information in the news that focus on events.

The difficulty for telling the history of how everyone’s lives changed over the last 200 years is that you cannot pick single stories. Stories about individual people are much more engaging – our minds like these stories – but they cannot be representative for how the world has changed. To achieve a representation of how the world has changed at large you have to tell many, many stories all at once; and that is statistics.


Individual stories matter, but statistical trends like these also merited tracking. Let's try to do them both this coming year, here at Demography Matters and elsewhere.