Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Influx of Illegal Minors From Central America Rekindles Immigration Debate

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Americans are growing impatient with President Obama for his handling of the recent surge of unaccompanied children from Central America entering the U.S. illegally.  While his overall approval ratings remain unchanged since January 2014 at 44 percent, only 28 percent approve of the way he has been handling this latest immigration issue.

The public (especially Republicans and Independents) now favors changing current immigration policy to speed up the process of returning the children to their home countries.  Democrats appear divided on the issue.

In addition, while "the public remains supportive of a broad revamp of the immigration system to allow people in the U.S. illegally to gain legal status if they meet certain requirements [...] overall support for a path to legal status has slipped to 68% from 73% in February."  This attitude change is most noticeable among Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party: whereas they favored a path to legal status 56-41 percent in February 2014, they now oppose it 56-41 percent.  By contrast, support for a path to legal status slipped only 4 percentage points among Democrats and Independents.

In-keeping with these findings, a growing share of Americans now views the passage of immigration legislation as an important priority. The increase can be seen among all surveyed, except Hispanics for whom there has been virtually no change in opinion over the last few months.

Read more: resources:
"Global Migration Patterns" Lesson Plan (
Spatial Variation in immigrant and minority incorporation: Are there advantages to being a racial or ethnic minority in a low or moderate immigration state? (
Immigration in the U.S. (
Migration Service Learning Plan (

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Disparate Impact of the Prison Boom

As reported in the Washington Post, a new working paper by University of Chicago economists Derek Neal and Armin Rick demonstrates that the impact of the prison boom has been felt most acutely by Black men (especially uneducated young Black men), for whom the progress that had been made in education, employment, and earnings between 1940 and 1980 was halted and perhaps even reversed.  Relative to White men, Neal and Rick argue, Black men are no better than they were after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965.

Using data from the National Corrections Reporting Program, the Uniform Crime Reports, and the U.S. Census Bureau, the authors look at employment patterns, institutionalization rates, educational achievement to answer two research questions: "(1) How important are changes in criminal justice policies as determinants of the dramatic rise in U.S. incarceration rates during the past three decades and have these changes had differential impacts on black men as opposed to white men? (2) How does properly accounting for growth in incarcerated populations affect our assessment of recent trends in economic inequality among men in the U.S., both overall and between blacks and whites?"

Neal and Rick found that:

  • Black-White differences in potential wages among most groups of men in 2010 were comparable to the corresponding differences observed in 1970 and greater, in absolute value, than those recorded in 1980.
  • The sentencing policy changes that have been implemented since 1980 have resulted in harsher punishments in each major crime category and have had a larger impact on Black communities than White communities.
  • Black-White inequality and overall earnings inequality have been further affected by the Great Recession: "Prison spells harm the future labor market prospects of arrested offenders, and black men likely now face worse labor market prospects relative to white men than they faced when policy shifts in the late 1970s and early 1980s ignited the prison boom."

Read more:

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Modern American Man, in 10 Charts

In a series of reports to be aired over the summer, National Public Radio's All Things Considered is looking at the lives of men, including what it means to be a man in America today.  Using data from a variety of sources (education statistics, Pew Research Center surveys, U.S. Census Bureau, and National Vital Statistics from the Center for Disease Control) the latest report ("The Modern American Man") gives us 10 charts to ponder some of the ways in which the lives of men have changed or remained the same.

 The charts show that male students don't perform as well as female students, and fewer bachelor's degrees are awarded to them.  They tend to live with their parents longer and marry later.  But they continue to earn more than women.  At home, although gender divides persist, the data suggest that they are getting more involved in housework and spend more time with their children than their fathers did.

Read more: resources:
Exploring the Second Shift: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Gender, Occupation, and Earnings (
Gender in STEM Education: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Without A High-School Education (

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Friends Are Like Family, Genetically-Speaking

Illustrating the complex relationship between nature and nurture, biology and society, a new study by Nicholas A. Christakis (Sociology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Medicine, Yale University) and James H. Fowler (Medical Genetics and Political Science, University of California, San Diego) suggests that friendship ties may be rooted in genetics.

Using data from a multi-decade medical research study of 1,932 people in Framingham, MA (a heart-disease research project that dates to 1948), Christakis and Fowler compared the genotypes of friends and strangers.  They calculated a "kindship coefficient"--the probability that two alleles sampled at random from two individuals are identical by state: "positive values indicate that genotypes are positively correlated, and negative values indicate that two individuals are not related and, in fact, tend to have opposite genotypes."

They found that friends' genotypes tend to be positively correlated, or homophilic: we tend to pick friends who are genetically similar to us (as genetically similar as fourth cousins) in ways that go beyond superficial features.  In other words, genetic-likes attract.  For example, "We tend to smell things the same way that our friends do," Fowler says.  This suggests that as humans evolved, the ability to tolerate and be drawn to certain smells may have influenced where people hung out.  "You may really love the smell of coffee. And you're drawn to a place where other people have been drawn to who also love the smell of coffee," Fowler says. "And so that might be the opportunity space for you to make friends. You're all there together because you love coffee and you make friends because you all love coffee."

Interestingly, Christakis and Fowler also found evidence of heterophily, in that friends and spouses tend to have very different genes for their immune systems.  "One of the reasons why we think this is true is because it gives us extra protection. If our spouses have an immune system that fights off a disease that we're susceptible to, they'll never get it, and then we'll never get it," Fowler says. "And so it gives us an extra layer of protection."

The authors conclude that
"the human evolutionary environment is not limited to the physical environment (sunshine, altitude) or biological environment (predators, pathogens) but also includes the social environment, which may itself be an evolutionary force.  Our finding that positively correlated genotypes are under positive selection suggests that the genes of other people might modify the fitness advantages of one’s own genes, thus affecting the speed and outcome of evolution. In particular, communication—whether involving scent, sight, or sound—may be the key to this synergy. The human capacity to collaborate not only with kin but also with unrelated members of our species may have dramatically increased the potential gains from synergy, and this shift not only would favor interactions with generally similar partners, but also would affect the overall desire to search out such partners. Therefore, it is possible that we evolved a predilection for homophily once we started to frequently interact socially with unrelated individuals. Such an effect would especially speed up the evolution of phenotypes that are intrinsically synergistic, and this observation may help shed light on the finding that evolution in humans is accelerating."
Read more: resources:
Is Love Really Blind?: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Intergroup Relationships - Attitudes and Behaviors: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Where Do College Graduates Work?

A new interactive by the U.S. Census Bureau lets users explore the relationship between college majors and occupations.  The data are from the 2012 American Community Survey.

Note: to access the interactive version, go to:
As described by the Census Bureau: "The length of each circle segment shows the proportion of people graduating in each college major and employed in each occupation group. The thickness of the lines between majors and occupations indicates the share of people in that major-occupation combination. Lines highlighted in color show the proportion of college graduates who work in STEM.

By hovering over a college major on the STEM Majors or Non-STEM Majors tab, you can see which occupations these graduates work in. You can also hover over an occupation to see which majors they hire from. These graphics show that only a minority of STEM majors are employed in STEM.

This visualization also lets you look at college major and employment patterns by sex, race, and Hispanic origin. It allows you to compare the relative size of each college major and occupation, as well as the proportion who are employed in STEM by these demographic characteristics. Comparing the graphics for men and women who are STEM majors, for example, we see that men are more likely to major in engineering and are more likely to be employed in STEM occupations."

By gender (males, left; females, right)

By race (clockwise from top left: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian)

Read more: resources:
Gender in STEM Education: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (

Monday, July 14, 2014

Incidents Versus Rates: Who's the "Murder Capital" of the U.S.?

According to FBI statistics, Chicago has been among the top three cities with the most murders since 1985.  500 homicides were committed there in 2012, a 20 percent increase compared to 2011.  In 2013, the city witnessed 440 murders, and 201 have already been committed in the first seven months of 2014.  The recent spate of shootings that took place there (no fewer than 82 over the 4th of July holiday weekend) have drawn national attention.  The numbers look bleak.

But Harold Pollack, of the University of Chicago's Crime Lab, says that "the idea that Chicago faces a unique or unprecedented rise in homicides is incorrect," and that it's important to put the very recent increase in gun violence in perspective: despite the recent uptick in homicides, Pollack shows, murders are actually down from their peak in the early 1990s, and "far below Chicago’s rate in any year between 1985 and 2002."

Source: Harold Pollack,

In addition, Chicago is a city of 2.7 million, "more than any other city except New York and Los Angeles, and you'd expect it to have more murders (and other crimes) than most other cities for that reason alone," says Drew Silver of the Pew Research Center. "Adjust the raw numbers for population size to get a murder rate, and a very different picture emerges."  In this picture, Chicago's murder rate of 18.5 per 100,000 residents, while higher than the national murder rate (4.7 per 100,000), is far below that of other cities like Detroit (54.6), New Orleans (53.2), or Jackson, Mississippi (35.8).  And the title of "2012 murder capital" of the U.S. actually goes to Flint, Michigan, with 62 murders per 100,000 residents.

Nevertheless Pollack says, "Chicago does have markedly higher homicide rates than Los Angeles or New York.  We have more homicides than New York, although New York is more than twice the size" and that is worrisome.  Pollack and others point to three factors that explain why this might be:

  • Socio-economic issues (segregation along poverty lines; businesses closing; decreasing tax revenues as 200,000 people have left the city, especially in the middle-class; crumbling infrastructure; police shortage and lack of funding for law enforcement);
  • Escalating gang violence;
  • Streets flooded with guns (Chicago, despite very restrictive gun laws, has six times as many guns as New York City per capita.  In 2012, 87 percent of Chicago's homicides were gun-related).

Read more: resources:
Pew Interactive Tools: Gun Rights versus Gun Control (
Gun Violence in America (
Generational Trends in Attitudes about Gun Ownership: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Crime Victimization in the US: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Regional Crime Analysis Geographic Information System (RCAGIS) (
Crime and Victims Statistics (
Social Structure, Race/Ethnicity, and Homicide (

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fewer Americans Consider the U.S. the Greatest Country

The most recent Pew Research Center political typology survey released last month suggests that in the last three years there has been a decline in the view that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world.  "A clear majority considers the U.S. to be one of the greatest countries in the world. But the view that the U.S. is exceptional – standing above all other countries in the world – has declined 10 points," from 38 percent in 2011.

This decline can be seen among all age groups and across the political spectrum, and is most evident among Republicans (the share of Republicans saying "We're Number 1" dropped 15 percentage points, from 52 to 37 percent) and people 49 and under.

Previous Pew Research Center political typology surveys were conducted in 1987, 1994, 1999, 2005 and 2011, in an effort to "describe the political landscape in some detail, going beyond self-identified partisanship or ideology. This year’s typology segments people based on their combination of 23 political values and beliefs."  Rather than treating political ideology as a single left-right scale, the political typology survey takes into account a wide range of values, and looks for unique combinations of values.  This year's survey shows that the political "center," which is remarkably fragmented and diverse, defies easy categorization.  For more information on how the political typology was created and a discussion of the survey's findings, please go to:

Read more: resources:
American Identity and Immigrant Resentment: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
The American Dream at the Turn of the 21st Century: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Voting Behavior: The 2012 Election (
Theories of American Politics (
Social Class and Attitudes about Inequality: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (