Thursday, May 12, 2016

"Theo Moudakis: Census time"

Yesterday's Toronto Star editorial cartoon by Theo Moudakis was one that I thought would appeal to readers.

That is all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On #census2016 in Canada

The return of the long-form census has become a trending hashtag on Twitter, #Census2016. It was more than that: As both the CBC and the Huffington Post noted, when the census collection period began on the 2nd of May, it became a major pop-culture trend in Canada. So many people responded that the official census website was briefly knocked down.

Me, I decided to be fashionably late.

Census selfie #toronto #me #selfie #canada #census #census2016

One in four Canadian households, selected at random, received 36-page long-form questionnaire known as the National Household Survey. I, unfortunately, did not, instead clicking through ten short questions. Still, it got done. I could have received it, after all.

Instructions #canada #census #census2016

Starting #cabada #census #census2016

The whole episode has been reassuring for fans of good data. Shannon Proudfoot's MacLean's article "The census is back with a swagger" took an extended look at how the census matters, and how it became so important.

This week, the furious preparations of the agency over the last several months come to fruition: May 10 is census day, when Canadians raise their hands to be counted. The voluntary National Household Survey that replaced the long-form census in 2011 ended up being neither the pointless disaster its staunchest critics had envisioned, nor the perfectly useful replacement its proponents predicted. It had serious limitations that caused 1,100 small communities to vanish off the statistical map; it produced a few weird findings that simply didn’t look right; and it made looking for change over time all but impossible. It did, however, offer a serviceable snapshot of the country. Now that StatsCan is returning to a mandatory long-form census—and in a hurry—the question is what will become of the evolving national portrait that underpins everything from people’s bus routes and commuter highways to their children’s schools and where they can grab groceries on their way home from work.

What was once the driest and most esoteric of citizen duties—the statistical backbone of the country that, frankly, most people were oblivious to—became an unlikely flashpoint in 2010. That July, then-prime minister Stephen Harper axed the mandatory long-form census, arguing it was inappropriate to compel citizens to answer questions about their education, work, ethnicity and housing, among other topics. Critics of the move—they were nearly unanimous among those who use census data, including researchers, municipal planners and community organizations—insisted that a mandatory census was the only way to get an accurate picture of who Canadians are and what they need.

Ultimately, 68 per cent of households responded to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS)—far short of the 94 per cent that completed the long-form census in 2006, but better than the 50 per cent response rate StatsCan projected in some of its testing. The agency’s analysts did everything they could to verify and shore up the information they had. In the end, they released the data they believed was solid, but anything below a certain quality threshold—a highly technical measure that amounts to overall non-response combined with “item non-response,” or individual questions people skipped—was simply not released. “We were very transparent in saying that at the small community level, we cannot do the same level of validation,” says Hamel. That meant that 1,100 small towns and specks on the map, representing three per cent of the Canadian population, became statistical ghost towns, except for the basic information collected on the short-form census. If you wanted to know what the 1,400 residents of Shellbrook, Sask., do for work, how much education they have or their ethnic backgrounds, you’d hit a dead end.

But even with all the quality control StatsCan conducted, there were a few odd glitches that spoke to the problems with using a voluntary survey to obtain a full portrait of your country. The NHS, for example, found that between 2006 and 2011, the largest proportion of Canada’s new immigrants came from the Philippines, followed by China. But a tiny numbered footnote attached to that observation warns that it doesn’t square with immigration records, which showed that in fact the largest slice of newcomers came from China. Presumably, a significant number of new Chinese arrivals either didn’t fill out the NHS or didn’t identify their recent country of origin.

However, the biggest problem with the 2011 survey is simply that it’s different. StatsCan told users flatly that the NHS results were useful for comparing different regions of the country at a single moment in time, but they shouldn’t be measured against 2006 or earlier census results, because the methodology had changed so fundamentally. And comparing data over time is “the most important single thing” for researchers, says Michael Veall, a professor of economics at McMaster University. Veall is quick to note that the NHS turned out better than he expected it would when he testified at a parliamentary committee hearing on the issue in 2010, but it still has serious limitations. “Statistical information is interesting when there’s a surprise, right?” he says. “So you find more people are doing this or more people are doing that. The trouble when we went from 2006 to 2011 [is] every time we see a surprise, we have to say, ‘Oh, is that because something really happened, or is that because there’s a problem with the data?’ ”

I'm glad it's back. I'm very glad that I'm not the only one. Hopefully next time I'll have a chance to fill in the long-form census.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

On speculating about the effects of German labour market restrictions in 2004

In February 2013, in noting the arguments of Jonathan Last about migration, I noted that policy on migration--in sending countries and in receiving countries--was important in directing flows. The example I used was that of post-2004 Polish migration to the United Kingdom.

Consider the movement of Poles to Germany. Large-scale Polish migration west dates back to the beginning of the Ostflucht, the migration of Germans and Poles from what was once eastern Germany to points west, in around 1850. By the time Poland regained its independence in 1919, hundreds of thousands of Poles lived in Germany, mainly in the Ruhr area and Berlin. Leaving aside the exceptional circumstances of the post-Second World War deportations of Germans from east of the Oder-Neisse line, Polish migration to (West) Germany continued under Communism, as hundreds of thousands of people with German connections--ethnic Germans, members of Germanized Slavic populations, and Polish family members--emigrated for ethnic and economic reasons. In the decade of the 1980s, up to 1.3 million Poles left the country, the largest share heading for Germany. Large-scale Polish migration to Germany has a long history.

And yet, in the past decade, by far the biggest migration of Poles within the European Union was directed not to neighbouring Germany but to a United Kingdom that traditionally hasn't been a destination. Most Polish migration to Germany, it seems, is likely to be circular migration; Germany missed out on a wave of immigrants who would have helped the country's demographics significantly. Why? Germany chose to keep its labour markets closed for seven years after Poland's European Union admission in 2004, while the United Kingdom did not, the results being (among other things) that Polish is the second language of England.

This was a huge surge. In their November 2014 discussion paper "Polish Emigration to the UK after 2004; Why Did So Many Come?" (PDF format), Marek Okolski and John Salt noted that the Polish migration post-2004 dramatically reversed a trend one half-century old of decline.

A Polish presence in the UK population existed before 2004 which helped to create networks and contacts between the diaspora and those back home. The 1951 UK census recorded 152 000 people born in Poland, a hangover from the Second World War after which many preferred to relocate to or stay in the UK rather than return home. By 1981 the number had shrunk to 88 000 and although unrest and Martial Law in Poland continued a trickle of new migrants into the UK, the inevitable ageing of the post-war group took its toll so that by 2001 the number had fallen to 58 000. The next decade, however, saw an increase in the number of Polish born in the UK to 676,000 in 2011.

The authors conclude that this surge had much to do with a perfect storm of coincidence, of transformations in Poland and the United Kingdom alike aided by a new transnationalism.

Let us begin with the “right people”. The concept of “right people” embraces the surplus (reinforced by the “boom” of young labour market entrants/higher school graduates) and structural mismatches of labour in Poland, post-communist anomy (migration as one viable strategies to overcome that, similar to migration as a response to social disorder accompanying rapid urbanization, as described by Thomas and Znaniecki), high educational and cultural competence/maturity (including widespread knowledge of the English language) and awareness of freedoms and entitlements stemming from “European citizenship”. Furthermore, at least since 1939 Poles had been generally favourably regarded by the British.

The “right place” was the UK labour market, although it was not immediately apparent at the time. The economy was growing rapidly but there was a reluctance among domestic workers to undertake many of the jobs available at the wage rates on offer. Migrant workers willing to work for minimum (or less) wages allowed employers to avoid capital investment that would have increased productivity in, for example, food processing. In service provision, such as hospitality, migrants provided flexibility in working practices that reduced costs. Furthermore, the UK’s flexible labour market made it easy for those Poles with skills and initiative to engage in upward occupational mobility and encouraged them to stay. In addition, public attitudes towards the inflow of people from new EU member states were generally favourable. Coincidental with this was the “compression” of the physical distance between Poland and the UK through a rapid development of non-costly and effective transport, communication and information facilities between the two countries. This made it possible to achieve the high levels of flexibility required by both employers and migrants.

Finally, by the “right circumstances” we mean the juncture of Poland’s accession to the EU with the decision taken by the UK government to grant immediate access to the British labour market. That other countries did not follow suit meant the lack of any strong competition from other receiving countries.

Plausibly, similar factors may have operated in connection to immigration from the Baltic States, specifically of Lithuanians and Latvians. (Estonians seem not to have been nearly so likely to emigrate, at least not to the United Kingdom.

Germany eventually did open its labour markets to migrants from the new European Union member-states, but the effect was limited.

Germany had 580,000 A8 nationals at the end of 2009, including 419,000 Poles (the UK had 550,000 Poles at the end of 2009). In Germany, almost a third of women from A8 countries are employed in health and caring professions, while a third of A8 male migrants in Germany are employed in manufacturing and construction.

The consensus estimate is that another 140,000 A8 nationals a year may now move to Germany, doubling the stock of A8 nationals in Germany to 1.3 million by 2020, this despite the fact that wages have risen in Eastern Europe over the past decade. Average wages of E5 an hour in Poland are expected to reduce incentives to migrate to Germany, where many A8 nationals earn E8 to E10 an hour. However, German unions expressed fears that more A8 migrants may slow wage increases.

Okolski and Salt point out that, overall, Polish migrants to Germany tended to be older and have lower levels of human capital than Polish migrants to the United Kingdom, limiting their potential contributions. In their January 2013 paper "10 Years After: EU Enlargement, Closed Borders, and Migration to Germany" (PDF format), Benjamin Elsner and Klaus F. Zimmermann conclude that Germany missed out by opting to limit access to its labour markets.

The extent to which immigration affects wages and employment depends on the degree of substitutability between migrants and natives. The more substitutable migrants and natives are, the stronger is the effect. Recent studies by D'Amuri et al. (2010) and Brücker & Jahn (2011) have shown that Germans and immigrants with the same education and work experience are indeed imperfect substitutes. Hence, immigration should only have a moderate effect on wages and employment of natives. Based on this line of argumentation, and in view of the many young and well-educated migrants that went to the UK and not to Germany, we conclude that Germany missed a chance by not opening up its borders in 2004. The fear of the German government that thousands of low-skilled workers would emigrate from the NMS turned out not to be true. Instead, EU8 migrants were actually better-educated than the average native. As shown in previous work by Brenke et al. (2009), immigrants from the EU8 countries mostly competed with previous immigrants and not with natives. For Germany as a whole, the costs of the restrictions exceeded the benefits by far.

Imagine, if you would, that Germany had joined the United Kingdom in 2004 in giving migrants from the new European Union member-states central and eastern Europe. It's certainly imaginable that Germany would have shared in the surge, perhaps even that given its long history as a destination for migrants from Poland and points beyond it would have stayed ahead of the United Kingdom as a destination. Plausibly, this new altered immigration flow would have provided a net benefit for Germany, while still providing some (if fewer) benefits for a United Kingdom that was not such a natural destination. Everyone would have benefited economically.

Another consequence might have been weaker support for Euroskepticism in the United Kingdom. For a variety of reasons which I don't quite understand, this post-2004 migration to the United Kingdom has been exceptionally politically controversial, to the point of strongly accentuating Euroskepticism and even support for Britain's exit from the European Union. There was going to be a surge of migration from the poorer European Union member-states to the richer ones, but if it was not so overwhelmingly focused on a single (if large) state as a destination, would it have had less of an effect? I wonder if this thinking has anything to do with current European Union policy, for instance in trying to avoid the concentration of refugees in a particular member-state and to spread them out.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

On the return of the long-form census to Canada in 2016

It's time for Canadians to deal with the 2016 Census, and this year, as the Liberal government has promised, the long-form census is back. CBC News' Hannah Jackson outlined this in "The long-form census is back, it's online — and this time, it's mandatory".

Statistics Canada today officially begins mailing out access codes so Canadians can prepare to complete the 2016 census online — either the regular or the newly restored long-form version — next week.

Census Day is May 10, but Statistics Canada is encouraging Canadians to complete their census forms as soon as they receive them.

The letters will provide a 16-digit access code to allow households to complete the census online, but also gives Canadians the option of having a paper version mailed to their homes.

[. . .]

One in four randomly selected households in Canada will receive the 36-page long-form questionnaire known as the National Household Survey, while the remainder of Canadians will receive the 10-question short version. Both are mandatory.

Under Section 31 of the Statistics Act, the consequence for failing to provide information to a mandatory census or falsely answering is liable to a summary conviction carrying a fine of up to $500, imprisonment of up to three months, or both.

The import of the census is outlined in Jordan Press' Canadian Press article "Long-form census forms return to mailboxes this week after absence", published at MacLean's and the Toronto Star.

For provincial coffers, the population estimates in the census determine how much per capita funding they will receive in transfers from the federal government.

For local governments and community groups, the demographic details in neighbourhoods help with decisions on where to place new schools, transit routes, seniors’ housing and emergency services.

For companies, the census data act as a much-needed complement to what’s become known as big data.

“Some people wonder, well, why do you even need a census when we have big data?” said Jan Kestle, president of Environics Analytics.

“When you combine the kind of data we now can collect with census data, you can really get a more integrated view of what consumers want both in terms of products and services and that’s also true in terms of what citizens want from government.”

The politics behind the 2011 cancellation are also explored briefly by Press.

The previous Conservative government replaced the long-form census with the voluntary survey five years ago in a move that caught many by surprise and lit a political fuse over the depth of data Statistics Canada collected through regular population counts. The results from the 2011 count prevented comparisons to previous years, left out some small communities over quality concerns, and raised reliability questions around response rates of immigrants and aboriginals.

As one of its first acts in government, the Liberals brought back the mandatory, long-form questionnaire.

Kestle said there will remain gaps in the data collected five years ago, but the return of the long-form census this year should bridge many of them created by the one-time absence.

“To be realistic, of course there will be breaks (in data), but I think missing one (census) is not nearly as bad as if we hadn’t had it come back,” she said.

Craig Silverman's humourous article at Buzzfeed is worth reading for the chuckles.