Tag Archives: diversity

If Demography Is Destiny…

Ultimately, of course, demography is destiny, but if significant changes in the makeup of the population fail in the short term to change the status quo, those changes do tell us a lot about our current civic unrest, including acts of domestic terrorism.

The Brookings Institution has issued an analysis of the most recent census and it points to the demographic realities that have triggered the racist backlash we are experiencing.

The big picture shows healthy growth in our larger cities–what the report calls “major metro areas”–despite the fact that the nation as a whole experienced historically low growth over the past decade. (The decline in the nation’s overall growth rate is attributed to reduced immigration, a decline in fertility and an increased death rate due to an aging population.)

The disproportionate growth of urban America was characterized by increased racial and ethnic diversity, especially among youth populations–a data point that undoubtedly feeds the grievances of MAGA Republicans. Much of that metropolitan growth occurred in the South.

Reflecting changes from earlier decades, six of the fastest-growing metro areas in 2010-2020 were located in the traditional Sun Belt magnet states of Texas (Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio) and Florida (Orlando and Jacksonville), along with three southeastern metro areas (Raleigh, N.C., Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn.) as well as Seattle.

Brookings notes that every metro area with greater than 10% growth is located in either the South or West except three: Columbus, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis-Saint Paul. I was pleasantly surprised to find Indianapolis in that category. (The rapidly changing populations of Florida and Texas may help to explain the increasingly frantic efforts of Abbott and DeSantis to energize their GOP bases before the demographic shift overtakes them…)

The most politically potent information was the data on increased diversity.

The 2010-2020 decade continued the nation’s “diversity explosion” that was already evident in the 2010s. This was especially the case among the nation’s major metro areas. While people of color (those identifying as Latino or Hispanic, Black, Asian American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Native American/Alaska Native, or as two or more races) together comprise more than two-fifths (42%) of the total U.S. population, they now comprise over half (50.3%) of the combined populations of major metro areas.

The impact of this minority concentration is most apparent in 20 of the 56 major metro areas, where people of color now comprise more than half of the 2020 population. This was the case for only 14 major metro areas in 2010 and just nine in 1990. The newcomers to this category are metro area Dallas, Orlando, Fla., Atlanta, Sacramento, Calif., New Orleans, and Austin, Texas. As shown in Map 2, most of these are located in California and Texas, where the greatest minority populations tend to be Latino or Hispanic. Metro area Chicago is close to being next in tipping to minority-white status.

Rising diversity is not specific only to these minority-white metro areas. Each of the nation’s 56 major metro areas registered a decline in its white population share since 2010 and, in 41, the decline was 5 percentage points or more. Metro area Seattle led all others, with a decline from 68% white in 2010 to 58% in 2020. Las Vegas experienced the largest 20-year change, from 60% white in 2000 to 39% in 2020.

Brookings also looked at the data on neighborhood segregation, finding limited improvement nationally. Milwaukee, interestingly, remains the most highly segregated city in the U.S.

Another very troubling finding was an absolute decline in the youth population.

The 2020 census data allows for an assessment of the size and recent changes in the nation’s under-age-18 population (referred to here as the “youth” population).

An especially noteworthy finding is the overall decline in this population by over 1 million during the 2010- 2020 decade. In a country that is rapidly aging, such an absolute decline in the youth population represents a demographic challenge for the future.

As White American fertility has declined, the percentage of the youth cohort that is White has also declined.

 The 2020 census shows that more than half of the youth population in 37 major metro areas are people of color, up from 24 in 2010 and 16 in 2000. The rise of youths of color is a key element of the changing demographics of America’s under-age-18 population. These groups have not only stemmed a sharp decline in the youth population but, as they age, will be driving most of the growth in the nation’s labor force.

There’s lots more data and many charts at the link, but the overall picture is clear: America is becoming more urban; it is also aging and rapidly diversifying.  Many older White Americans perceive these demographic shifts as an assault–not just on their status as the “real Americans,” but on their very concept of what America is.

They’re terrified and they’re angry. And they’ll vote for candidates who promise to prevent the inevitable.

 

This Is Important

I know I harp a lot on the negative consequences of today’s media and information environment, but it matters. When you consider the combined effects of the ability to choose your own reality and embarrassingly low levels of civic literacy (which I have been harping about for years), one of those effects is shockingly low levels of trust.

Americans don’t trust government, they don’t trust business, they don’t trust scientists and–as we are seeing–they don’t trust doctors.

And it matters.

A recent study  published by the Lancet and reported in the Washington Post linked those low levels of trust to America’s relatively poor response to COVID. The article began by reporting on the success of Vietnam in maintaining low levels of infection, despite the fact that, according to traditional tenets of preparedness, that country wouldn’t have been expected to perform as well as it did.

The research uncovered an unexpected reason.

“What Vietnam does have, that seems to potentially explain what has happened, is that they have very high trust in government — among the highest in the world,” said Bollyky, who is a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.

The peer-reviewed study was published Tuesday in the Lancet, a top medical journal, following 10 months of research by Bollyky, his colleague Erin Hulland, a scholar at the University of Washington, and a team of dozens.
The aim of the study was to answer a question that has been dubbed the “epidemiological mystery” of the pandemic: Why did the coronavirus hit some countries so much harder than others?

As the researchers explored that question, they realized that the traditional models for pandemic preparedness didn’t fit what they were seeing. Countries with better outcomes had high levels of trust in government and other citizens. Perceptions of government corruption correlated with worse outcomes.

Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center, and an expert who was not involved in the study, said the research was evidence for what many already argue.

“Trust in government and strength of community engagement is critical to public health response,” Katz wrote in an email. “Experts from multiple disciplines have pointed to the importance of risk communication, community engagement and trust as critical to public health messages and policies being implemented. The findings in this paper emphasize just how important this is.”

Joshua Sharfstein of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said the research showed that “the battle of human being against pathogen was mediated by governments.”

“It’s really a Chicken Little situation,” Sharfstein added. “If people don’t believe what the government is saying, then people will be less likely to take the precautions that they need to take.”

It turns out that trust in government and in your fellow citizens is strongly associated with vaccination rates, among other things.

I’ve always disliked people who say “I told you so”–but in 2009, I wrote a book that told you so. It was titled Distrust, American Style and in it I argued that the social distrust that was already pervasive began with distrust of government. (As one chapter argued , “Fish Rot from the Head.”)

In that book, I marshaled data produced by numerous political scientists showing that over the preceding decades, Americans had become steadily less trusting of each other, and that as America’s diversity increases, our trust in our neighbors declines. My research convinced me that the growth of diversity isn’t the reason we trust less. (That old academic axiom that correlation isn’t causation is correct.) I was–and remain–convinced that the culprit is a loss of faith in our social and governing institutions– and that the remedy is to make them trustworthy once more, starting with government.

I argued for the importance of several electoral and systemic reforms : elimination of gerrymandering, ensuring that–if we can’t get rid of it– the electoral-college is reformed to reflect the results of the popular vote, and Improved government accountability. We need these and a number of other reforms so that Americans can be confident that constitutional checks and balances are honored and that government agencies are run by true experts, not political appointees.

In the years since that book was published (shameless plug: it’s still available on Amazon), trust has declined even more precipitously. Americans no longer trust experts or expertise, and a frightening number of them are actively working to dismantle the country–egged on by a far-right media taking advantage of our widespread ignorance of basic constitutional structures.

When you don’t understand how things are supposed to work, you don’t trust government–you trust Fox “News.”

Correlation Isn’t Causation–But It’s Suggestive

Well, well. Speaking of “emerging data,” as I frequently do, there’s some pretty fascinating information coming out about corporate boards and diversity.

I get a daily business/markets newsletter from Axios .A recent one compared the earnings of companies with different board compositions–the percentages of non-whites and women, and the largest age ranges of those sitting on the governing boards of those companies. (Click through to see a nifty little chart.) And while the report was careful to point out that the results showed correlation, not causation, those results were certainly intriguing.

By the numbers: As a cohort, the companies with more women on their boards saw the smallest year-over-year drop in revenue growth in 2020.

And a group of companies with board members whose ages spanned over 30 years saw an improvement in revenue growth compared to the prior year. The rest saw growth slow.

The businesses with at least 30% of seats filled by non-white executives saw a bigger jump in revenue growth. However, those that had between 20% and 30% non-white board executives fared worse than those with fewer non-white members.

BoardReady cautions that this data might be skewed because so few companies have enough non-white executives on their boards to meet that threshold.

 BoardReady used revenue as a yardstick — rather than profits or other markers— in order to avoid distortions of the data due to various adjustments companies made during the pandemic.

So far, efforts by legislators and regulators to encourage more diverse representation on corporate boards have had a relatively limited impact, although the numbers are inching up. (According to the report, women made up 28% of all S&P 500 corporate board members last year, up from 16% in 2010.)

A 2019 Webforum article written by one corporate executive makes the business case for increased inclusion and a broad definition of diversity:

We live in a complex, interconnected world where diversity, shaped by globalization and technological advance, forms the fabric of modern society. Notwithstanding this interconnectedness, there is also growing polarization – both in the physical and digital worlds – fuelled by identity politics and the resurgence of nationalist ideals.

Not surprisingly, our workplaces tend to mirror the sociocultural dynamics at play in our lives outside work. Having built and scaled a multinational enterprise over nearly two decades, I’ve learned that diversity in the workplace is an asset for both businesses and their employees, in its capacity to foster innovation, creativity and empathy in ways that homogeneous environments seldom do. Yet it takes careful nurturing and conscious orchestration to unleash the true potential of this invaluable asset.

In this era of globalization, diversity in the business environment is about more than gender, race and ethnicity. It now includes employees with diverse religious and political beliefs, education, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation, cultures and even disabilities. Companies are discovering that, by supporting and promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace, they are gaining benefits that go beyond the optics.

The author argues that bringing together people of different ethnicities and different life experiences is a key driver of innovation, and he cites the increasingly varied foods we eat every day, the most  successful musical genres (jazz, rock’n’roll, hip-hop) and other innovative aspects of contemporary life as “products of cultural amalgamation.”

Of course–as data I’ve reported upon previously amply confirms–that’s the problem. Resistance to inclusion (not just in boardrooms but in venues of all kinds) is best understood as a visceral and very negative reaction to “cultural amalgamation.”

In fact, cultural amalgamation and the frantic resistance to it are at the root of most of the fault-lines that run through our politics, retard the diversification of boardrooms, and create and fuel social discord. Proponents of capitalism and market economies give lip service to their fidelity to the bottom line, but thus far most companies have turned out to be part of–or at least in thrall to– the cultural resistance.

Time will tell whether performance reports like these move the needle, and whether “It’s the economy, stupid” should really be “It’s the culture, stupid.”

 

In Case The Racism Wasn’t Clear Enough…

There’s something to be said for clarity.

As the United States barrels toward an election that will determine whether we remain wedded to a set of unrealized but morally-appropriate ideals about equality, the focus of that election has steadily narrowed. November will be about one thing: White Nationalism and the continued privileging and social dominance of white male “Christians.”

Short of producing yard signs with swastikas, the Trump campaign has done everything it can to convey that message–and in Tuesday’s first “debate,” Trump’s refusal to disavow white nationalism made it explicit. (“Debate” is in quotes, because Trump’s rants and bullying prevented anything that could be considered a genuine debate.)

The GOP has disdained issuing a platform, making it clear that obedience to the party’s “Dear Leader” was the only plank that mattered. Then the campaign echoed Trump’s rant against the accurate teaching of American history–especially about slavery– and his insistence that teachers should engage in patriotic indoctrination rather than education.

More recently still, just in case there was a Neo-Nazi somewhere in rural America who missed the message (is there a backwoods area where Fox can’t penetrate?), he ordered an immediate cessation of diversity training in federal agencies, and followed that with a similar edict covering federal contractors. As Talking Points Memo reports:

President Donald Trump increased the scope of his assault against the government’s anti-racism workplace trainings on white privilege on Tuesday night with an executive order banning government contractors from holding the trainings.

In the order, Trump claimed that trainings that discuss the disproportionate amount of power afforded to white men “perpetuates racial stereotypes and division and can use subtle coercive pressure to ensure conformity of viewpoint.”

“Such activities also promote division and inefficiency when carried out by Federal contractors,” the order said.

The contractors thus “will not be permitted to inculcate such views in their employees,” according to the order.

Trump touted the ban on Twitter on Tuesday.

These sessions–common in corporate and business environments–are intended to improve communication and understanding among employees who bring different cultures and life experiences to the workplace. (Well done, they improve both employee morale and productivity–outcomes of absolutely no interest to Trump, since they don’t line his pockets or advance his egocentric agenda.)

It is unlikely that this most recent “edict” is legally enforceable. Absent corruption (which in this administration cannot be taken for granted) government contracts are awarded to companies that respond to RFPs–Requests for Proposals. Those RFPs set out the qualifications required by the contracting agency, and it’s a fair bet that none of the RFPs to which current contractors responded contained a provision that the contractor could not offer diversity training to its employees.

But enforceability and legality are beside the point here.

In much the same way that Trump’s issuance of meaningless “Executive Orders” aren’t legally effective, the bans on diversity training are a type of “performance art.” The Executive Orders are intended to convince his largely civically ignorant base that he is keeping his various promises–to build a wall, protect pre-existing conditions, forbid Muslims from entering the country, etc. The ban on anti-racist training and the attack on teaching accurate history are intended to reassure his largely racist base that he is with them.

It’s a very dangerous game.

Law enforcement agencies–including the FBI– have warned that alt-right organizations are actively trying to foment a race war. 

A report by the Brookings Institution explains a right-wing effort called “accelerationism.”

Accelerationism is the idea that white supremacists should try to increase civil disorder — accelerate it — in order to foster polarization that will tear apart the current political order. The System (usually capitalized), they believe, has only a finite number of collaborators and lackeys to prop it up. Accelerationists hope to set off a series of chain reactions, with violence fomenting violence, and in the ensuing cycle more and more people join the fray. When confronted with extremes, so the theory goes, those in the middle will be forced off the fence and go to the side of the white supremacists.

Obviously, not every Trump voter is a conscious part of that White Supremacy movement–but every Trump vote will support it.

 

 

Cities And Democracy

Jane Jacobs was one of the great urban theorists of the twentieth century, and an enormously provocative thinker. (Her Systems of Survival is one of my all-time favorite books–in my opinion, right up there with the Death and Life of Great American Cities.) 

A recent article about Jacobs focused on a less-well-known aspect of her work: her abiding concern about the fragility of democracy.

As the author noted,

Urban life was Jacobs’s great subject. But her great theme was the fragility of democracy—how difficult it is to maintain, how easily it can crumble. A city offered the perfect laboratory in which to study democracy’s intricate, interconnected gears and ballistics. “When we deal with cities,” she wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), “we are dealing with life at its most complex and intense.” When cities succeed, they represent the purest manifestation of democratic ideals: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” When cities fail, they fail for the same reasons democracies fail: corruption, tyranny, homogenization, overspecialization, cultural drift and atrophy.

The article began with a description of an Appalachian village–Higgins, North Carolina–where Jacobs’ aunt was a social worker. The town was a depressing example of decline, an example of civic failure that evidently deeply concerned Jacobs.

In a year when American democracy has courted despotism, Jacobs’s work offers a warning and a challenge. Her goal was never merely to enlighten urban planners. In her work she argued, with increasing urgency, that the distance between New York City and Higgins is not as great as it seems. It is not very great at all, and it is shrinking.

Jacobs’ first book, Constitutional Chaff was a compilation of failed proposals from the Constitutional Convention of 1787, such as a third house of Congress and direct election of a Senate that never went out of session. In the introduction to the book, Jacobs argued that this diversity of conflicting perspectives “reflected the soul of American democracy as vividly as the ratified document itself did.”

In her “magnum opus,” The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs argued that a city–or for that matter, a neighborhood– absolutely requires diversity: “diversity of residential and commercial use, racial and socioeconomic diversity, diversity of governing bodies (from local wards to state agencies), diverse modes of transportation, diversity of public and private institutional support, diversity of architectural style.”  She also insisted that concentrating numbers of people in relatively small areas, far from being problematic, is the foundation of healthy communities. Dense, varied populations are desirable, Jacobs wrote,

because they are the source of immense vitality, and because they do represent, in small geographic compass, a great and exuberant richness of differences and possibilities, many of these differences unique and unpredictable and all the more valuable because they are.

If vitality comes from diversity, decline comes from homogeneity. Early indicators of decline in places like Higgins–a decline we increasingly see in small towns across many states, including Indiana–are :

“cultural xenophobia,” “self-imposed isolation,” and “a shift from faith in logos, reason, with its future-oriented spirit … to mythos, meaning conservatism that looks backwards to fundamentalist beliefs for guidance and a worldview.” She warns of the profligate use of plausible denial in American politics, the idea that “a presentable image makes substance immaterial,” allowing political campaigns “to construct new reality.” She finds further evidence of our hardening cultural sclerosis in the rise of the prison-industrial complex, the prioritization of credentials over critical thinking in the educational system, low voter turnout, and the reluctance to develop renewable forms of energy in the face of global ecological collapse.

The article’s conclusion brings the lesson home.

No reader of Jacobs’s work would be surprised by the somewhat recent finding by a Gallup researcher that Donald Trump’s supporters “are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated zip codes and commuting zones.” These zones are latter-day incarnations of Higgins: marooned, amnesiac, homogenous, gutted by the diminishment of skills and opportunities. One Higgins is dangerous enough, for both its residents and the republic to which it belongs. But the nation’s Higginses have proliferated to the point that their residents have assumed control of a major political party.

Assuming voters successfully “vote blue no matter who,” one of the multitude of daunting tasks a new administration must undertake is the rescue of small-town America.

I have no idea how.