Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thanks to Bill Ryerson for distributing this excellent article on the need for stronger support for global family planning.

From the May 2011 issue of Population Connection's The Reporter.

See http://www.populationconnection.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8051 to download the full magazine.

Our Profound Choice: 7 Billion Reasons to Invest in Family Planning

By Martha Campbell and Malcolm Potts

As the global human population reaches 7 billion later this year for the first time in world history, there are several simple things we can (and should) be doing to slow population growth and get on a path toward stabilizing our numbers at 8 billion.

Demographic projections are not predictions. They tell us what can happen if we make a variety of policy choices and investments, most of them pertaining to family planning. The UN high variant projection for the world population in 2050 is 10.5 billion. The low variant is 8 billion. The difference between these two numbers - 2.5 billion - is equivalent to the population of the entire world in 1950. With 2.5 billion more people come farms and factories, mines and ports, and schools and hospitals that must be built and maintained-and energy that must be consumed.

It took nearly 130 years for the world population to grow from 1 to 2 billion, but the recent growth from 6 to 7 billion has occurred in only 12 years. Will the next billion be added so quickly or will we slow the tide toward a more sustainable peak figure? Since the mid-1990s, international attention has shifted away from family planning. Unless critical changes are made as rapidly as possible, even the high projection of 10.5 billion people in 2050 could be exceeded. In fact, business as usual has us on track to surpass 11 billion in 2050.

Most specialists outside the population field, such as agriculture and climate change experts, assume that world population will reach 9 billion (the UN medium projection) in 2050 and little or nothing can be done to alter this path. This is the wrong approach and every sensible person must ask: Is human population growth some phenomenon beyond our control, or are there policies and investments that would enable global population to stabilize at the lower projected number?

It is a genuine, dramatic, profound choice. Early in the Second World War, when England stood alone against Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill made his famous "their finest hour" speech. He posed that the world could "move forward into broad, sunlit uplands" or, alternately, that it could "sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age..." Today, Churchill's stirring words apply not to two nations at war, but to a decision about human population that the whole planet must make. A difference of 2.5 billion will have a huge impact on whether we can feed and employ rising numbers of people while also switching to an ecologically sustainable economy. It is a challenge as formidable as any war and the choices are as stark as those between the broad, sunlit uplands of the civilized world and an abyss of a new Dark Age.

Demography is an unforgiving taskmaster. Many of those who will be parents in the next 40 years are already born and enumerated. Even if they have fewer children than their parents, global population will continue to grow. We can see the consequences of this type of demographic momentum in China. Although the average Chinese couple now has fewer than two children, as a result of rapid population growth in the past, China's population continues to increase by 7 million every year. Whatever we do, global population will continue to grow for another generation or two. The key issue is, at what rate?

Fortunately, we know a great deal about how to make family planning available without infringing on any human rights. In nearly every setting where couples, and particularly women, have been provided with the means and correct information they need to manage whether or when to have another child, birth rates have fallen rapidly. There is no reason then - other than lack of political will - that the world population should not stabilize at 8 billion.

Half the world's women have already reached replacement level fertility, which is an average of 2.1 births. (Demographers use 2.1 because some children die before they are able to reproduce.) Another third of the world's women have between 2.1 and 4 births. These women live mainly in countries where family size has been falling in recent decades. There is reason to believe that they will move to replacement level fertility in a few more decades-provided that population and family planning are given the priority they deserve.

Demographers used to believe that once a country's fertility rate began to decline, it would continue to do so automatically. For example, Kenya made a modest but consistent investment in voluntary family planning in the 1970s and 1980s and as a result, the average family size fell from 8 to 5. Later, the focus was taken off family planning, and the naïve assumption that birth rates would go on declining proved sadly wrong. In 1998, demographers projected that the population of Kenya in 2050 would be 51 million. As a result of the loss of attention to family planning and a consequent stall in fertility decline, the population in 2050 is now projected to be 85 million.

Forty years ago, population growth caught media attention and inspired scientific endeavors the way climate change does today. Why have media voices grown silent on this issue? Why do many people, including those representing a variety of advocacy groups, avoid talking about population?

If people think that bringing down average family size involves telling people what to do, or at worst, coercive family planning, then they are unlikely to want to talk about population. In contrast, when people learn that reducing average family size depends on fulfilling an unmet need for family planning, then suddenly they can see that it's acceptable to talk about population. In short, family planning means listening to what people want, not telling them what to do. The low birth rate in the United States isn't due to someone telling us to have fewer children; rather, we have achieved small families because we could.

In 1994, the UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo drew attention to the many needs of women (some of which had been overshadowed by demographic targets), especially in Africa. Unfortunately, coming out of that conference, some groups began to view the issue of 'population' as politically incorrect. Family planning budgets collapsed, while HIV/AIDS budgets ballooned. The term 'family planning' was replaced by the broader phrase 'reproductive health,' triggering numerous pilot projects, few of which were brought to scale. Further hurting the cause, low fertility in countries such as Russia and Japan suggested the 'population explosion is over.'

In virtually all societies couples have sexual intercourse frequently. This means that women cannot limit family size unless they have access to contraception and accurate information about how to use it. The Demographic and Health Surveys, conducted in nearly every developing country, show that 215 million sexually active women do not want another child in the next two years, or ever, yet they are not using a modern method of contraception.

Holding global population at 8 billion depends on a reasonable level of access to a variety of contraceptive methods made available through a range of distribution channels and backed up with reliable information. Making family planning readily available means changing policies, increasing modest budgets to subsidize the very poor, and overcoming bottlenecks in the supply line.

Family planning is a choice, not a diagnosis, and communities must be empowered to help themselves. In Ethiopia, Venture Strategies and the Bixby Center, working with local leaders, have shown that community volunteers (including, in one case, two Ethiopian priests) can safely dispense the injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera. Such task shifting is key to addressing unmet need for family planning because the demand is so great. There is simply no time to wait for doctors and nurses to tackle the problem single-handedly. Other trained community members must be part of the solution.

Over the decades, family planning has been unnecessarily over-medicalized. In Tanzania, women are refused the Pill if they have five children; in Madagascar, if they have none. There is no scientific justification for either rule. Dispelling misinformation is another necessary step. Some clinic providers give misleading advice or are unwilling to prescribe adolescents contraceptives. Perceived dangers of using contraception are highly prevalent and may be one of the most stubborn barriers to family planning. In many countries, women think the Pill is more dangerous than childbirth, whereas the risks are literally a thousand times in the opposite direction. Reliable ways of dispelling misinformation exist, however, such as the use of community theater and popular radio and television soap operas.

No country has achieved replacement level fertility without access to safe abortion. This is true even of Catholic countries such as the island of Malta, where abortion remains illegal but statistics show many women travel to neighboring countries to terminate unintended pregnancies. The world is most likely to maintain a population of 8 billion if safe abortion is made universally available. This is not because more abortions will be performed, but because those women who have abortions will receive contraceptive counseling. Studies show that after an abortion, a woman is more likely to adopt a method and use it consistently than in any other situation. In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the TFR is now 1.6. The most plausible explanation for this uniquely low TFR is that Marie Stopes International provided comprehensive abortion care, including postabortion contraceptive care, for well over a decade before the recent liberalization of the abortion law.

Safe abortion (using manual vacuum aspiration, which can be done in low-resource settings by non-physician providers) and medical abortion (using the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol) are transforming women's health. In Tigray, a remote part of Ethiopia, 70 percent of the hospital beds were once given to women suffering from botched abortions. Once community health workers were taught how to provide medical abortion, this suffering was virtually eliminated, and women gained from being exposed to modern contraceptive choices.

Without doubt, the greatest challenge of the 21st century will be to move to an ecologically sustainable global economy. If we fail to meet that challenge, then we will irreversibly damage the planet with the most massive extinction of plants and animals since the asteroid that eliminated the dinosaurs.

Some who deny the importance of human numbers point to the Netherlands as a prosperous, small country with almost 17 million people. They ask why the world can't accommodate a few billion more people at the European standard of living? The problem, as ecologist Mathis Wackernagel points out, is our footprint. The Netherlands imports food, timber, and other resources from around the world. The greenhouse gases it puts into the atmosphere spread from the Arctic to the Antarctic. The footprint of the 17 million people in the Netherlands is eight times the actual area of the country.

The exact worldwide figures are open to debate, but there is legitimate concern that by 2050 the planet's water, land, and atmosphere will no longer be able to support the population's needs in a sustainable way. Given time and a great deal of scientific ingenuity, we might still be able to reduce our consumption and create an ecologically sustainable economy. But the more we impoverish the earth in the short term, the more difficult the task will be.

Well over 95 percent of the population growth between now and 2050 will be in the least developed countries-those that are also the least able to feed, educate and employ their burgeoning numbers. The poorest 2 billion people on the planet contribute 3 percent of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Cruelly, the adverse impacts of global warming will be greatest on those who have contributed least to the problem. Global warming will increase the number of people exposed to malaria. In a country such as Bangladesh, a small rise in sea level could inundate vast areas of rich agricultural land.

Even at a population of 8 billion, it will be difficult to feed everyone, as nearly all the good agricultural land in the world is already farmed at moderate intensity. As the emerging economies in Asia and Latin America consume more animal protein, that livestock will be fed the same grain that will be needed for African villages facing starvation. The absurdity of converting grain to ethanol will be responsible for leaving more children malnourished in the least developed countries.

Some of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, especially those making up the Sahel, face particularly grave challenges. They have average family sizes of 5 or more. In Niger, the rate of population growth exceeds the rate of economic growth. More than one quarter of women over age 40 have 10 or more children, and only 1 in 1,000 women completes secondary school. Approximately 10 percent of children under five in Niger suffer from acute malnutrition and 44 percent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition. If the TFR falls from the current 7.4 to 3.8 by 2050, the population will still expand from 16 million today to 58 million by 2050. If the TFR does not fall so fast, then the population could reach a totally unsustainable 80 million.

The history of family planning is one of missed opportunities. When the World Health Organization (WHO) was established in 1948, the first Director General, a Canadian named Brock Chisholm, saw reducing mortality and slowing population growth as synergistic goals. However, the Vatican and some Catholic countries ferociously opposed giving any assistance for family planning to countries such as India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), which requested it in the 1950s. The Catholic minority went as far as to threaten to destroy the fledgling WHO and create a new world organization. Chisholm was forced to back down at a time when death rates were falling in a spectacular way. Vaccination, DDT to control malaria, and relative peace in much of the world had a tremendous impact on death rates. It was at this time that a small but sensible investment in family planning in countries such as those lining the Sahara would have had the greatest leverage.

From the 1970s to the 1990s considerable progress was made in making voluntary family planning available in East Asia and Latin America, but a highly reprehensible episode of coercive family planning in India in the 1970s, the Chinese one-child policy that was initiated in 1980, and Peru's forced sterilizations in the 1990s set progress back a second time. And, as we have mentioned, the ICPD often focused on women's empowerment at the expense of population and family planning.

To keep world population at 8 billion we need a sense of scale and a sense of urgency; the confidence that population growth can be slowed within a human rights framework; the political will to make it happen; the investments necessary to make family planning options universally available; the courage to fight patriarchy so that women are free to make the best decisions for themselves; and a burning desire to bequeath our children and grandchildren a sustainable, peaceful and prosperous world rather than a hungry, angry world riven by conflict over resources and a slew of failed states-some perhaps armed with nuclear weapons. Stabilizing the population at 8 billion requires adopting win-win policies that benefit women and their families and help make the world a safer, less divided, more sustainable place.

Population is only one factor among many in health and development outcomes, educational attainment, food and water security, and political stability. It is only one factor, but it's a critical one. Attention to population will not solve the world's problems alone, but without it, the world's problems will not be solved.

Martha Campbell is a Lecturer in the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley. In the 1990s she directed the population program at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. In 2000 she founded and became President and CEO of Venture Strategies for Health and Development, a nonprofit organization that works to help facilitate large-scale health and reproductive health change where it is wanted in low resource countries.

Malcolm Potts is an obstetrician and reproductive scientist. He is the first Fred H. Bixby Chair of the Population and Family Planning program in the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley and has developed the Bixby Center with a team of young experts. He was the first Medical Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a position he held for a decade. He has published ten books and over 200 scientific papers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oops, We Did It Again

by Mark Powell,
Secretary, Vermonters for Sustainable Population

At the end of last year, the Census Bureau released preliminary data from the 2010 Census. As an environmentalist I should have been comforted to learn that U.S. population growth had slowed down; there was just one little problem. I recently published a guest editorial in the Times Argus entitled, “Our Population is Growing Too Fast,” which began, “In the past twenty years, the U.S. population has grown faster than ever before . . .” You can imagine that I was somewhat perplexed by the discrepancy between my own characterization of U.S. population growth and the prevailing media sound bites in the wake of the Census results. How could I come to such a dramatically different conclusion? A closer look shows that the Census Bureau’s characterization of the data masks the largest demographic surge in any developed country’s history.

The last twenty years have exceeded the rapid expansion of the U.S. population during the baby boom, which currently dominates discussions surrounding budget shortfalls, growing entitlement burdens and generational imbalances. Now, the baby boom has been superseded by a new boom; a millennium boom, driven primarily by immigration rather than fertility rates. This shift is drastically altering America’s future and makes current challenges even more imposing.

The baby boom presented a unique challenge because of the sharp increase in the numbers of Americans within a narrow age range. Since the current boom is distributed across a broader age range, the millennium boom invokes very different challenges. At the same time, however, some of the people who have immigrated to our country in the past twenty years are baby boomers themselves, adding to the generational imbalances that threaten to bankrupt Social Security and Medicare. And there is another very important contrast between the two booms. During the baby boom the American economy had 18 years to prepare before competition for jobs began. In the millennium boom, most new arrivals are already of working age.

The Census Bureau has deployed remarkably soothing statistical talking points that do not fit the reality of America’s current demographic trajectory. Their statements and publications offer up uneventful news nuggets that consistently emphasize a trend of slowing U.S. population growth. To date, the only decades that have exceeded 2000-2010[1] in numerical population growth were the previous decades of the 1990s and the 1950s, the height of the baby boom. In the 1950s the United States added 28.4 million people, barely superseding the 27.5 million estimated increases of the aughts[2]. Some have challenged these results, claiming that certain groups were undercounted, but officially, the aughts have seen the third largest decadal growth, not just in America, but in the history of the industrial world, and that growth directly follows the largest single decade increase of the 1990s. [3]

, The Census Bureau news releases and public statements included summaries of the numerical growth but provided little context for those numbers, focusing almost exclusively on the percentage rate instead. By comparing current expansion to an increasingly higher bar indicative of our bigger baseline population size, this analysis carries an inherent bias toward growth.

At a press conference held on December 21, 2010, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves presented a series of charts and graphs and summarized them by saying, “The percentage growth this last decade…is thus the second lowest of the past century.”[4] In specifically citing the “percentage growth” on a decade-by-decade basis, Director Groves reserved his agency a sliver of plausible deniability in a remarkably disingenuous summary that was faithfully echoed throughout the media coverage. Without this distinction, this statement would have been completely inaccurate, and it is highly misleading to suggest that the past decade’s population growth in the U.S. was slow in any meaningful context. Our population increased by 22 million and 23 million in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. When compared to the aughts increase of at least 27.5 million, those decades were slower growing eras. The 1990s experienced the fastest population growth in U.S. history, so it is not surprising that the pace of growth might slow soon after, especially in a decade that concluded in a recession. But summarizing short-term data as if it represents longer-term trends rises, in this case, to statistical malpractice.

Figure A, below, shows both the percentage rate analysis emphasized by the Census Bureau and the numerical increases upon which those percentages are based. .[5]

Figure A


Looking at the percentage growth indicated by the red line, it is easy to think that U.S. population growth has gradually receded and that our population is stabilizing. We could find comfort there, if that was really the case. But the Census Bureau’s statements made only perfunctory references to the data indicated by the blue columns, with virtually no context or comparative data, and declined to represent the numerical increases in any of their widely released graphic materials. As you can see, the percentage-based analysis, the exclusive focus of the Census Bureau statements, contrasts sharply with the numerical analysis, which clearly indicates that the gradual slowing of our population growth seen in the 1970s and 1980s has been reversed. Our country is currently growing faster than ever.

If the Bureau wanted to effectively illustrate long-term implications of our growth, they could have used a rolling average, as statisticians often do in situations where short-term variations are acknowledged to be potentially misrepresentative. A twenty-year rolling average for the decades since 1930 produces the following graph (Figure B).[6]

Figure B

Even if you specifically bracket the baby boom years, comparing the growth from 1945 to 1965 rather than distinct decades, the two decades of the baby boom saw an increase of 54 million people in our population, while the millennium boom has surpassed 60 million. As the economy recovers, immigration is also likely to rise. Taking births to recent immigrants into account, this boom is likely to drive forward with still more rapid population growth, making this not only the largest population surge in our history, but also the most sustained one. That, however, is not the message that was portrayed in the release of the 2010 Census results.

Why do my own statements about rapid US population growth so drastically contradict those characterizations made by the Census Bureau? The difference is in the way the facts have been reported. Figure C is from the press packets made available by the Census Bureau in December 2010.[7]

Figure C

As you can see, this graph portrays the overall population size using green bars. This portrayal however, depicts the per-decade increases on a much diminished scale, making it very difficult to discern even minor variations between decades. Had they used the bar elements of the graph to portray decennial increases rather than cumulative totals, the differences in numerical growth between decades would be much more emphatic. So what this graph most readily conveys is not the decade-by-decade total size as shown by the green bars, but the decade to decade shifts in the percentage growth, indicated by the jagged red line, so that the percentage growth of one decade becomes the visual standard by which the succeeding decade is measured. Since the 1990s witnessed the largest numerical growth in our history, anything that follows is thus compared to a higher base, making it seem far less consequential than the numerical comparisons would suggest. .[8] Furthermore, consider how Director Groves explained this graphic during the December 21st press conference. There are two notable decades here. Between 1930 and 1940, the small growth rate of 7.3% is thought to be related to the great depression of the 1930s. Between 1950 and 1960, the high growth rate of 18.5% reflects the so-called baby boom.”[9] Groves did not include the 1990s in his description of the most significant decades.

Now have a look at a graphic that was used in 2001 to inform the American public of the demographic tsunami recorded in the 2000 census.

Figure E

So why did the 2010 graphic emphasize only percentages and the blunt indicator of total population size while the 2000 graphic provided a clear illustration of the numerical growth and the way it sharply varies from the percentage growth? And why did Director Groves not describe the 1990s as notable when they saw the largest population growth in the history of the developed world?

The reasons the current Census team chose to do so could very well hinge on the Obama Administration’s desire to avoid a robust debate on U.S. population growth. A central factor in that growth, and one that might explain the Census Bureau’s portrayal of current trends, is immigration. The Obama administration supports comprehensive immigration reform, including some form of amnesty, but the public is still divided. One could argue the dynamics would change if the Census Bureau admitted in good faith that the U.S. is in the midst of the largest demographic surge in our history.

On the evening of the preliminary 2010 Census data release, Census Director Groves appeared on the PBS evening Newshour. The moderator, Judy Woodruff, inquired about the role of immigration, to which the Census Director replied, “Immigration is a part of our picture, as in most developed societies. Over the last 10 years, a rough estimate would be about 60 percent of the growth we experienced was from the natural increase of the then resident (emphasis added) population, about 40 percent from immigration.”[10] This response is inaccurate in two ways. First, immigration’s impact on American population size is not comparable to its impact in other developed nations. As of the 1980’s the U.S. tracked steadily towards population stabilization in league with countries such as Great Britain, Germany and Japan, but we have veered sharply upwards. According to the UN, we’re growing faster than Thailand, and unless we reduce immigration, we will be growing faster than the Dominican Republic in three decades.[11] Secondly, the Director emphasized only the percentage of people who enter the country, but specifically avoided pointing out that when you consider the children born to immigrants, the total impact of immigration is about 65% of total growth, rather than 40% he cited. The Census Director has phrased his words very carefully here, resulting in a clear but disingenuous disconnect between our historically unprecedented immigration and population growth’s economic, social and environmental impacts.

This debate may seem inconsequential to those who seldom consider the topic of domestic population growth. It’s important to realize, however, that the issue of U.S. population growth, in the absence of Census Bureau efforts to call attention to it, probably won’t achieve close scrutiny any time soon. Without reductions in both legal and illegal immigration rates, the 2020 Census is likely to reflect a continuation not of the pause in rapid growth that we experienced between 2006 and 2010, but of the unprecedented resurgence in population growth seen between 1990 and 2005. Putting forth misleading impressions that growth is slowing down makes it far less likely that the impact of immigration on population growth will play a pivotal role in our impending changes to immigration policy. Since immigration drives approximately two-thirds of our population growth, and immigration reform is on a short list of priorities at the White House, it is very important that the American public is aware of its impact.

[1] Hereafter referred to as the “aughts.”

[2] 1950-1960 figures based on: Census Bureau-- Historical National Population Estimates, 1900 to 1999 (8k), found at: http://www.census.gov/popest/archives/1990s/popclockest.txt

2000-2010 figure based on: Census Bureau—U.S. Census Bureau Announces 2010 Census Population Counts Apportionment Counts Delivered to President; found at http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/2010_census/cb10-cn93.html

This press release did not specifically cite the numerical growth, only the percentage, but I did the math all by myself!

[3] United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects: 2008 Revison, found at http://esa.un.org/unpp/index.asp Note, I compared the growth from 1950 onward for the ten most populous countries as listed by the US Census Bureau, found here: http://www.census.gov/ipc/prod/wp96/wp96005.pdf,

[4] United States Census Bureau/ CSPAN Video Library.: U.S. Population: 308,745,538, 21 December 2010. 20 http://www.c-span.org/Events/US-Population-308745538/10737418368-1/

[5] 1900 to 2000 figures based on: Census Bureau-- Historical National Population Estimates, 1900 to 1999 (8k), found at: http://www.census.gov/popest/archives/1990s/popclockest.txt 2000 estimate based on: Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008 (NST-EST2008-01), found at http://www.census.gov/popest/states/NST-ann-est2008.html; For 2010 figure—Ibid.

[6] Ibid. Rolling average was calculated for year indicated by calculating the increase of the previous twenty years and dividing by two.

[7] U.S. Census Bureau; Apportionment Data. http://2010.census.gov/2010census/data/apportionment-data.php

[8]Perry, Mark J, et al., Census 2000 Brief : 1990 to 2000, Population Change and Distribution, Issued April 2001, C2KBR/01-2

[9] United States Census Bureau/ CSPAN Video Library.: U.S. Population: 308,745,538, 21 December 2010. 20 http://www.c-span.org/Events/US-Population-308745538/10737418368-1/

[10] Newshour on PBS, Dec. 21, 1010, Judy Woodworth interview with Robert Groves, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec10/census1_12-21.html

[11] United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects: 2008 Revison, found at http://esa.un.org/unpp/index.asp

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Triumph of Innumeracy

by Mark Powell

Vermonters for Sustainable Population

At a December 21st press conference, Census Director Robert Groves released the results of the 2010 census. News coverage across the board has echoed the soundbite that population growth had slowed signficantly, with a typical headline calling it “ the slowest since the Great Depression.” In reality, the US population in the past twenty years has grown faster than ever before, but that was not the message we heard. That was not the message we heard from the Census Bureau, however. In its press appearances and written statements, Director Groves and other Census Bureau spokepersons emphasized percentage rates of growth almost exclusively, providing real numbers only in their entirety and not at all in any graphical context. As if aware of the potentially explosive response he was hoping to avoid, Director Groves showed a slight squeamishness as he stated, “The percentage growth this last decade . . . . is thus the second lowest of the past century.”[i]

The characterization is fair and accurate only if the increase in the U.S. population is measured as a percentage of the existing population, but is irresponsibly inaccurate when considering the actual numerical increase in comparison to past decades of growth. At a minimum, the Census has reported an increase of 27.5 million people in the U.S. from the year 2000 to the year 2010, a 9.7% increase. Looking at the percentage increases of the past century, this is indeed a modest growth that is surpassed by every one of the previous five decades. Since the U.S. population at the start of this decade was more than twice the size of the 1940 population, however, the use of percentages understates the significance of this decade’s growth. Looking at the actual numbers of decennial census results, on the other hand, shows that this decade is surpassed only by two others. One of these, the previous decade from 1990 to 2000, recorded an unprecedented 32.7 million increase to the size of the U.S. population. The other comparable decade, from 1950 to 1960, the high point of the legendary baby boom, saw an increase of 27.9 million people to the U.S. population, barely enough to supersede the current decade, which, as I mentioned, was portrayed in headlines as the slowest decade of growth since the Depression. I think this is an important distinction that is clearly de-emphasized in the language and analysis that prevails in the news coverage of this preliminary report.

It is fair to ask whether the percentage increase or the increase in actual numbers is a better measure of the impact of continued U.S. population growth, but I fear that the Census Bureau, in choosing to report out on the less-controversial interpretations based on percentage increase, is de-emphasizing the significance of current immigration policy and its impact on current and future population growth. If it were not for the recent economic downturn, experts all agree, immigration would have continued at its record pace through the end of this decade. If it had done so, it would probably have exceeded even the 1990’s in the numerical increase of the U.S. population.

In the chart below, I have graphed U.S. population growth from 1900 to 2010 in two different ways. The first shows the percentage increase, which appears fairly innocuous in that it shows a modest trend of declining population growth relative to the existing size of the U.S. population. The second shows the actual numerical increase by decade, indicating in a much more definitive way the fact that U.S. population growth has rebounded considerably in the past twenty years.

US Population: Percentage Growth by Decade as Emphasized in 2010 Census Coverage

Decade Ending:

U.S. Population: Numerical Growth by Decade as Ignored by 2010 Census Coverage

Decade Ending:

If they had been interested in showing a clearer picture of the historical trends, they could have used a rolling average, as statisticians often do in situations where short term variations are potentially unrepresentative. Using a twenty-year rolling average to portray U.S. population growth over the past century would produce the following graph:

Even if you were to specifically bracket the baby boom years, comparing the growth from 1945 to 1965 rather than on the basis of distinct decades, the two decades of the baby boom saw an increase of 54 million people in our population, while the twenty years just ending saw an increase of at least 59 million. The baby boom has just been eclipsed by the 20 year period just ending, and we are poised for even more population growth as the economy rebounds. When the baby boom reached the age of 20, it called it quits and went to bed. This boom, at 20 years old, is snoozing at the moment. However, with a likely resurgence in immigration as the economy improves, and taking into account the fertility of recent immigrants, this boom is likely to wake up and drive forward with continued unsustainable growth in our population, making this not only the largest population surge in our history but also the longest running one.

This is the most widely distributed graph portraying the 2010 Census Results.

As you can see, this graph does portray the overall population size, using green bars, and that is obviously at a higher level today than ever before. They have used a scale, however, that portrays the per-decade increases on a much diminished significance, making it very difficult to discern even minor variations between decades. Had they used the bar elements of the graph to portray decennial increases rather than cumulative totals, however, the differences in numerical growth between decades would be much more emphatic. So what this graph most readily conveys is not the decade-by-decade total size as shown by the green bars but the decade to decade shifts in the percentage growth, indicated by the jagged red line, so that the percentage growth of one decade becomes the visual standard by which the succeeding decade is measured. Since the 1990s witnessed the largest numerical growth in our history, anything that follows it has to meet a higher standard of growth just to avoid an inferiority complex. As mentioned earlier, when all is said and done the Aughts will likely be recognized as the second fastest growing decade, population wise, in our history. Sure doesn’t come across in this 2010 graphic, though, does it? Now have a look at a graphic that was used in 2001 to inform the American public of the demographic earthquake recorded in the 2000 census.

Clearly, then, U.S. population growth is not slowing down when considered from a long-term, statistically meaningful way. This begs the question; does the Census Bureau have an interest in portraying our current population growth as slower than it actually is? And if so, why?

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Parched Future

A Parched Future
Ignoring U.S. Population Growth Threatens the Environment and Social Services

While the country and the Congress debate our future direction in reversing global warming and providing health care to all Americans, policy-makers and the public alike continue to ignore the major impact of our rapidly expanding population. The United States’ population is now over 306 million and is growing at the net gain of one person every ten seconds. By 2050 the U.S. population is expected to reach 438 million. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the United States is the only developed country that significantly contributes to global population growth.

Some theorize that current over-population and on-going rapid population growth are issues the human mind cannot cope with due to their overwhelming implications -- and are therefore subject to psychological denial tactics by both individuals and societies.
Yet we already see the climate change impact of over-populating the planet as greenhouse gases pour into the atmosphere, arable land is consumed by urban expansion and safe, healthy water supplies are harder to find.

Water serves as a prime indicator of the population problem. Water wars already occur in the Southwest. By 2050, climate change is expected to cut short winters which will reduce one-quarter of the snow pack in the Sierras, dramatically diminishing water availability in Western States. Proposed solutions include harvesting stormwater to collect 400,000 acre-feet of water per year, enough to supply two-thirds of Los Angeles’ annual water use. Still, the amount of water available will drop by 74% per person in the U.S. by 2050.

Population growth means the United States will have to revamp social systems such as healthcare and education. Conservative analysis shows the increases to U.S. population increases health care costs by about $2,700 per person per year. Adding 138 million people by 2050 could easily add $350 billion dollars in health care costs in that year alone! As we attempt to address the shortfall in healthcare today and find ourselves overwhelmed by the financial burden, you have to wonder how we are going to care for all of these people. But have you heard one mention of the costs of population growth in the health care debate?

With education resources strained in almost every state, the influx of new students will further stress already overloaded systems. It is critical that we understand the aggravating factors contributing to these problems and address them immediately.

How can we bring U.S. population growth into the discussion of critical issues such as climate change and healthcare? Why has over-population been denied attention by policy-makers and the public alike? Where will the U.S. get enough clean water to supply its mushrooming population? Who will pay for the impact of population growth on basic social services such as education?

Friday, May 22, 2009

US targets population growth, urges women's power

US targets population growth, urges women's power

Date: Thursday, April 23, 2009
Source: Associated Press Worldstream

WASHINGTON -- The new U.S. ambassador for global women's issues pledged Thursday the Obama administration's "deep commitment" to a U.N. blueprint aimed at slowing the world's population explosion and empowering women.

At the heart of the more than 100-page action plan adopted at the U.N. population conference in Cairo, Egypt, 15 years ago is a demand for women's equality through education, economic development, access to modern birth control and the right to choose if and when to become pregnant.

Underlying the conference was the record growth in global population and research, which shows that educated women choose to have fewer children. In 1994, when delegates from 180 countries met in Cairo, the population was 5.7 billion. According to the latest U.N. estimates, it will hit 7 billion early in 2012 and top 9 billion in 2050.

The U.S. ambassador, Melanne Verveer, said President Barack Obama's decision to contribute $50US million to the U.N. Population Fund for family planning, an increase of more than 100 percent over the last U.S. contribution, in 2001, "will send an unambiguous signal to the world that the U.S. supports the Cairo Platform for Action."

The Bush administration cut off money to the fund because of claims, denied by the U.N. agency, that it supported forced abortions and sterilizations in China.

Verveer, former chief of staff to Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was first lady, spoke at a luncheon honoring Dr. Nafis Sadik on her 80th birthday.

Verveer praised the Pakistani obstetrician-gynecologist for framing "the vision" of the Cairo plan that linked development, human rights, women's rights and reproductive health for the first time.

Sadik, a former head of the U.N. Population Fund, was secretary-general of the Cairo conference.

"I wanted to come here today to clearly reiterate the renewed and deep commitment of the United States government to the ... Program of Action, and the Obama administration's steadfast determination to continue to work with other governments and NGOs to meet the goals we have set," she said.

Clinton, now secretary of state, told a conference of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in Houston last month "that reproductive rights and the umbrella issue of women's rights and empowerment is going to be a key to the foreign policy of this administration." She stressed the link between women's rights and democracy.

"A society that denies and demeans women's rights and roles is a society that is more likely to engage in behavior that is negative, anti-democratic and leads to violence and extremism," she said after receiving the federation's Margaret Sanger Award named for its founder for her work on behalf of women's health and reproductive rights.

Tim Wirth, who led the U.S. delegation at the Cairo conference, called the Program of Action "a revolutionary document" because "it really is ultimately about the transfer of political power."

"That's why it's been so difficult," said Wirth, who is now president of the United Nations Foundation. "That's why it's been so controversial. There's a finite amount of political power in the world and what this document did in so many ways was to transfer a lot of political power from men to women."

Sadik, taking up the point, thanked Verveer "for capturing the spirit of the Cairo message" and expressed hope that she would convey to the Obama administration "how important it is to transfer power really to women equally no more, no less and to take away the power from men who have much more, and not what they actually deserve."

"So I hope that will be the message," she said. "Equality is the name of the game and our real message."

Sadik, who currently is a special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on HIV/AIDS and global health issues, said 15 years after Cairo the first thing that needs to be done is "shed the baggage" that the Bush administration "put on us ... so unnecessarily" and move forward.

"I hope that the U.S. diplomatic policy, defense policy and development policy are all going to focus on the rights of women and make that the underpinning for anything else that they may do in a developing country," she said.

"We need urgently to increase family planning and reduce maternal mortality," Sadik said. "It is, frankly, a crime against humanity that half a million women are allowed to die every year as a direct consequence of pregnancy."

She also decried "the distortions of religion" that deny women their human rights and "bigots" who fall back on cultural values to deny rights to girls and women especially on matters of reproductive and sexual health.

In Sadik's honor, the United Nations Foundation, which sponsored the lunch, announced that it was establishing a fund to help some of the more than 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world.