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B2 SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2013

Nation & World

Census: More American counties are dying

Record 1 in 3 counties are dying in the U.S.

More than a third of all counties in 2012 had more deaths than births, which is known as natural decrease. The findings released by the Census Bureau are due to an aging population and weak local economies prompting young families to live elsewhere. 2012 Natural decrease





WASHINGTON — A record number of U.S. counties — more than 1 in 3 — are now dying off, hit by an aging population and weakened local economies that are spurring young adults to seek jobs and build families elsewhere. New 2012 census estimates released Thursday highlight the population shifts as the U.S. encounters its most sluggish growth levels since the Great Depression. The findings also reflect the increasing economic importance of foreign-born residents as the U.S. ponders an overhaul of a major 1965 federal immigration law. Without new immigrants, many metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis would have posted flat or negative population growth in the past year. “Immigrants are innovators, entrepreneurs; they’re making things happen. They create jobs,” said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, at an immigration conference in his state last week. Saying Michigan should be a top destination for legal immigrants, Snyder made a special appeal: “Please come here.” The growing attention on immigrants is coming mostly from areas of the Midwest and Northeast, which are seeing many of their residents leave after years of staying put during the downturn. With a

slowly improving U.S. economy, young adults are now back on the move, departing traditional big cities to test the job market mostly in the South and West, which had suffered the biggest hits in the housing bust.

‘Downward spiral’

Census data show that 1,135 of the nation’s 3,143 counties are now experiencing “natural decrease,” where deaths exceed births. That’s up from roughly 880 U.S. counties, or 1 in 4, in 2009. Already apparent in Japan and many European nations, natural decrease is now increasingly evident in large swaths of the U.S., much of it rural. Despite increasing deaths, the U.S. population continues to grow, boosted by immigration from abroad and relatively higher births among the mostly younger migrants from Mexico, Latin America and Asia. “These counties are in a pretty steep downward spiral,” said Kenneth Johnson, a demographer and sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire who researched the findings. “The young people leave, and the older adults stay in place and age. Unless something dramatic changes — for instance, new development such as a meatpacking plant to attract young Hispanics — these areas are likely to have more and more natural decrease.” The areas of natural decrease stretch from industrial areas near Pittsburgh and Cleveland to the vineyards outside San

Francisco to the rural areas of east Texas and the Great Plains. A common theme is a waning local economy, such as farming, mining or industry. Shrinking communities also include some retirement communities in Florida, although many are cushioned by a steady flow of new retirees. As a nation, the U.S. population grew by just 0.75 percent last year, stuck at a growth rate not seen since 1937. SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau

Boomers age

Johnson said the number of dying counties is rising because of fewer births as well as increasing mortality as 70 million baby boomers move into their older years. “I expect natural decrease to remain high in the future,” he said. Among the 20 fastest-growing large metropolitan areas last year, 16 grew faster than in 2011, and most of are located in previously growing parts of the Sun Belt or Mountain West. Among the slowest-growing or declining metropolitan areas, all of them in the Northeast and Midwest, most are now doing worse than in 2011. New York ranks tops in new immigrants among large metro areas but also ranks at the top for young residents moving away. By contrast, the Texas metropolitan areas of Dallas, Houston and Austin continued to be big draws for young adults, ranking first, second and fourth among large metro areas in domestic migration, because

Earthweek: A Diary of the Planet

By Steve Newman


4.4 5.2 4.7 4.6


+114° Bossangoa, C. African Rep.

-85° Vostok, Antarctica

Week Ending March 15, 2013

Antarctic Mixup

The mysterious organism allegedly discovered by Russian scientists while drilling deep into a buried Antarctic lake may have been nothing more than contamination. That’s according to the head of the laboratory where the bacterium was first “discovered.” Researchers from the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute had announced that they had found evidence of an unfamiliar strain of bacteria in water samples pumped up from Lake Vostok, a massive freshwater lake buried beneath more than two miles of ice. Initial testing of DNA from the microbial organism suggested that the species did not share more than 86 percent of its genetic code with any other known life- form on the planet. If validated, it would have been a landmark discovery. But the head of the laboratory said further analysis found that the material was instead from drilling fluid or other material used in the extraction.

Climate Shifts

Climate change has caused some villages in northeastern India to become flooded, and in some cases, washed away entirely due to more extreme rainfall over the last few decades. The trend has caused some rivers across the region to migrate from established channels that humans have used for thousands of years. These roving waterways, pushed off course by intense bursts of rainfall and violent sediment discharge, have most severely affected the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh. A number of hamlets in that state have been severely flooded in recent years — many of them counted as among the oldest human settlements on Earth. A study found some rivers shifted more than a mile, and some riverside villages simply vanished as a result.

Northern Greening

A dramatic greening is in progress in high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere as a warming climate allows vegetation to grow much farther north, researchers say. A NASA-funded study of satellite and surface observations over the past 30 years shows that the environment in many sub-Arctic regions is now more like what areas 250 to 430 miles to the south experienced in 1982. “Higher northern latitudes are getting warmer, Arctic sea ice and the duration of snow cover are diminishing, the growing season is getting longer and plants are growing more,” said Ranga Myneni of Boston University’s Department of Earth and Environment. The northern greening is most noticeable in the increased abundance of tall shrubs and trees now found in areas that were recently far too harsh in winter for them to survive.


A wide swath of Southern California was jolted by a relatively moderate quake centered in the mountains of Riverside County. The 4.7 magnitude temblor caused buildings to shake from San Diego and Los Angeles, eastward to Arizona. • Earth movements were also felt in south-central Alaska, Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, far western China’s Xinjiang region and in Trinidad and adjacent parts of Venezuela.

South Seas Cyclone

Cyclone Sandra sent pounding surf into Australia’s Queensland coast, as well as onto islands of Vanuatu and northern parts of New Caledonia. Remnants of the storm later joined with another low pressure area to bring drought-breaking rains to northern New Zealand.

Volcanic Gas Alert

A shift in winds over the eastern Caribbean blew potentially harmful gas from Montserrat’s Soufriere Hills volcano into the neighboring island of Antigua, 35 miles to the northeast. Antigua’s National Office of Disaster Services warned those with sensitive eyes and respiratory problems to remain indoors. Activity within Soufriere Hills was said to be relatively low, but the mountain was emitting an average of 368 tons of sulfur dioxide each day. Prevailing winds typically cause the gas to blow harmlessly over the open waters of the region. A catastrophic eruption in 1997 killed 19 people on Montserrat and buried much of the British territory in ash. Nearly half of the island’s inhabitants moved elsewhere in the wake of the disaster.

Swine Dump

Residents of Shanghai became alarmed when more than 6,000 dead and bloated pigs littered a river that runs through the heart of the Chinese metropolis. Officials say the dead pigs probably came from farms upstream in the Jiaxing area of neighboring Zhejiang province. Farmers there are accused of dumping the animals into the Huangpu River because the swine were infected with porcine circovirus, a common pig disease that does not affect humans. It’s believed the dump was in response to the recent conviction of 46 people who were jailed for producing unsafe pork from sick pigs. The Shanghai government said water in the Huangpu was within “safe range” and that the carcasses were being collected for burial or incineration. The waterway provides 22 percent of the city’s water supply. Distributed by: Universal UClick © MMXIII Earth Environment Service

of diversified economies that include oil and gas production. Phoenix, Las Vegas and Orlando also saw gains. By region, growth in the Northeast slowed last year to 0.3 percent, the lowest since 2007; in the Midwest, growth dipped to 0.25 percent, the lowest in at least a decade. In the South and West, growth rates ticked up to 1.1 percent and 1.04 percent respectively. “The brakes that were put on migration during the Great Recession appear to be easing up,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the migration data. “Immigration levels are not where they were a decade ago, but their recent uptick demonstrates the important safety valve they can be for areas with stagnating populations,” he said.

Role of federal spending

Mark Mather, an associate vice president at the Population


Reference Bureau, noted that political efforts to downsize government and reduce federal spending could also have a significant impact on future population winners and losers. Since 2010, many of the fastest-growing U.S. metro areas also have been those that historically received a lot of federal dollars, including Fort Stewart, Ga., Jacksonville, N.C., Crestview, Fla., and Charleston-North Charleston, S.C., all home to military bases. Per-capita federal spending rose from about $5,300 among the fastest-growing metros from 2000 to 2010, to about $8,200 among the fastest-growing metros from 2011 to 2012. “Federal funding has helped many cities weather the decline in private sector jobs,” Mather said.

Other findings

§ Roughly 46 percent of rural counties just beyond the edge

of metropolitan areas experienced natural decrease, compared to 17 percent of urban counties. § The population of nonmetropolitan areas last year declined by 0.1 percent, compared with growth of 1 percent for large metro areas and 0.7 percent for small metropolitan areas. § In the past year, four metro areas reached population milestones: Los Angeles hit 13 million, Philadelphia reached 6 million, Las Vegas crossed 2 million, and Grand Rapids, Mich., passed 1 million. § Chattahoochee County, Ga., home to Fort Benning, was the nation’s fastest-growing county, increasing 10.1 percent in the last year. § The census estimates are based on local records of births and deaths, Internal Revenue Service records of people moving within the United States and census statistics on immigrants.

A whole family First lady says her family’s well-being her top priority BY DARLENE SUPERVILLE THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama is pushing back against the notion that she and President Barack Obama don’t socialize enough in Washington. The first lady says in an interview in the April issue of Vogue magazine that she and the president were straightforward when they said — before moving from Chicago to Washington in 2009 — that their family, including two young daughters, would be their priority. She said “the stresses and the pressures” of the White House are so real that they prefer to spend free time with their daughters, now 14 and 11. “Our job is, first and foremost, to make sure our family is whole. You know, we have small kids; they’re growing every day. But I think we were both pretty straightforward when we said, ‘Our No. 1 priority is making sure that our family is whole,”’ Michelle Obama said in the interview, scheduled for release March 26. The first lady, who makes her second appearance on Vogue’s cover, this time wearing a blue, sleeveless Reed Krakoff dress, said most of the couple’s friends are parents, too, and said that when she and the president go on vacation, usually with longtime friends or relatives, they are surrounded by children. “The stresses and the pressures of this job are so real that when you get a minute, you want to give that extra energy to your 14- and 11-year-old,” the first lady said. The interview, conducted in January shortly after Obama began his second term, was released in the midst of his


Michelle Obama talks about the importance of her family in the April issue of Vogue.

attempts to do more of what critics say he hasn’t done enough of: reaching out to lawmakers, particularly Republicans, to help get his agenda through Congress. The list of action items includes legislation to limit access to firearms, overhaul the immigration system and make progress toward deficit reduction, among other issues. Obama recently had dinner with a group of Republican senators at a hotel near the White House. He followed up by having lunch at the White House with the House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. The president also hmade multiple trips to Capitol Hill last week to meet with individual party caucuses in both chambers. He joked in the Vogue interview that he and the first lady might start hitting the town now that their daughters are older and have less time for

them. “As I joked at a press conference, now that they want less time with us, who knows? Maybe you’ll see us out in the clubs,” Obama said. Michelle Obama said “90 percent” of what she and the president talk about has to do with the girls: what they’re up to, who has practice, which one of their friends is having a birthday party and did they get that person a gift — a conversation she described as “endless” and “pretty exhausting.” She suggested neither one of them wants to miss any of it. Obama grew up without his father and has talked publicly about his desire to be there for his kids. “He’s doing it while still dealing with Syria and health care. He’s as up on every friend, every party, every relationship,” the first lady said. “And if you’re out to dinner every night, you miss those moments where you can check in and just figure them out when they’re ready to share with you.”

Grand Rapids Press - 03/17/13 - B2