Not pictured: oil derricks, influx of young males, Hispanic residents.
Not pictured: oil derricks, influx of young males, Hispanic residents.

The United States Census produces massive amounts of data that can be combed through to learn more about our population and how it changes over time. In her piece for US News, Danielle Kurtzleben highlights some of the major findings from the latest Census data release.

Depending on the way you look at it, Asians or Hispanics (or both!) were the fastest growing population in the United States from 2011-2012. Hispanics had the largest growth in terms of population numbers, while Asians saw the largest rate of population growth each year. Meanwhile, the white birthrate was very low. More white people died than were born, and the population would have seen a net decrease if not for immigration. Further, among the elderly (over 80 years old), nearly 80% were white. The majority of children under age two are now minorities.

And then there’s North Dakota. An outlier in the data, the “upper Dakota” is actually getting younger. It is also majority male and has the fastest growing Hispanic population in the nation. All of this is largely a result of the state’s booming oil and gas industry, coupled with its relatively low past population (increases seem bigger when they’re building on a smaller population base). The new oil rush has also shored up North Dakota’s shockingly low unemployment rate of just 3.3%. For over a century, the Census has shown a nation in flux, but right now, it’s solid old North Dakota that’s hardest to pin down.


Many people put off talking about immigration reform until “America regains control of its borders.”  But, according to Douglas Massey’s recent CNN article, that moment has arrived. He says:

According to estimates from the Mexican Migration Project, which I co-direct, the rate of new undocumented migration from Mexico dropped to zero in 2008 for the first time in 50 years. This remarkable event partly reflects the drop in labor demand in the context of a deep economic recession, but it also stems from a massive increase in border enforcement.  Since 1990, the size of the Border Patrol has increased by a factor of five and its budget by a factor of 13.

While this increased enforcement surely contributed to decreased immigration, it also likely decreased the outflow of immigrants who were already here.

At present, therefore, new undocumented migrants are not heading northward; former undocumented migrants are coming back in very small numbers; and settled undocumented residents are staying put.  As a result of these trends, the population of undocumented U.S. residents peaked at 12.6 million persons in 2008 and fell to 10.8 million in 2009, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Net undocumented migration is now slightly negative.

Many immigrants are also employed as guest workers; in fact, from 1990 to 2008, the number of Mexicans admitted with temporary work visas grew from 17,000 to 361,000 per year.  Many other migrants are becoming citizens.  For example, the number of legal Mexican immigrants attaining U.S. citizenship went from 18,000 in 1990 to 232,000 in 2008.

In sum, of the four principal components of comprehensive immigration reform, three have already been substantially achieved.   The border is now under control and net-undocumented migration has fallen below zero; a guest worker program has been created to bring in more than 360,000 temporary Mexican migrants per year; and legal immigrants have increasingly taken it upon themselves to “expand” the quotas by naturalizing and sponsoring the entry of immediate relatives outside of the numerical quotas.

According to Massey, one main accomplishment remains: the creation of a pathway to legalization for long-term, undocumented residents of the United States.

Somewhere around three million of these people entered the country as minors.  They did not make the decision to violate U.S. immigration law and should not be held responsibilities for choices made by their parents.  In the absence of a criminal record or other disqualifying circumstances, those who entered as minors should be given an immediate and unconditional amnesty and be allowed to proceed with their lives in the only country that most of them know.

For their part, undocumented migrants who entered as adults should be offered a temporary legalization that confers the right to live and work in the United States for some extended period, during which they would be able to accumulate points ultimately to qualify them for legal permanent residence.  Points would be awarded for socially desirable behaviors such as paying taxes, learning English, studying civics, holding a steady job, owning a home, parenting U.S. citizen children and generally staying out of trouble.  Once a certain minimum threshold of points is achieved, migrants would be allowed to pay a fine as restitution for violating the law and then, having paid their debt to society, get on with their lives as legal permanent residents of the United States.  We are much closer to the ultimate goals of immigration reform than most people realize.



Sarah K. Cowan, a sociology and demography  grad student at UC Berkeley, recently asked CNN readers, “What if a President served 42 years?”   That’s how long Moammar Gadhafi has been the leader in Libya, which could be equated to Richard Nixon still serving as President of the United States today rather than leaving office in 1974.

In a healthy democracy, citizens see multiple leaders of government in their lifetime. Doing so allows them to compare leaders, form political preferences and to participate meaningfully in the political process by voting in truly competitive elections.

But, in many countries, a large portion of the population has only experienced one leader.

…Seventy-nine percent of Libyans have lived their entire lives under Gadhafi’s rule. Before the revolution in Egypt, 60 percent of Egyptians had lived their lives under President Hosni Mubarak exclusively. Sixty-one percent of Zimbabweans have only known Robert Mugabe’s rule. By contrast, the longest American presidency was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s; he was elected four times, to serve for a total of 16 years, of which he served 12 before his death…

According to Cowan, two main factors have led to situations where much of the population knows only one leader.  First, that leader remained in power and disregarded or never established term limits.  Second, the populations in these countries are comparatively young.

Twenty percent of people in Mozambique have lived their entire lives under Armando Guebuza, and they are all under age 7. The population is so young because women in Mozambique have a lot of children — more than five on average — and people die young — at age 48 on average. (The age of the population can have a powerful effect on these calculations: If Libya had the same age profile as the much older population of the U.S., 57% of the population would have known Gadhafi as the only leader during their lifetime, compared with the 79% who actually did.)

Opinions on the benefits of long-standing rulers vary.  Some scholars argue that they create political and social vacuums and stunt economic growth, while others argue that, under the right conditions, long tenures may lead to economic growth.  Either way, Cowan says:

Leaving aside whether lengthy tenures are beneficial for economies, they violate democratic principles. It is a characteristic that distinguishes democracies from authoritarian regimes; in a democracy, the leader changes in a reasonable time frame. Term limits, confidence votes for parliamentary systems of government and regular and fair elections are all means by which to prevent “presidents for life.”


According to a recent New York Times article, white children will soon be in the minority in the United States.  In fact, a new report based on Census 2010 data showed that the population of white children fell by 4.3 million (10%) in the last decade, while the population of  Hispanic and Asian children grew by 5.5 million (38%).

The Census Bureau had originally forecast that 2023 would be the tipping point for the minority population under the age of 18. But rapid growth among Latinos, Asians and people of more than one race has pushed it earlier, to 2019, according to William Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution who wrote the report about the shift, which has far-reaching political and policy implications.

The largest increase was among Hispanics, whose birth rates are much higher than non-Hispanic whites, in large part because the U.S. white population is aging.

As a result, America’s future will include a far more diverse young population, and a largely white older generation. The contrast raises important policy questions. Will the older generation pay for educating a younger generation that looks less like itself? And while the young population is a potential engine of growth for the economy, will it be a burden if it does not have access to adequate education?



US Capitol BuildingDespite recent political bluster over shrinking the size of government, sociologist Dalton Conley and political scientist Jaqueline Stevens contend that bigger might be better. According to their op-ed in the New York Times, the House of Representatives may be too small:

It’s been far too long since the House expanded to keep up with population growth and, as a result, it has lost touch with the public and been overtaken by special interests.

Indeed, the lower chamber of Congress has had the same number of members for so long that many Americans assume that its 435 seats are constitutionally mandated.

But that’s wrong: while the founders wanted to limit the size of the Senate, they intended the House to expand based on population growth. Instead of setting an absolute number, the Constitution merely limits the ratio of members to population. “The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000,” the founders wrote. They were concerned, in other words, about having too many representatives, not too few.

Historically, House members had been added after each census up until 1920, when fear of growing numbers of “foreigners” in the population stymied expansion. As a result, US citizens may be underrepresented:

The result is that Americans today are numerically the worst-represented group of citizens in the country’s history. The average House member speaks for about 700,000 Americans. In contrast, in 1913 he represented roughly 200,000, a ratio that today would mean a House with 1,500 members — or 5,000 if we match the ratio the founders awarded themselves.

According to Conley and Stevens, increasing the number of representatives would address several concerning issues, such as the disproportionate influence of lobbyists and special interest groups; ending two-party deadlock in smaller districts; making campaigns cheaper; and lowering reliance on staffers rather than members themselves.

True, more members means more agendas, legislation and debates. But Internet technology already provides effective low-cost management solutions, from Google Documents to streaming interactive video to online voting.

Will it happen?

The biggest obstacle is Congress itself. Such a change would require the noble act — routine before World War I but unheard of since — of representatives voting to diminish their own relative power.

What do you think?

Early Light Toy Factory Shenzhen China

NPR explores why the familiar “Made in China” print may be less common in the future:

Factory workers demanding better wages and working conditions are hastening the eventual end of an era of cheap costs that helped make southern coastal China the world’s factory floor.

A series of strikes over the past two months have been a rude wakeup call for the many foreign companies that depend on China’s low costs to compete overseas, from makers of Christmas trees to manufacturers of gadgets like the iPad.

Where once low-tech factories and scant wages were welcomed in a China eager to escape isolation and poverty, workers are now demanding a bigger share of the profits. The government, meanwhile, is pushing foreign companies to make investments in areas it believes will create greater wealth for China, like high technology.

Or, perhaps, manufacturers will shift their operations to other areas of the country:

Given the intricate supply chains and logistics systems that have helped make southern China an export manufacturing powerhouse, such changes won’t be easy.

But for manufacturers looking to boost sales inside fast-growing China, shifting production to the inland areas where many migrant workers come from, and costs are lower, offers the most realistic alternative…

Massive investments in roads, railways and other infrastructure are reducing the isolation of the inland cities, part of a decade-old “Develop the West” strategy aimed at shrinking the huge, politically volatile gap in wealth between city dwellers and the country’s 600 million farmers.

Gambling that the unrest will not spill over from foreign-owned factories, China’s leaders are using the chance to push investment in regions that have lagged the country’s industrial boom.

One sociologist sees this as potentially a large-scale shift:

Many of today’s factory workers have higher ambitions than their parents, who generally saved their earnings from assembling toys and television sets for retirement in their rural hometowns. They are also choosier about wages and working conditions. “The conflicts are challenging the current set-up of low-wage, low-tech manufacturing, and may catalyze the transformation of China’s industrial sector,” said Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

286_365_Count Me In
With political representation and federal funding at stake, Midwestern states are showing the highest Census response rates so far. According to the New York Times:

With Thursday dubbed Census Day — the day the questionnaires are meant to capture as a snapshot — South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, North Dakota and Iowa are ranked the top five states by federal officials, because they have the highest participation rates in the census so far. People can send in the forms until mid-April, but the Midwest’s cooperativeness might rightly worry other regions.

After all, the census guides the federal government on decisions with lasting impact — like how many representatives states will have in Congress and how much federal money they win for their roads.

But the high rates of participation in these rural states may have less to do with vying for power and resources and more to do with social norms and sensibilities.

Census officials said lots of social factors seemed to correlate to a community’s responsiveness (or silence) to the census mailings. Places where people stay put, for instance, often answer. In this town, most people said they had grown up here.

But some North Dakotans, where the state capital, Bismarck, had the nation’s fourth-highest response rate among larger cities as of Wednesday night, suggested a simpler answer. Perhaps it was the way of thinking around here — some combination, they said, of being practical, orderly, undistracted and mostly accepting of the rules, whatever they are. “We have a high degree of trust in our elected officials,” said Curt Stofferahn, a rural sociologist at the University of North Dakota, “and that carries over to times like these.”

The towns and cities the census described this week as having 100 percent participation rates are mostly tiny. How hard, some wondered, is it to get 50 responses from 50 people? And in Wolford, which officially has a 100 percent rate, plenty of people — perhaps more than 20 — are not included in that statistic because they hold post office boxes and have yet to receive forms.

By all appearances, these norms are being passed along to the next generation of rural residents.

At Wolford Public School, where 46 children from around the area attend kindergarten through 12th grade (the ninth grade is empty and only one child is in fourth grade), census leaflets, posters and stickers have been handed out in Wanda Follman’s class of 11 children.

Asked on Wednesday if their families had returned census forms yet, nearly all 11 shot their hands in the air. The children excitedly recited some of the questions from memory.

“I filled it out with my mom’s help,” said Kyle Yoder, the 8-year-old, who wore glasses and a serious face. “It was kind of easy.”

The Los Angeles Times reports on the importance of the middle class for the city’s future, with special emphasis on middle class Latinos:

With this year’s census likely to show a Latino majority in both the city and county of Los Angeles, it’s obvious that our collective future is linked to the social health of that group of people. And if you think of Latinos only in the dysfunctional terms described in so many media reports, then a Third World L.A. seems like an inevitability.

While the experiences of poor and working-class Latino immigrants are often the focus of scholars and the media, other immigrants may go unnoticed:

You might not think about L.A.’s Latino middle class much. But USC sociologist Jody Agius Vallejo has eschewed more exotic topics to investigate its middling peculiarities.

Agius Vallejo’s research looks at the “pathways to success” that allow even people of humble immigrant origins to reach middle-class status. Her work rebuts the widespread perception that Mexican immigrants and their offspring are following what she calls a “trajectory of downward mobility into a permanent underclass.”

More on Agius Vallejo’s research:

Agius Vallejo interviewed 80 subjects who possessed at least three of these four characteristics: college educations, higher than average income, white-collar jobs and home ownership. Seventy percent of the people in her sample grew up in “disadvantaged” communities. Their parents had, on average, a sixth-grade education.

The members of this arriviste Mexican middle class might look like their white counterparts on paper, Agius Vallejo said. But in other ways they are different. Among other things, they have stronger social ties to poorer relatives.

Another of Agius Vallejo’s subjects is a lawyer who has recently visited jail (to bail out a cousin) and the social-security office (to help an uncle). Relatives turn to the lawyer in times of need because “she’s the one in the family with knowledge,” Agius Vallejo said. “She’s the one who’s made it to the middle class.”

Each person who achieves social mobility improves the overall well-being of the community. Social climbers show others behind them the way forward. “The future of the city really hinges on the mobility of immigrants,” Agius Vallejo told me.

The importance of the immigrant middle class extends beyond the city of Los Angeles, though:

A healthy middle class with Latin American roots is critical to the entire country’s future too. That’s what another USC professor, Dowell Myers, argues in his book “Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America.”

Myers, a demographer, says our aging country needs to invest in its younger, immigrant communities as an act of self-preservation. Immigrants’ incomes and rates of homeownership rise the longer they stay in this country, he writes, and provide potential members of the taxpaying middle class that will fund the retirement of the boomer generation.

Statue Of Liberty -RightThe New York Times reports that the number of foreign-born workers is on the rise in the U.S.

Nearly one in six American workers is foreign-born, the highest proportion since the 1920s, according to a census analysis released Monday.

Because of government barriers to immigration, the share of foreign-born workers dipped from a 20th-century high of 21 percent in 1910 to barely 5 percent in 1970, but has been rising since then, to the current 16 percent.

In 2007, immigrants accounted for more than one in four workers in California (35 percent), New York (27 percent), New Jersey (26 percent) and Nevada (25 percent).

But that’s not all the Census Bureau found:

For the first time, the Census Bureau also compared immigrants by generation. Generally, income and other measures of achievement rose from one generation to the next, although educational attainment peaked with the second generation.

Monica Boyd, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, said the second generation personified “the overachievement model, a tendency for very high achievement that seems to come as a result of immigrant parents’ instilling in these kids an enormous drive.” Professor Boyd added, “Many try to instill in their kids the phrase, ‘We did this all for you.’ ”

Among all immigrant families, median income rose from $50,867 in the first generation to $63,359 and $65,144 in the second and third, respectively. The only group to register any decrease was family households headed by single mothers; their income declined from the second generation to the third.

Similarly, the overall proportion of immigrant families living below the government’s official poverty level declined, from 16.5 percent to 14.5 to 11.5 among three generations. But among adult immigrants, the proportion who are poor grew again between the second and third generations.

However, while overall measures of income seem to be improving from one generation to the next (with some variation among sub-goups), those for overall educational achievement tell a different story:

While the proportion of high school graduates increased from one generation to the next, the share who had bachelor’s degrees or more higher education declined from the second to the third generations. The proportion with doctorates peaked with the first generation.

Elizabeth Grieco, chief of the Census Bureau’s immigration statistics staff, said the figures suggested substantial progress from the first generation to the second.

“This really shows that immigrants integrate over time the same way they always have,” Ms. Grieco said.

In terms of education, she said, “the third generation seems to be stopping at bachelor’s or master’s degrees.”

So, what do sociologists make of this decline in educational attainment between second and third generations?

Nancy Foner, a sociology professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said, “If there is some evidence of third-generation decline, then this no doubt has a lot to do with persistent inequalities and disadvantages facing many of the second generation and their children.”

Professor Foner added that “the economic declines of the past few years no doubt play a role” and that “it could also be that second-generation parents, themselves born in the U.S., are less optimistic and push their children less hard than their own immigrant parents who came here and struggled so their children could succeed.”

The Des Moines Register recently discussed rural Iowans’ efforts to combat the problem of population loss as their young adults relocate to bigger cities, as well as the difficulties faced by those who stay close to home:

Iowans have made countless efforts to stop the state’s rural population drain. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack recruited former Iowans and welcomed immigrants. Groups worked to gussy up Main Street for a kind of nostalgic small-town tourism. Conference attendees listened to speakers who touted attracting a young, creative class of artists and entrepreneurs. Experts waited for the telecommuters who never came. Economic development officials hustled for small manufacturing plants that sometimes didn’t pay much.

The article includes sociological commentary on the fates of the “stayers”:

They are ignored, maybe even pitied when you see them in the grocery, and yet they are the very future of the town, say Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas, a husband-wife sociologist team who moved from Philadelphia to Iowa for several months to write “Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America.”

They identified a group of citizens they labeled “the stayers” who were not often encouraged by teachers or parents to attend college, worked through school to buy a pickup truck, and became invisible to the town’s more moneyed and educated classes.

“They are taken for granted, as in the story of the prodigal son,” said Kefalas, a St. Joseph’s University sociology professor who interviewed nearly 300 young people in a northeast Iowa town they chose to keep anonymous. “They don’t work as hard investing in them and just assume the old way of life will somehow work out for them.”

Part of the problem is that secondary education in America is focused on preparing kids to go to college:

“Those that have the ability go off. That makes a lot of sense as a community or a school. You don’t want to hold them back,” said high school counselor Diane Stegge. “But at the same time, you are taking them away from the community.”

Kefalas said schools should do more to prepare students who have a desire to stay or don’t have the money or abilities for college. Many are too busy catering to the high achievers.

“Teachers in Ellis (the pseudonym for the town in the book) were offended by our portrayal. But I’m a teacher, and it’s much more fun to teach those above grade level,” she said. “The challenge is how you make your school work for everyone.”

One rural Iowa school board member sums up the consequences for small towns of ignoring their average students:

“The ones with higher education, we know there is going to be nothing here for them,” he said. “We also try to focus on those with special needs. But the middle-of-the-road ones are going to become our community.”