U.S. Population Growth Has Nearly Flatlined. Is That So Bad?

Well worth reading, a useful and needed counterpoint to all the fretting about demographic decline and an aging population. Canadian policy makers and others need to think more about how to manage an aging population that mainly advocating for increased immigration to slow the trend:

A Demographic Crisis.” “A Blinking Light Ahead.” “The Death of Hope.” Those are some of the dire headlines that have been written in recent years about the sluggish pace of U.S. population growth, which in 2021 fell to its lowest rate ever — just 0.1 percent.

While the pandemic played a major role in driving last year’s decline, the country’s population growth has been slowing for much of the last decade, depressed by declining fertility rates, a surge in “deaths of despair” and lower levels of legal immigration.

But is a population slowdown as much of a crisis as some have made it out to be, or could it actually bring welcome changes? Here’s a look at a longstanding demographic debate.

For a population to replenish itself in the absence of immigration, demographers estimate that there must be, on average, about 2.1 births per woman. In the United States, the fertility rate has been consistently below that level since 2007. And it’s not alone: While some countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, are still growing rapidly, the global average fertility rate has been falling for decades, and even China’s population, the world’s largest, may very soon reach its peak.

As a result, the United Nations now predicts that the human population will start declining by the end of the century. (Other demographers have projected an even earlier peak.) Some countries — notably Japan and South Korea, whose fertility rates are among the lowest in the world — are already shrinking.

Why are fertility rates falling? The trend is typically attributed to a combination of economic prosperity, which leads to lower infant mortality, and greater gender equality. “As women have gained more access to education and contraception, and as the anxieties associated with having children continue to intensify, more parents are delaying pregnancy and fewer babies are being born,” Damien Cave, Emma Bubola and Choe Sang-Hun reported for The Times last year. Because many of those babies then go on to have smaller families than their parents did, they added, “the drop starts to look like a rock thrown off a cliff.”

It’s a stark reversal of the demographic trends of the 1900s, during which the coincidence of high fertility rates and lengthening life spans caused the global population to nearly quadruple in size, from 1.6 billion to six billion. And for much of the 20th century, it was the specter of overpopulation, not stagnation or decline, that animated dystopian visions of the future.

Which raises a question: How much stock should we really be placing in population forecasts? As David Adam explained in Nature last year, medium-term projections are usually quite accurate, as most people who will be alive in 20 to 30 years have already been born.

But over the longer term, projections diverge and become less reliable, in part because technological and environmental shocks that could cause demographic swings are impossible to predict, as Vox’s Kelsey Piper has written: “If, for example, climate change drives currently developed countries back into poverty and drives their birthrates back up, the estimates are poorly equipped to account for that. On the other hand, if more reliable contraceptives are developed and virtually end unintended pregnancies the world over, birthrates could fall much faster than predicted.”

For many futurists, the primary challenge posed by declining population growth is economic: When people live longer and have fewer babies, the population ages, leaving fewer working-age adults to support a country’s swelling number of retirees.

“Older people are more prone to illness, and many rely on publicly funded pensions and eventually require caregiving,” Stephanie H. Murray wrote in The Atlantic in February. “Many countries, including the U.S., are already struggling to meet the needs of the rapidly growing elderly population.”

This can create a kind of national languishing, as the Times columnist Ross Douthat argued last year: “If you assume that dynamism and growth are desirable things (not everyone does, but that’s a separate debate), then for the developed world to be something more than just a rich museum, at some point it needs to stop growing ever-older, with a dwindling younger generation struggling in the shadow of societal old age.”

Aging may take a particularly heavy toll on middle-income countries. Historically, as industrialized countries have become richer, their labor force grew more rapidly than their nonworking population, providing a “demographic dividend.” But in some developing countries, including Brazil and China, fertility rates have fallen to around or below replacement level much more quickly than they did for their higher-income counterparts, and their populations now face the risk of getting old before getting rich.

A population slowdown can be a symptom of other national problems. For example, as Derek Thompson has noted in The Atlantic, while declining fertility is often a sign of female empowerment, it can also be a sign of its opposite, as suggested by the growing gap between how many children Americans say they want and how many they have. “There are many potential explanations for this gap,” Thompson wrote, “but one is that the U.S. has made caring for multiple children too expensive and cumbersome for even wealthy parents, due to a shortage of housing, the rising cost of child care, and the paucity of long-term federal support for children.”

To see how population stagnation or even decline need not spell disaster, you can look at countries where it’s already occurring, as Daniel Moss, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Asian economies, did last year. Take Japan: “Despite the caricature of the country as an economic failure in the grip of terminal decline, life goes on,” he wrote. “True, growth in overall G.D.P. has been fairly anemic in past few decades, but G.D.P. per capita has held up well.” What’s more, he added, Japan’s unemployment rate is very low and has remained so throughout the pandemic (it was 2.6 percent in July).

Japan’s example lends some credence to the view of Kim Stanley Robinson, a widely acclaimed science-fiction writer, who believes that an aging population with a smaller work force could actually lead to economic prosperity. “It sounds like full employment to me,” he argued in The Washington Post last year. “The precarity and immiseration of the unemployed would disappear as everyone had access to work that gave them an income and dignity and meaning.”

The challenges of an aging population could push countries to pursue policies that improve quality of life:

  • One 2019 analysis estimated that if the European Union eliminated inequities in educational attainment and in women’s and immigrants’ labor force participation, it could cancel out more than half of the labor force decline it might otherwise experience by 2060.
  • Another way governments have responded to labor shortages caused by population aging is by investing more in the automation of work, an M.I.T. study found last year. As The Times’s John Yoon reported last month, “The prospect of a shrinking work force has put South Korea at the forefront of developing robots and artificial intelligence for the workplace.”
  • In the view of the Times columnist Paul Krugman, the biggest economic problem of an aging population isn’t increased strain on the social safety net, but rather weak investment from businesses anticipating reduced consumer demand. If that scenario comes to pass, though, “why not put the money to work for the public good?” he wrote last year. “Why not borrow cheaply and use the funds to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, invest in the health and education of our children, and more? This would be good for our society, good for the future, and would also provide a cushion against future recessions.”

Fertility rate declines may also be making climate change easier to combat, albeit not in the way many think: As Sarah Kaplan of The Washington Post has explained, fossil fuel consumption is driven primarily by increases in affluence, not the number of people on the planet per se. So while population growth in poor countries hasn’t led to large increases in planet-warming emissions, a sudden baby boom in high-income countries like the United States almost certainly would.

For some demographers, the prospect of population stagnation or decline isn’t any more a cause for alarm than population growth was; it’s simply a change that governments will need to manage. “Rather than panicking or trying to forestall this for ourselves,” Leslie Root, a demographer and a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Colorado, Boulder, wrote in The Washington Post last year, “we should be thinking about what that transition will mean globally — both for rich countries and for poor ones that will be far more burdened by aging populations than we will.”

Source: U.S. Population Growth Has Nearly Flatlined. Is That So Bad?

Sullivan: The Cascading Complexity Of Diversity And why the New York Times still doesn’t get it.

Sullivan has a point. While measuring and tracking representation is essential, there is also a need to recognize the complexities involved, not least of which are the intersectionalities among race, gender, LGTBQ, education, place of birth etc.

So while in a broad sense organizations and institutions should broadly reflect the diversity of society and diversity, an exact match is virtually impossible and tracking over time can assess progress.

Representation gaps are useful indicators of systemic barriers and racism. But like many indicators, they should be used to further understanding of the nature and time period that influence those indicators. For example, underrepresentation of Blacks in government policy positions may reflect a lower percentage of Black university graduates which in turn reflect systemic racism in streaming Black kids away from academic programs:

In a fascinating series of tweets, and a memo, the News Guild of New York — the union that represents 1200 New York Times employees — recently set out its goals for the newspaper, especially with respect to its employees of color. Money quote: “Our workforce should reflect our home. The Times should set a goal to have its workforce demographics reflect the make-up of the city — 24 percent Black, and over 50 percent people of color — by 2025.” It also recommends “sensitivity reads” at the beginning of any story process, and wants a pipeline for jobs with a minimum of 50 percent people of color at every stage of recruitment.

It’s a very thorough attempt to ensure that antiracism, as it is currently understood, is embedded into every individual’s job, every story, every department, every decision in the paper of record. But what I want to focus on is the core test the Guild uses to judge whether the Times is itself a racist institution. This is what I’ll call the Kendi test: does the staff reflect the demographics of New York City as a whole?

I’m naming this after Ibram X. Kendi because his core contribution to the current debate on race is the notion that “any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups” is racist. Intent is irrelevant. I don’t think many sane people believe A.G. Sulzberger or Dean Baquet are closet bigots. But systemic racism, according to Kendi, exists in any institution if there is simply any outcome that isn’t directly reflective of the relevant racial demographics of the surrounding area.

The appeal of this argument is its simplicity. You can tell if a place is enabling systemic racism merely by counting the people of color in it; and you can tell if a place isn’t by the same rubric. The drawback, of course, is that the world isn’t nearly as simple. Take the actual demographics of New York City. On some measures, the NYT is already a mirror of NYC. Its staff is basically 50 – 50 on sex (with women a slight majority of all staff on the business side, and slight minority in editorial). And it’s 15 percent Asian on the business side, 10 percent in editorial, compared with 13.9 percent of NYC’s population.

But its black percentage of staff — 10 percent in business, 9 percent in editorial — needs more than doubling to reflect demographics. Its Hispanic/Latino staff amount to only 8 percent in business and 5 percent in editorial, compared with 29 percent of New York City’s demographics, the worst discrepancy for any group. NYT’s Newsroom Fellowship, bringing in the very next generation, is 80 percent female, 60 percent people of color (including Asians), and, so far as I can tell, one lone white man. And it’s why NYT’s new hires are 43 percent people of color, a definition that includes Asian-Americans.

But notice how this new goal obviously doesn’t reflect New York City’s demographics in many other ways. It draws overwhelmingly from the college educated, who account for only 37 percent of New Yorkers, leaving more than 60 percent of the city completed unreflected in the staffing. It cannot include the nearly 19 percent of New Yorkers in poverty, because a NYT salary would end that. It would also have to restrict itself to the literate, and, according to Literacy New York, 25 percent of people in Manhattan “lack basic prose literary skills” along with 37 percent in Brooklyn and 41 percent in the Bronx. And obviously, it cannot reflect the 14 percent of New Yorkers who are of retirement age, or the 21 percent who have yet to reach 18. For that matter, I have no idea what the median age of a NYT employee is — but I bet it isn’t the same as all of New York City.

Around 10 percent of staffers would have to be Republicans (and if the paper of record nationally were to reflect the country as a whole, and not just NYC, around 40 percent would have to be). Some 6 percent of the newsroom would also have to be Haredi or Orthodox Jews — a community you rarely hear about in diversity debates, but one horribly hit by a hate crime surge. 48 percent of NYT employees would have to agree that religion is “very important” in their lives; and 33 percent would be Catholic. And the logic of these demographic quotas is that if a group begins to exceed its quota — say Jews, 13 percent — a Jewish journalist would have to retire for any new one to be hired. Taking this proposal seriously, then, really does require explicit use of race in hiring, which is illegal, which is why the News Guild tweet and memo might end up causing some trouble if the policy is enforced.

And all this leaves the category of “white” completely without nuance. We have no idea whether “white” people are Irish or Italian or Russian or Polish or Canadians in origin. Similarly, we do not know if “black” means African immigrants, or native black New Yorkers, or people from the Caribbean. 37 percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born. How does the Guild propose to mirror that? Ditto where staffers live in NYC. How many are from Staten Island, for example, or the Bronx, two places of extremely different ethnic populations? These categories, in other words, are incredibly crude if the goal really is to reflect the actual demographics of New York City. But it isn’t, of course.

My point is that any attempt to make a specific institution entirely representative of the demographics of its location will founder on the sheer complexity of America’s demographic story and the nature of the institution itself. Journalism, for example, is not a profession sought by most people; it’s self-selecting for curious, trouble-making, querulous assholes who enjoy engaging with others and tracking down the truth (at least it used to be). There’s no reason this skillset or attitude will be spread evenly across populations. It seems, for example, that disproportionate numbers of Jews are drawn to it, from a culture of high literacy, intellectualism, and social activism. So why on earth shouldn’t they be over-represented?

And that’s true of other institutions too: are we to police Broadway to make sure that gays constitute only 4 percent of the employees? Or, say, nursing, to ensure that the sex balance is 50-50? Or a construction company for gender parity? Or a bike messenger company’s staff to be reflective of the age demographics of the city? Just take publishing — an industry not far off what the New York Times does. 74 percent of its employees are women. Should there be a hiring freeze until the men catch up?

The more you think about it, the more absurdly utopian the Kendi project turns out to be. That’s because its core assumption is that any demographic discrepancies between a profession or institution and its locale are entirely a function of oppression. That’s how Kendi explains racial inequality in America, and specifically denies any alternative explanation. So how is it that a white supremacist country has whites earning considerably less on average than Asian-Americans? How does Kendi explain the fact that the most successful minority group in America are Indian-Americans — with a median income nearly twice that of the national median? Here’s a partial list of the national origins of US citizens whose median earnings are higher than that of white people in America: Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Pakistani, Iranian, Lebanese, Sri Lankan, Armenian, Hmong, Vietnamese. One group earning less: British-American.

You can argue that these groups are immigrants and self-selecting for those with higher IQs, education, motivation, and drive. It’s true. But notice that this argument cannot be deployed under the Kendi test: any inequality is a result of racism, remember? Cultural differences between groups, class, education, IQ, family structure: all these are irrelevant. So how is it that immigrant Nigerian-Americans have a slightly higher median household income than British-Americans in the US? The crudeness of the model proposed for hiring and firing at the New York Times can make no sense of this at all.

It’s true, of course, that historical injustices have deeply hurt African-Americans in particular in hobbling opportunity, which is why African-Americans who are descendants of slaves should be treated as an entirely separate case from all other racial categories. No other group has experienced anything like the toll of slavery, segregation and brutality that African-Americans have. This discrimination was enforced by the state and so the state has an obligation to make things right.

But it is absurd to argue that racism is the sole reason for every racial difference in outcome in the extraordinarily diverse and constantly shifting racial demographics of New York City or the US. And it’s ludicrously reductionist to argue that oppression is the exclusive cause of differing outcomes for various groups, including women. America is too complex to be fit into these tidy, unifactorial boxes. It has far too many unpredictable individuals, defying odds, redefining identity, combining races and cultures, exercising agency, and complicating every simple narrative you want to impose on it. In fact, to reduce all this complexity to a quick, crude check of race and sex to identify your fellow American is a kind of new racism itself. It has taken off because we find it so easy to slip back into crude generalizations.

America is also a much more hopeful place than the woke left would have you believe — a country with a nearly unique mix of races, religions, and identities, in which whites are just one part of a kaleidoscopic whole, and not the most successful. And for all those reasons, attempting to categorize people in the crudest racial terms, and social engineering them into a just society where every institution looks like every other one, is such a nightmare waiting to happen. It’s a brutal, toxic, racist template being imposed on a dazzling varied and constantly shifting country.

But of course, this explicit reintroduction of crude racism under the guise of antiracism is already happening. How many institutions will it tear apart, and how much racial resentment will it foment, before it’s done?

Source: https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/p/the-cascading-complexity-of-diversity?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjoxMDcxOTUwNywicG9zdF9pZCI6ODA0NTU3LCJfIjoid0lWOUgiLCJpYXQiOjE1OTY5NzY1NjMsImV4cCI6MTU5Njk4MDE2MywiaXNzIjoicHViLTYxMzcxIiwic3ViIjoicG9zdC1yZWFjdGlvbiJ9.R0S5B8Yo3I3cBh8mi46svTpPqnIf3PxeWEntMqATRiA

Preaching the Gospel of Diversity, but Not Following It – The New York Times

Some good critical self-examination but need to check in 5 years to assess degree of change:

Many journalists hoped a new era was beginning two and a half years ago, when Baquet became the first African-American to oversee the newsroom. But whatever progress has been made is only beginning to show up on a scorecard. Overall, newsroom diversity is at 22 percent, up slightly but below newsrooms in most big metropolitan areas. And of those who head departments here, only three are people of color.

I asked Baquet what he believes minorities in the newsroom would say about his senior team’s dedication to diversity.

“I think they’d say we have a problem,” he said. “We’re not diverse enough. But I think they’d say I have a commitment to it and that it’s gotten better in the past year.” He added, “My effort to diversify has been intense and persistent.”

By that, Baquet particularly means the handful of prominent black journalists he’s helped attract or promote, stars like Nikole Hannah-Jones, Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham, all coveted by The Times’s competitors.

Their writing styles offer a refreshing break from The Times’s rather institutional voice, which — as one black editor put it to me — is older, white, male, Ivy League and authoritative. “That’s who The Times is at a dinner party,” she said.

Many of those I spoke with, including Latinos and Asians, said the arrival of a few stars can take the focus away from the real issue of bringing in and retaining diversity across the room. In other words, while big names are rightfully celebrated, they can give the appearance of more diversity than there really is.

What’s more, just because an African-American is at the helm, it doesn’t mean all is well in the newsroom he runs. “We can’t look to Dean as proof that everything is O.K., and we also can’t look solely to him for solutions,” said Nikita Stewart, a Metro staff reporter.

When you ask managers about the issue individually, everyone genuinely seems to care. Collectively, however, not much changes.

They begin by saying this is an industrywide problem, not just a New York Times problem. That is true, unquestionably. On the other hand, it’s also true that data from the American Society of News Editors shows that The Times is less diverse than large papers like The Washington Post (31 percent), The Los Angeles Times (34 percent) and The Miami Herald (41 percent). The Times is more diverse than The Boston Globe (17 percent) and The Philadelphia Inquirer (14 percent).

Given The Times’s ambitions across global cultures and languages, it would seem that instead of being a lagger, it would insist on being a leader — and make that an explicit goal. I see no sign that this is happening. Nor do I get the impression from many journalists of color I spoke with that they believe progress is on the horizon.

“There’s always a reason for such little diversity in newsrooms. Over the course of time, the reasons always change, but the underrepresentation never does,” said Hannah-Jones, who writes for the Times Magazine, one of the few notably diverse staffs in the building.

Ernesto Londoño, who sits on The Times’s editorial board — and on an Opinion staff lacking both gender and racial diversity — believes the problem lies in a failure of editors to step outside their white-knows-white circles. “It takes a concerted effort to break out of that habit and tap talent pools that are more diverse,” Londoño said.

Which means that unless the pattern breaks, the whiter the newsroom is, the whiter it will stay.

Mark Thompson, The Times chief executive officer, told a group of top leaders across the corporate and news sides last spring that managers could face dismissal if they failed to diversify their staffs. Baquet, who was at the meeting, didn’t sound that militant in our conversation, saying that his editors feel the most pressure through a stringent expectation to bring forth a diverse applicant pool for every job opening. No one has been punished, he says.

I can tell diversity isn’t a priority here by looking at what is. Think digital transition or global expansion or subscriber growth or visual innovation. Those are mandates that really power up the engines. Diversity is not at that level, at least yet.

This issue has challenged most every newsroom manager, myself included. The newsroom I came from, The Washington Post, is quite diverse, but its leadership is heavily white and male. At The Times, on the other hand, people of color seem shut out of all sorts of coveted jobs: the top digital strategists, the top managers, the precious ranks of cultural critics, the White House press corps, the opinion columnists, the national politics jobs — all are overwhelmingly white.

It is possible to change this. But The Times will need more humility, introspection and openness than has been its habit in the past.