Geranium Farm Home     Who's Who on the Farm     The Almost Daily eMo     Subscriptions     Coming Events     Links
Hodgepodge     More or Less Church     Ways of the World     Father Matthew     A Few Good Writers     Bookstore
Light a Prayer Candle     Message Board     Donations     Gifts For Life     Pennies From Heaven     Live Chat

Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Gulf Oil Spill: A Red Flag for Energy Conservation

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a major disaster. It evokes numerous topics for discussion and elaboration. In response to our query, "what about this would you like us to explore?" friends have asked about the ecology and economy of the Gulf region – which has output valued at $234 billion annually according to a 2009 study by the Harte Research Institute of Texas A&M University[1]. Other friends want to know about clean-up methods – the standard ones include everything you've been hearing about: chemical dispersants, sand berms, relief wells and others, according to an aptly named article "How Do You Clean Up an Oil Spill?" on [2]. In addition, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, in a recent Sunday bulletin insert essay, calls our attention to oil usage and our dependence on oil companies.[3] It is this aspect we will focus on here.

We are in fact making progress reducing our consumption of oil. In 2005, the United States went through an average of 20.8 million barrels of oil every day. In 2009, this had dropped to 18.7 million barrels per day (b/d). Some of this 10% reduction is due to the recession and is being partially reversed now as the economy works toward recovery. Even so, projections made in early June by the U.S. Department of Energy point toward oil use in 2011 of 19.1 million b/d, which would still be lower than any other year since 1998.[4]

We're anxious to have you know this, since it seems to be in contradiction with a statement by the Presiding Bishop that "…we continue to extract and use [oil] at increasing rates and with apparently decreasing care." Surely she is right – as she goes on in her discussion emphasizing the interconnectedness of people, plants and animals with each other and the oil – to bemoan the fact that the spilling oil is creating a huge mess and harming innumerable innocent victims. But we would assert that there is much more to this situation that's constructive, which we and church leaders might consider and lift up in response.

First, let's take some credit for our reduced use of oil. This is no small accomplishment. And it's even more impressive when measured against the size of the economy. Converted to the heat-equivalent BTUs [you know that BTU measure from your air-conditioner], oil and natural gas consumed per dollar of GDP has gone from 11.66 in 1973 to 4.51 in 2009. This measure has decreased consistently throughout these years; it went up only in 1987 and 1988, and then by very marginal amounts.[5]

Several actions contribute to this result. Our personal vehicles are increasingly more economical. In 2008, cars averaged 22.6 miles per gallon, up from 20.2 in 1990. Vans, pickups and SUVs achieved 18.1 mpg in 2008, up from 16.1 in 1990. We're also averaging fewer miles of driving for both types of vehicles. Also, despite the growth in population and the number of homes, the so-called primary use of energy in residences has held to a flat trend over the past 20 years. The use of electricity in households has expanded somewhat, but the use of natural gas and petroleum has not. Similar patterns prevail for businesses, offices and industry.[6]

Second, continuing progress along these lines can feel "good". With enhanced knowledge and technology, we don't have to feel deprived as we continue to restrain energy consumption. Do you know anyone who feels deprived driving a Toyota Prius? Or a hybrid Ford Escape? They'll usually tell you they enjoy driving by gas stations instead of stopping at them. And the Prius is a very good-looking car with a nice ride.

In another vein, a year ago on Earth Day, we discussed the Empire State Building's "green" renovation. That work is still going on, but the building is already showing progress. It received an Energy Star rating of 90 from the EPA in late May, putting it above 90% of buildings nationally, regardless of age. A press release from the building tells that some full-floor tenants are managing on 2.5 watts of energy per square foot, including air-conditioning, compared with an industry standard of more than 6 watts per square foot.[7] It was formerly thought that the best way to retrofit a building for energy efficiency was to tear it down and start completely over. The Empire State Building shows that substantial reforms are plausible and profitable in an existing structure, even if it is 79 years old.

Even apparent "failures" can have their own contributions to make. We were surprised to read good things about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner plane, despite the repeated disappointments over malfunctions during the testing of its operating systems. But Amory Lovins, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, informs that the plane's body is constructed of a 50-percent carbon-composite material which saves substantial weight, and the innovations in its engines, aerodynamics and other parts will save one-fifth of its fuel at no extra cost. Boeing is using some of the components on all the rest of the planes it makes. Lovins also reports that Wal-Mart, everyone's favorite firm to beat up on, is innovating in its freight-delivery system, and has cut its truck fleet's diesel use per ton mile by 38% between 2004 and 2008. If every trucker made the same changes that one factor by itself would cut U.S. oil use by 6%.[8]

So indeed we agree with the Presiding Bishop that the Gulf oil spill throws up a huge red flag about our oil consumption and the absolute necessity for curtailing it. Her presentation stops short, though, in simply reciting a litany of the near-term damage the spill is likely to cause. The ugly conditions she describes are indisputable, but they are hardly the end of this story. They're in fact barely the beginning of how we can handle the future of oil use. Many of the remedies are already in place if we just look for them and expand their application. It's probably one of the more worthy and rewarding challenges of our day.

1. David W. Yoskowitz. "The Productive Value of the Gulf of Mexico", Chapter 2 of James C. Cato, Editor, Gulf of Mexico Origins, Waters, and Biota, Volume 2, Ocean and Coastal Economy. College Station, TX: Texas A& M University Press. 2009. Page 25.

2. Josh Clark. "How do you clean up an oil spill?" September 2008 (approx.). Accessed June 15, 2010.

3. The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, "A Lesson from the Gulf Oil Spill: We Are All Connected", Episcopal Life weekly bulletin insert, June 20, 2010, Accessed June 28, 2010.

4. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Short-Term Energy Outlook, "Table 3d. World Liquid Fuels Consumption". June 8, 2010. . Accessed June 20, 2010.

5. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Monthly Energy Review, Table 1.7 "Primary Energy Consumption per Real Dollar of Gross Domestic Product. May 2010. Page 16. Accessed June 20, 2010. An update is due June 30.

6. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Op.cit. Table 1.8 "Motor Vehicle Mileage, Fuel Consumption and Fuel Rates", Page 17, and Table 2.1 "Energy Consumption by Sector", Pages 23ff.

7. Empire State Building Company L.L.C., "Empire State Building Receives Energy Star Rating of 90 from EPA". May 27, 2010. Accessed June 28, 2010.

8. Amory Lovins. "Freeing America From Its Addiction to Oil", Snowmass, CO: Rocky Mountain Institute. Accessed June 19, 2010.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Immigration FAQs

1. How many "immigrants" are there?
The foreign-born population of the U.S. was 37.3 million in March 2008, according to Census Bureau data, 12-1/2% of the total at that time of 299.1 million Americans. Just over 40% of those, 15 million, have become U.S. citizens. The other 22.2 million are in the U.S. under a variety of terms: work visas, student visas, tourist visas, green cards and, oh yes, no legal status at all.

2. Do we know how many of those are "illegals"?
We have some good ideas about that. Two organizations, one in government and one private, have made separate estimates and they're pretty close together: about 11.8-11.9 million in 2008. These are from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics, and the Pew Hispanic Center, a prominent research center on Hispanic issues in particular and immigration in general.

3. If the Unauthorized Immigrants are trying to hide out in this country, how can we know about such numbers?
The Census Bureau takes a couple of different major surveys of demographic data, the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is monthly and generates the familiar unemployment rate, and the American Communities Survey (ACS), which is annual and used to be the "long form" on the big Census. The CPS polls about 65,000 people every month; once a year in March it is expanded to 100,000 and asks extra questions about income, where people were born and other facts. The ACS covers about 3,000,000 people with numerous detailed questions. Importantly, these surveys are only meant to count, not to screen. So they do not ask people about their legal status as U.S. residents. Apparently, a considerable number of undocumented immigrants reply, because in each case, the totals of foreign-born population can be combined with data from other government agencies on the legal status of immigrants to arrive at a number of un-legal immigrants. The DHS bases its estimates on the American Communities Survey, while the Pew researchers use the Current Population Survey. The fact that the two calculations each come from a different tally gives the numbers added credibility.[1]

4. Where are they all from?
In a word, Mexico. That oversimplifies, but of more than 200 countries in the world, the concentration of just the one is startling. Of the total foreign-born in 2008, nearly one-third, 31.2%, are from Mexico alone. Another 23% come from the rest of Latin America. Asians are 27% and Europeans, about 12.5%.[2]

5. And the undocumented?
Homeland Security estimates that 7 million are from Mexico, 61% of all unauthorized immigrants. El Salvador is next, followed by Guatemala, but these are much smaller, at about 500,000 each. Other countries with at least 200,000 undocumented residents in the U.S. include the Philippines, India, Korea and China, as well as a few other Latin countries.

6. How many of the undocumented residents work?
In fact, a noticeably larger proportion of immigrants participate in the labor force than do U.S. citizens. Among U.S. citizens of working age (over 16), just over 65% are employed or looking for work. For all immigrants who are not citizens, 69.5% are in the labor force. And the Pew analysts estimate that 72.5% of unauthorized immigrants work, or seek work. That indeed is generally why they come here in the first place.[3]

7. What do these people do for a living?
Do they all pick lettuce or wash dishes in restaurants? Well, not exactly all, but there are industries where there is a disproportionate share. Employees who are immigrants but not citizens are 17% of agriculture industry employees, 19% of construction industry employees and 14% of "leisure and hospitality" workers. In total, these immigrants are 9% of all employees.

8. Are they all poor?
This answer depends on your perspective. By U.S. standards, yes. The average native U.S. worker makes $35,300 a year, but the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that unauthorized immigrants pull down just $22,500. Total household income for native households is $50,000, while for unauthorized immigrants it is just $36,000. In 2008, 10% of U.S. citizens were "in poverty", according to Census Bureau criteria, but the poverty rate for unauthorized immigrants was 21%.

But the income numbers are rich compared, in particular, with Mexico. Average household income there in 2007 was just over $13,000.[4]

Journalist Gabriel Thompson reports in his experience as a lettuce picker in Arizona in 2008 that the workers there made $8.37 an hour. That amount in Mexico, he says, would have covered almost an entire day for similar work.[5]

9. Is that wage differential why they come?
Well, yes, but there are much broader issues in why they come. Both Pew Research Center and Gallup, Inc., polls taken on a global basis show significant restlessness among populations.[6] Gallup's surveys cover about 260,000 adults in 135 countries. Their results show about one-sixth of those people would like to move permanently to some other country. Not surprisingly people in developing countries overwhelmingly wish they could move to a developed country. The U.S. is the top destination country, while in relation to size, Singapore has the highest value of Gallup's so-call Potential Net Migration Index. The three countries with the most negative net migration ratios, that is, where the largest percentage of the population wants to move away, are Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.

Gallup reports that their survey, taken during 2007-2009, yield numbers for Mexico of 14 million adults wanting to move and 6.2 million of those to the U.S. in particular. The total population of Mexico is about 110 million.

Pew's survey work is a round of its Global Attitudes Project, which took place in the spring of 2009; it covered 26,000 people in 24 countries and the Palestinian Territories. This is a separate initiative at Pew from the Pew Hispanic Center. However, a recent report from the Global Attitudes Project highlights responses from Mexico specifically.

The September 2009 report describes a collection of problems rated "very big" by respondents, including crime, the drug wars, the economy and political corruption. Respondents told the Pew surveyors that people they know who've moved to the U.S. have better lives and that a large majority of those who moved have achieved their goals.

This survey saw 33% of participants reply that they would like to go live in the U.S. Of those, remarkably, 55% said they would do so even if they had no legal authorization.

10. Are these immigrants burdens on U.S. society? Do they take jobs from American workers?
This is complicated. Here are two aspects of their situation. Non-citizen immigrants obviously cannot vote and they are ineligible for benefits from a number of welfare-type programs. But their children are entitled to public education and none of them can be denied emergency medical care. This means that regions where there are concentrations of unauthorized immigrants may experience drains on some public systems. California is a prime example.

However – and this is a big however – these people do pay taxes. It was a surprise to us to realize this, but it is so. They pay tax on roughly the same basis as anyone who rents the home they live in. Gabriel Thompson explains it this way [7]
"Undocumented immigrants pay sales tax and, as renters, effectively pay property tax. Immigrants working with Individual Tax ID Numbers (ITINs) pay income taxes, while those using fake Social Security numbers pay between $6 and $7 billion into the retirement system; as this is money they will never be able to [access], it serves as a subsidy to cover retirement paychecks for American workers."
Further, as we have seen, immigrants work for cheap in many situations. As we've noted, the wage that seem low to us may look very attractive to residents of many other countries. Do profit-seeking U.S. employers under-pay because they can find workers who will accept those wage rates? Or would American workers refuse these jobs even if they paid better?

In at least one case we can describe, Americans have backed away from the job market, leaving opportunities for other willing workers. About 15 years ago, the share of teen and 20s kids enrolled in school who were available to work was right at 50%. That proportion has dropped steadily, and in 2009, it fell to below 40%. This one segment of the population, people aged 16 to 24 and in school, would add some 3 million workers to the labor force, if they participated at the same rate as their age-group did in the mid-1990s. The current recession may account for discouraging some of these people from job-hunting, but clearly something else has led to the long-term pull-back from the time-honored practice of "working your way through school".

The jobs many kids do are exactly the ones many immigrants do – bussing tables in restaurants, helping out on construction sites and a perennial favorite, mowing lawns. Did the kids back away because of the influx of immigrant competition? Or do student loans and generous parents' wallets mean that 3 million kids simply don't have to bother?

What we see is that besides the obvious legal questions and border security issues, immigration questions are tied up in numerous other considerations about labor markets and social forces. We picked just one factor, that fewer high school and college students work, to highlight here. Gabriel Thompson, in his new book we recommend highly, describes other, difficult issues with the jobs many immigrants try to work at and their managers. See the citation below in footnote [5]. He's a community organizer and his wants to organize the workers so they can make more money and work under better conditions.

Obviously, we haven't touched on so-called immigration reform or even mentioned the new Arizona law that spurred the current interest. It's all a huge topic. Let us know what else about it is on your mind.

+ + + + + + +

[1]Michael Hoefer, Nancy Rytina, and Bryan C. Baker. "Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2009", Department of Homeland Security: Office of Immigration Statistics. January 2010.

Jeffrey S. Passel and D'Vera Cohn. "A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States". Pew Hispanic Center. April 14, 2009. Passel is a leading authority on immigration issues, and seemingly everyone who discusses them cites his analysis. And as we've said before here, Pew is very generous and gives away volumes of data and reports.

[2]U.S. Census Bureau. "Foreign-Born Population of the United States" Annual Data Tables associated with the Current Population Survey. Accessed June 12, 2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Calculated from data in pesos from the National Statistics Institute of Mexico.

[5] Gabriel Thompson. Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs [Most] Americans Won't Do. New York: Nation Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group. 2010. Page 42.

[6] Jon Clifton. "Roughly 6.2 Million Mexicans Express Desire to Move to U.S." Washington, D.C.: Gallup, Inc. June 7, 2010. Accessed June 11, 2010.

Neil Esipova and Julie Ray. "700 Million Worldwide Desire to Migrate Permanently". Washington, D.C.: Gallup, Inc. November 2, 2009. Accessed June 11, 2010.

"Most Mexicans See Better Life in U.S. – One-in-Three Would Migrate" September 23, 2009. Washington, D.C.: Pew Global Attitudes Project. Report available on; accessed June 12, 2010. The co-chairs of the overall project are Madeleine Albright and John Danforth.

[7] Gabriel Thompson. Op. cit. Page 166.

[8] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics via Haver Analytics, Inc. "EMPL" database.

Labels: ,

Copyright © 2003-Present Geranium Farm - All rights reserved.
Reproduction of any materials on this web site for any purpose
other than personal use without written consent is prohibited.