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July 2011, Volume 18, Number 3

Population, Health, Education

In 1970, the US had fewer than 10 million foreign-born residents; three-fourths of the foreign-born were non-Hispanic whites. In 2010, the US had almost 40 million foreign-born residents, and less than a quarter of these immigrants were non-Hispanic whites.

The 50.5 million Hispanic residents counted by the 2010 census have the highest birth rate because they are younger (median age of 27 in 2010 compared to 41 for non-Hispanic whites) and because Hispanics have a higher fertility rate. About 63 percent of US Hispanic residents have Mexican roots.

The US had almost 14.7 million Asian residents in 2010, including almost five million in California. The big three countries of origin for Asian residents in the US are China, 23 percent; India, 19 percent; and the Philippines, 17 percent.

Over 80 percent of US residents and 85 percent of US jobs are in the 363 metro areas for which DOL regularly reports employment. Employment in these metro areas peaked at over 118 million in 2008 and fell by over seven million during the recession. A June 2011 report for the US Conference of Mayors predicted that employment would not rise to 2008 levels in many metro areas until 2015 to 2020.

Health. The US spends more on health care than any other OECD nation, an average $7,500 per person each year, about 2.5 times the OECD average. The OECD recommends that governments require co-payments, improve the coordination of health care between doctors, hospitals and other health-care facilities, and change economic incentives in the health care system so that, for instance, health care providers are paid for performance rather than the number of procedures.

Medicaid, the largest means-tested federal-state program assisting 56 million poor people, spends almost $500 billion a year to provide health care for people under 65 who have incomes of up to 133 percent of the poverty line or $29,330 in 2011. Each state operates its own Medicaid program. The federal government covers almost 60 percent of the cost. Still, states spend an average of almost a quarter of their budgets on their share of Medicaid. Enrollment is expected to increase by 15 million over the next five years because of the 2010 health insurance reform. However, states facing budget deficits are reducing payments to doctors and hospitals, which is making it hard for people with Medicaid to find care, especially by specialists.

House Republicans in April 2011 unveiled a Medicaid reform plan that would turn the current open-ended reimbursement formula into in a block grant in the same way that welfare was changed in 1996. States would receive federal funds to care for low-income people and have more discretion to spend these federal funds. About half of Medicaid recipients are children, but two-thirds of Medicaid spending assists adults.

Medicare, the federal government's health insurance for about 37 million elderly and seven million disabled persons in 2009, would be modified under House Republican plans. The current open-ended commitment to pay a share of health care expenses incurred would be replaced by a contribution for private health insurance. Spending on Medicare was $528 billion in FY10.

Education. Starting salaries for college graduates are falling. The median starting salary for graduates of four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down 10 percent from $30,000 between 2006 and 2008. The share of graduates finding a job within nine months of graduation fell to 55 percent from 90 percent. Median student debt was $20,000.

California voters in 1998 approved Proposition 227, which required most of the state's now 1.5 million K-12 English-language learners to be placed in English-only instruction. Parents may still request bilingual instruction in certain circumstances, and about a third of the state's English-language learners are in bilingual programs.

Researchers have attacked the core assumption of Proposition 227, that English-only instruction helps English-language learners to keep pace with their peers. Some school districts are experimenting with language-immersion programs that teach children 90 percent in their home language in first grade, and move them to 90 percent English-language instruction by fifth grade. Many of the children enrolled in dual-language immersion programs have parents who want their children to learn Spanish or European and Asian languages.

For-profit universities have been under attack for a business model that depends on enrolling low-income students who take out loans paid directly to the college, often drop out, and wind up in debt and without degrees or certificates. However, for-profits defeated efforts in 2011 to limit their access to federal grants and loans if too many of their students default on their federal debts or do not find jobs after graduation.

Teresa Watanabe, "Dual-language immersion programs growing in popularity," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2011.