Friday, January 30, 2015

"Damage from cancelled census as bad as feared, researchers say"

On the front page of today's issue of Toronto's The Globe and Mail was Tavia Grant's article reporting that the scrapping of the long-form census once collected by Statistics Canada, ordered by the Canadian federal government for inscrutable reasons of its own, has really caused a lot of damage.
The cancellation of the mandatory long-form census has damaged research in key areas, from how immigrants are doing in the labour market to how the middle class is faring, while making it more difficult for cities to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, planners and researchers say.

Statistics Canada developed a voluntary survey after Ottawa cancelled the long-form census in 2010. Many had warned that the switch would mean lower response rates and policies based on an eroded understanding of important trends. Now researchers – from city planners to public health units – say they have sifted through the 2011 data and found it lacking.

Their comments come as a private member’s bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census will be debated in the House of Commons Thursday. The bill, expected to be voted on next week, has slim odds of passing, given the Conservative majority. But it is drawing attention to the impact of the switch, which has created difficulties in determining income-inequality trends, housing needs and whether low-income families are getting adequate services.

The impact isn’t just on researchers. Cities, such as Toronto, say it’s become more expensive and requires more staffing to obtain data that’s of lower quality. The key areas of concern are tracking long-term shifts and understanding what’s going on at the neighbourhood level.

The last census in 2011 cost a total of $652-million, including an extra $22-million due to the change to the voluntary National Household Survey. The total budget for the 2016 census won’t be decided until February or March, Statscan has said. But the current plan is to hold another voluntary survey. All told, 35,000 people will be hired for this effort.

The article goes on to describe groups and cities and provinces and economic classes with specific needs which can't be met by the low-quality data collected in place of the long-form census. I quite like the observation made in the final paragraph of Grant's article.

Sara Mayo, social planner at the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, says the result of the census changes has been less data for more money. “In terms of fiscal prudence, this made no sense. Why would any government want to pay more for worse-quality data?”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Greece: The Impact of Austerity on Migration"

A Marginal Revolution commenter linked to a study at the blog Multiplier Effect by Gennaro Zezza providing hard numbers on the scale of Greek population decline and emigration. (Germany seems to be a major destination.)
The Hellenic Statistical Authority (ElStat) has recently released the new quarterly data on employment and the labor force, which includes a measure of the population aged 15 or more (Table 1). While the series published in the previous release exhibited a stable upward trend (reported in green in the chart), the new estimates show that population peaked at 9.437 million at the end of 2008, and then started declining, reaching 9.296 million in the first quarter of this year, i.e. it went back to its 2004 level. (The reasons for the change in the series are due to ElStat incorporating the latest census data: details are available in the ElStat web site).

As ElStat does not publish an up-to-date measure of net migration, we assume this could be measured by the distance between the pre-crisis population trend and the actual values. We therefore computed a simple linear trend on the 2001-2008 data, which shows that population would have now been at 9.686 million, had the previous trend continued. The difference between this value and the population reported for the first quarter of 2014 is thus approximately 390,000 people (4 percent).

ElStat makes available the detail by age groups (Table 2), reported in our second chart, which shows that younger Greeks are declining steadily in number – a trend which is common to many developed countries who chose to reduce the average number of kids per family – while the number of older people is steadily increasing – again a trend common to many countries, linked to longer life expectancy. Summing up the 15-29 groups to the 45+ groups, we find that the decline in the younger population accelerated after 2007, compensating the increase in the number of Greeks aged 45 and over, so that the inverted U-shape of the population in our first chart can largely be attributed to the decline in Greek residents aged 30-44, who are now 2.442 million against a peak of 2.544 million at the end of 2008.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On why demographics mean a near-term recovery in Greece is unlikely

Yesterday's Greek legislative election which placed a SYRIZA-dominated government in charge of the country got quite a lot of attention for a lot of things in the blogosphere. Some, like blogger Charlie Stross, wondered if SYRIZA's election might lead to a global economic shift. Others have noted ways in which the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, is breaking from the past, rejecting a religious oath of office as befits his atheism. Common to almost everyone, however, has been concern as to how the election of SYRIZA might change Greece's relationship with the rest of the Eurozone and the European Union. Could Greece get a better deal? Might Greece end up breaking from the bloc altogether?

I'm not at all sure that SYRIZA will be capable of this change, if only for demographic reasons. Helena Smith's recent article in The Guardian, "Young, gifted and Greek: Generation G – the world’s biggest brain drain", provides an idea as to the scale of Greece's demographic issues.

Call them Generation G: young, talented, Greek – and part of the biggest brain drain in an advanced western economy in modern times. As the country lurches towards critical elections this weekend, more than 200,000 Greeks who have left since the crisis bit five years ago will watch from overseas.

Doctors in Germany, academics in the UK, shopkeepers in America – the decimation of Greece’s population has perhaps been the most pernicious byproduct of the economic collapse which has beggared the country since its brush with bankruptcy.

“Greece is where I should be,” says Maritina Roppa, 28, a trainee doctor who left Greece three years ago for Minden, north-west Germany. “It’s such a pity that people like me, in their 20s, have had to go.”

Of the 2% of the population who have left, more than half have gone to Germany and the UK. Migration outflows have risen 300% on pre-crisis levels, as youth unemployment soars to more than 50%. Around 55% of those affected by record rates of unemployment are under 35, according to Endeavour, the international nonprofit group that supports entrepreneurship.

“It is a huge loss of human capital whose affects will only begin to be felt in the next decade,” said Aliki Mouri a sociologist at the National Centre for Social Research. “People who have been educated at great cost, both to their families and the public purse, are now working in wealthier countries which have not invested in them at all,” she added, acknowledging that even in good times Greece had difficulty absorbing the surplus of professionals its universities produced.

[. . .]

Despite the first signs of economic recovery – in November figures showed that Greece returned to growth for the first time in six years, its worst recession in postwar history – the exodus is not abating. Increasing numbers want to join the already record 50,000 Greeks estimated by the OECD to be studying abroad. Schools are being inundated with requests by students to be enrolled on courses for international exams that could prepare them for foreign fields.

“Greece doesn’t allow you to progress,” said Carmella Kontou, an aesthetician considering moving to the US. “You can’t even begin to think of having a family or achieving things that elsewhere in Europe would be considered totally natural.”

One major trend that Greece shares with much of the rest of Europe is rapidly-aging population with fertility that has been well below replacement levels since the mid-1980s. Domestically-produced human capital was already quite scarce. Immigration to Greece, meanwhile, as noted in Charalambos Kasimis' March 2012 profile "Greece: Illegal Immigration in the Midst of Crisis" has become increasingly problematic. Many immigrants who came to Greece when the country was prosperous have returned to their homelands. The plight of illegal migrants, entering Greece from across the Aegean from the Middle East and elsewhere, has meanwhile become legendary. It's worth noting IRIN News' Preethi Nallu and Bloomberg's Jonathan Stearns have noted that, while these migrants welcome SYRIZA's victory, they do so largely because they think that a SYRIZA government will help them leave for other, more prosperous, European countries.

Rokan Mondal, who says he spent six months walking from his native Bangladesh to Greece in 2008, believes Alexis Tspiras will ensure that he doesn’t have to go back.

Mondal, 23, was among a crowd of hundreds who turned out to cheer Tsipras as he arrived at Syriza party headquarters in Athens late Sunday after his election victory. He said he hopes a Tsipras-led government will make it easier for him to acquire Greek citizenship. At the moment, he has a card that lets him reside in Greece only and not elsewhere in the European Union.

“I believe I’ll get the passport,” Mondal said as he mingled with a handful of other Bangladeshis who rushed forward as Tsipras appeared. “Then I can think about Italy, Germany, Spain.”

Mondal encapsulates some of the expectation both at home and abroad that falls on Tsipras. His party, also known as the Coalition of the Radical Left, ousted the government implementing austerity, while the anti-immigrant far right party Golden Dawn placed third.

If the Greek population is set to start shrinking, with many of its most talented young people leaving their country to find work and with few people moving to replace them, I'm hard-pressed to imagine how the Greek economy can recover to pre-2008 levels of output. Where will the workforce come from? The scale of investment required to finance economic growth in Greece given the shrinking workforce does not strike me as likely to be realized. Who will provide the funds? Even if SYRIZA manages to achieve the debt renegotiation its thinkers and leaders have hoped, can it be enough?