Going Down–What’s Up With Slowing U.S. Population Growth?

Feeling down after all 2020 threw at us? Morale isn’t the only thing that’s down in our country. The national population growth has headed south as well. What’s up with this decline?

In addition to votes being counted in 2020, people were too. While the number of votes for a presidential candidate are only a concern every four years, ongoing tabs are kept on the U.S. population. And when I say ongoing, I mean daily. The estimated population of the good ole USA was 332,108,584 as of January 26, 2021. Baby born? Add one. COVID-19 death? Subtract one.

While a number is interesting, the direction the numbers are going is even more interesting–and concerning. The U.S. population (which is equivalent to 4.27% of the worlds’ population for you number nerds) grew only 7% between 2010 and 2020 according to a Census Bureau estimate. This is the slowest national population growth since the Great Depression. What depressing news!

Recent figures reveal sixteen states have lost population. These unfortunate members of the union, in no particular order, are California, Massachusetts (thank heaven for spellchecker!), Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Hawaii, Connecticut (spellchecker to the rescue again!), Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi (I knew how to spell that without spellchecker), New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. The biggest drops in population between mid-2019 to mid-2020 were in New York and California.

So what’s the big deal if the population dips in a particular state? Well, it is a big deal to the remaining residents of the state. Their state may lose federal funds and federal representation due to the dwindling numbers. New York, for example, is expected to lose a seat in Congress and an electoral vote. (Ah, yes, it always comes back to politics.) Accordingly, those states enumerated above will not consider themselves in a “Sweet Sixteen” list.

The number of residents in a few states are down, but how do the bean counters arrive at the conclusion that national population growth has slowed? I don’t know if there’s an app for it (there seems to be one for everything else), but there is a mathematical formula to use to determine annual growth; these figures can be compared from year to year. Fortunately there is no “x” in the formula, so I can understand it. Births – deaths + net migration = population growth. In layman’s terms, I’d explain that calculation as coming – going + showing up.

One of the reasons for the decline in U.S. population growth is low birth rates. According to a CDC report, the number of babies born in this country hit the lowest level in three decades in 2019. Oh, baby! Additionally, there has been a five year downward trend in the birth rate. Things are so bleak that Americans are not populating the country at a rate that allows replacement of the current population.

The total fertility rate in the U.S. for 2019 was 1.7 children per women. (Calling King Solomon to determine how we get 0.7 of a child.) That rate is below the required replacement fertility rate of around 2.1. (Who has these 0.1 children???) In fact, the fertility rate has been below replacement since 1971. Birth rates are sinking to an all time low. Yikes! Are those of us living in the U.S. the next to be placed on the endangered list?

There were significant drops in December 2020 births compared to 1 year earlier. So much for being on lockdown creating a baby boom….This large drop in birth rates is likely to continue for months because, as some sociologists believe, there is societal and economic uncertainty. Who wants to bring a bundle of joy into the world when there is unrest, tension, divisiveness, and financial woes? (Caveat: This presumes the couple was planning to get pregnant.)

But low birth rates are not the only culprit for the declining denizens of our country. Aging residents are adding to the loss. Who are these aging residents? Raising my hand as a proud member of the Baby Boom Generation. We BB’s are babies born from 1946 to 1964 during the post World War II baby boom. Based on 2019 figures, BB’s account for 23.5% of the U.S. population, an estimated 73 million people. About 10,000 BB’s a day reach age 65. In fact, by 2030, all BB’s will be 64 or older. Yup! The country is graying and not growing.

In addition to declining birth rates and aging residents, immigration cutbacks have fueled the downward trend in population growth. In 2016, our country counted around 1 million immigrants arriving; that number fell to 595,000 in 2018-2019. The smaller number of immigrants resulted not only from immigration restrictions put in place by the Trump administration, but from the perception of residents of other countries that the U.S. had fewer economic opportunities than before. Money makes the world go round and drives immigration.

And, of course, we’d be remiss in not pointing a finger of blame at COVID-19 for having a recent hand in this downturn. Mortality resulting from the pandemic bumped up the number of deaths and sent the population growth lower. So far, 430,000 individuals in the U.S. have lost their lives due to the virus with the 500,000 death mark rapidly approaching. (Wear a mask, wash your hands, and social distance, people!)

The pandemic has affected the number of births as well as the number of deaths. With bars and restaurants closed and social gatherings restricted, the opportunities for encounters leading to casual sex and unplanned pregnancies have plummeted. Well, perhaps that’s not an unwelcome result, eh?

Whether or not the figures produced by the 2020 Census expected in March provide an accurate population count, a specific number of residents isn’t the point. The key concept is that our nation’s population growth is slowing. But having less people in the U.S. to bicker with each other and damage our environment is not a bad result of lower population growth. Now if we could only manage downward population growth of the coronavirus.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you see lower population growth in our country as a negative? Were you aware that BB’s were such a large portion of the U.S. population? Should immigration restrictions be eased to allow for more population growth in our country? Why or why not?

Pardon Me!

If you’ve heard the words “Pardon me” in our nation’s capital recently, it’s likely the phrase had nothing to do with being polite. Instead it was a plea to keep the requestor out of the big house, and I’m not referring to the White House. I mean prison. With the Trump administration drawing to a close, folks were eager to receive a presidential pardon. But exactly what is such a pardon and how does one obtain one? I’ll pardon your ignorance if you don’t know and enlighten you.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it also doesn’t help anyone understand what is going on in current events. While fully comprehending what a coronavirus is and how to combat it requires some scientific background, presidential pardons aren’t as difficult to wrap your brain around. In fact, a citizen can readily grasp the concept and its parameters without being Albert Einstein. All it takes is a short civics lesson.

Everyone’s heard of the Constitution, right? Sure. That important document contains the basis for the power of a president to issue a pardon. Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution states, “The President…shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Short and sweet, isn’t it? It’s a mere one sentence long with no mention of spike proteins and antibodies to confuse us.

This succinct constitutional provision answers some important questions, i.e., who, what, and when. The who is the President of the United States. What he can do is to grant pardons for federal offenses except in impeachment cases. When he can do that is while he is POTUS. That’s why there was a buzz of activity to seek pardons as 2020 wound down and Inauguration Day (Biden’s not Trump’s) approached. Once sworn in, Biden is POTUS and possesses the power to pardon.

Note that Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 gives the president virtually unlimited power to issue pardons. The only restrictions on his power are that he hold the office of POTUS, that he cannot pardon state offenses, and that he cannot pardon offenses in impeachment cases. He does not have to give a reason for granting a pardon, and his action is not reviewable by other branches of the government.

Just whose idea was it to allow POTUS to have such great power? Think Broadway. The answer is Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father made even more famous by Lin Manuel-Miranda’s smash musical “Hamilton.” Hamilton pushed for this presidential power and even advocated for it in the Federalist Papers. Somehow this portion of Hamilton’s career failed to rate a song in “Hamilton.” One can only hope for a sequel to the play to address this oversight.

If someone is pardoned, the punishment for the federal crime is set aside. But POTUS simply granting a pardon isn’t all that is necessary for the punishment to be avoided. The person to whom the pardon is granted must accept the pardon. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Wilson in 1833 ruled that a pardon can be rejected by a convict, and that a pardon must be affirmatively accepted for the courts to recognize it.

Why in the world would someone reject a pardon? One reason is that applying for and accepting a pardon is seen as an admission of guilt. While a pardon provides a get out of jail (or don’t go to jail) card, there is still a stain on the individual’s record of having acknowledged he did wrong.

A pardon may be granted before an individual has been found guilty or even charged with the commission of a crime. These types of pardons are known as presumptive pardons. For example, in September 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor, Richard Nixon, for any offenses connected to the Watergate scandal. At that point, Nixon (not so fondly known as Tricky Dick) had been accused of obstruction of justice, but he had yet to be charged.

Unresolved is whether a president can pardon himself. This issue has never been tested in the courts because, to date, no president has taken such action. That step was considered by Nixon’s lawyer and rumors swirled that President Trump might attempt that action, but no self-pardons materialized.

How does one request a pardon from POTUS? Applications for pardon must be submitted to the creatively named (NOT!) Office of the Pardon Attorney for review and recommendation as for the action to be taken. POTUS, of course, does not have to follow the recommendation of the OPA (Office of Pardon Attorney). He can also elect to pardon an individual on his own initiative. For example, on December 22, 2020, President Trump issued 20 pardons; of those pardons, only three were tied to petitions submitted to the OPA.

To no one’s surprise, presidential pardons are often controversial. Just two days before Christmas, POTUS delivered a very special present to two men to which he is connected. He pardoned Charles Kushner, his son-in-law’s father, and Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager. That wasn’t jingle bells these men heard but the sound of freedom from punishment.

But President Trump is hardly the only president to use his pardon power to take controversial actions. On his last day in office, President Jimmy Carter pardoned his own brother who was serving time for a federal drug-related offense. President Clinton pardoned billionaire tax evader and fugitive Marc Rich and his wife Denise, generous donors to Bill and Hillary. Boy did those donations ever pay off!

While President Trump issued a flurry of pardons before leaving office, including 52 on the day prior to Biden’s inauguration, he did not use the power excessively. Only 112 can be attributed to him. FDR, in contrast, issued the most pardons of any president–3,687. President Obama ranks #4 on the list of presidential pardons granted with 1,927.

Whether you agree with the existence of this presidential power or to whom the pardons are granted, having presidential pardons in the news is a positive thing. The topic provides Americans with the opportunity for a civics lesson. Even better, it offers something other than COVID and contested elections to hear about. Pardon me if I am thankful for that development!

Just WONDER-ing:

Is the presidential pardon power too broad? Does it pass the sniff test for presidents to pardon family members and political donors? Does it surprise you that Alexander Hamilton was the Founding Father who proposed the granting of this power?

Our House–In The Middle Of A Mob

Every house has its domestic drama, and the People’s House, better known as the U.S. Capitol, is no exception. But whereas drama at the family home might simply involve raised voices and slamming doors, recent drama at the home of the U.S. Congress involved pepper spray being utilized, shots being fired, and windows being broken. The People’s House found itself in the middle of a mob.

The lyrics to British band Madness’ song “Our House” aptly describe the events of January 6, 2021. (It didn’t take long for the new year to hit the skids, now did it?) The second verse of this pop hit released in 1982 states, “Our house, it has a crowd. There’s always something happening and it’s usually quite loud.”

Newsworthy events typically take place at the seat of our country’s legislative branch, but they are normally verbal battles between sparring political opponents. A mob overrunning the premises is something new and quite disturbing. And the buzz about what happened is really loud.

The People’s House, of course, is nothing like the house you or I live in. For one thing, it is way older than any of our residences. The original structure was completed in 1800 and has undergone a number of expansions and renovations.

As you likely did not learn in school in American History, the Capitol Building’s expansion accomplished in the 1850’s utilized slaves for construction labor. Yes, the Northerners wanted to make sure this job was completed before they invaded the South to do away with the terrible institution of slavery. Apparently it was do as we say and not as we do….

The sheer size of this “house” distinguishes the Capitol from the residence of John Q. Citizen. The Capitol Building, a National Historic Landmark, is the 5th tallest structure in Washington, D.C., and its grounds cover approximately 274 acres. Its location would warm a realtor’s heart concerned with location, location, location. The People’s House is situated on Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall.

And you think you get tired of visitors to your house? You’ve got nothing on the legislative branch. Three to five million people from around the world visit the People’s House each year. Nevertheless, the numbers have plunged since the Capitol Building has been closed to the public due to the pandemic.

The uninvited mob which rudely and illegally entered the People’s House on January 6th will, of course, unexpectedly add to the number of visitors in 2021. An accurate number of those who “stopped by” for a visit that day cannot be obtained. Even a reliable estimate of the unruly crowd is difficult because aerial photos are not permitted in Washington, D.C. due to security concerns. And, after January 6th, I’d say the security concerns are way bigger than folks imagined they were.

While Americans were shocked at the violence which unfolded on January 6th, this event was not the first time that violence has touched the People’s House. In 1814, just a few years after the building’s completion, it was partially burned by the British during the War of 1812.

But that’s a long time ago, right? Well, fast forward to March 1, 1954. On that date four Puerto Rican nationalists attended a debate on an immigration bill by the House of Representatives. In a desire to publicize their desire for Puerto Rican independence from the U.S., they shot 30 rounds from semi-automatic pistols from a visitors’ balcony in the House chamber. Yes, they definitely got everyone’s attention. Five representatives were wounded, but thankfully all recovered.

Sounds like the People’s House needs to have some security, huh? Perhaps a big dog like some homeowners? The security in place is the U.S. Capitol Police, a force established in 1828 with a currently authorized sworn strength of over 2,000 officers. (NOTE: That number is down since two officers died as the result of the events of January 6th.) The mission statement for the Capitol Police is to “Protect the congress…so it can fulfill its constitutional and legislative responsibilities in a safe, secure and open environment.” That was apparently Mission Impossible on January 6th.

The Capitol Police were expecting protestors on that date, but they were not prepared for the size of the crowd. Reports indicate that the crowd was likely double what was anticipated per FBI reports. Accordingly, the People’s House Protectors were caught off guard.

The Capitol Police knew company was coming, i.e., people participating in the planned “Save America March.” Barriers were in place around the perimeter, and riot gear was handy. President Trump addressed the crowd on the Ellipse that day–the day Congress was meeting to count the results of the Electoral College vote and to certify Biden’s victory in the presidential election. After his speech, the crowd marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building.

And the rest, as they say, is (sad) history. Barriers were breached and rioters forced their way into the People’s House. They took the Senate Chamber, physical altercations occurred between mob members and the Capitol Police, shots were fired, and gazillions of selfies were taken. The occupation lasted several hours during which time offices, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, were entered and looted. Talk about a messy House!

Because of the insanity in the nation’s capital, the mayor of Washington, D.C. declared a 12-hour curfew beginning at 6:00 p.m. Undaunted, Congress reconvened around 8:00 p.m. to continue their legislative duties. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the reassembled legislators saying: “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today: You did not win. Violence never wins….And this is still the People’s House…Let’s get back to work.”

The Congress, as well as the entire nation, has some tough work to do. The country is clearly a house divided. Getting our house in order will take more than replacing the broken windows in the People’s House. The house in “Our House” may have been in the middle of a street, but the People’s House was in the middle of a mob and is now in the middle of a national crisis.

Just WONDER-ing:

Had you heard the U.S. Capitol referred to as the People’s House before? Have you ever visited the Capitol Building? Did you think violence like what occurred was possible in this country?

The Package Is (Still) In The Mail–Distressing Delivery Delays

What’s in your mailbox? A better question might be what’s NOT in your mailbox. Mine has been annoyingly empty on several occasions recently. What’s up? The crushing volume of deliveries to be made during the holiday season has resulted in a behemoth backlog.

Santa delivered Christmas presents in a timely fashion, but U.S.P.S. is still working on getting an unprecedented volume of such packages to their intended destination. Despite the desire for the “swift completion of their appointed rounds” by mail carriers, that goal was unattainable in 2020 continuing on in to 2021. Don’t blame snow or rain or heat or gloom of night for the delays. Let’s unmask (pun intended) the culprit. It’s COVID-19 and the consequences thereof.

The coronavirus achieved more than simply infecting millions and killing thousands here in the United States during 2020. It altered our lives and how we carried out regular tasks and celebrated cherished holidays. The crafty coronavirus even toyed with the postal service and took it for a roller coaster ride. The strategy was the classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news was that the U.S.P.S., which has seen steep declines in volume over the past few years, saw an unprecedented surge in business; the bad news was that this astronomical volume was a tidal wave which swept U.S.P.S. underwater unable to keep pace with the delivery demands. Glub! Glub!

The pandemic created a perfect storm which has paralyzed the postal service. Quarantines and illness among the 644,000 postal employees caused a shortage of workers. According to the American Postal Workers Union, nearly 19,000 U.S.P.S. workers were in quarantine at the end of 2020. And, of course, the end of the year (think Christmas) is a bad time to be short on workers when it’s the busiest delivery time annually.

As the availability of postal employees went down, the demand for deliveries skyrocketed. Because of health concerns, people opted not to personally deliver packages in their local area. It’s safer to mail it, they concluded. Because of health concerns, people thought it best not to travel to spend the holidays with family back home. We’ll have to mail their gifts to them instead, they concluded. Because of health concerns, people shied away from going to malls and other shopping venues where public contact was required. Let’s buy it online and have it shipped, they concluded. Bottom line? Everything had to be delivered. Hear that sound? It’s the tidal wave crashing over the head of U.S.P.S.

The role e-commerce played in the Christmas crush was huge. On Cyber Monday alone online shopping totaled $34.4 billion, an increase of 20% from 2019. During November and December 2020, e-commerce sales were up 33% from the previous year. While many online retailers utilize private delivery services such as UPS and FedEx, those services imposed deadlines for receipt of items for Christmas delivery. Senders who missed the deadline had no choice but to turn to U.S.P.S. to get massive amounts of their items delivered. And many of us, me included, are still waiting for our packages. And waiting. And waiting.

Where are these endlessly “in transit” packages? Widely circulated on the internet are pictures of U.S.P.S. processing and distribution centers across the country filled to overflowing with them. According to a December 28th news report, bays at the Cleveland Post Office were packed with boxes that had yet to be gone through. Due to the sea of incoming packages, trailers were obtained to hold them at annexes in the area. News articles contain stories of folks whose packages traveled to a center in New York and haven’t moved for weeks. I can see a package wanting to hang out in a center in Florida during the winter, but who wants to cool their heels (literally) in New York in December?

In addition to packages, the backlog has affected mail service as well. Letters, cards, and bills have been delayed also. No one ever likes to receive a bill, but it is even worse if the bill isn’t received until after its due date. A postal worker in a Philadelphia postal plant reported that one cannot even move in the building because so much mail is stacked there. So, the check you’re awaiting is not in the mail, it’s in a stack apparently.

Delivery delays are an issue despite the postal service having hired 50,000 seasonal workers in anticipation of increased holiday business. U.S.P.S. reported to Congress that first class mail was delivered on time only 78.9% of the time during the week of November 28th. This figure was far below the service’s goal of 96% on time delivery. To deal with the historic backlog, Sunday deliveries were expanded in some cities with high volume, and employees were required to work a great deal of overtime. With extended work schedules, some postal carriers are now literally working in the gloom of night.

But don’t be too hard on the U.S.P.S. They aren’t the only mail service suffering from delivery delays. Across the pond, the U.K.’s Royal Mail is behind on deliveries as well due to “exceptionally high volumes of post.” A reported online shift to shopping due to the pandemic means that 200 million more parcels were in their post this year. I say, old chap, that’s a lot!

As frustrating as not receiving a gift or an order in a timely fashion is, if that’s the biggest complaint you can make right now, be thankful. How many people did not live to see Christmas due to COVID-19? How many individuals lost their jobs due to the coronavirus and couldn’t afford to buy Christmas gifts to be delivered? Delayed delivery of a package simply means postponed enjoyment; in the context of a pandemic, its better late than never.

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you experienced delay in receipt of mail or packages in the past few weeks? Did you purchase anything online over the holidays to avoid going out publicly to shop? At what point does a delay during peak shipping times become unacceptable?