Associated Press on May 03, 2020, released this account on Hard-to-count Arab Americans Urged to Prioritize Census. It is about an easy to notice a change in the US population that is taking time to translate into an administratively operational procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of the newly established community originating mainly from the Middle East.
DEARBORN, MICH. – At a Michigan gas station, the message is obvious — at least to Arabic speakers: Be counted in the 2020 census.
“Provide your community with more/additional opportunities,” the ad on the pump handle reads in Arabic. In the fine print, next to “United States Census 2020,” it adds: “To shape your future with your own hands, start here.”
As state officials and nonprofit groups target hard-to-count groups like immigrants, people of color and those in poverty, many Arab Americans say the undercount is even more pronounced for them. That means one of the largest and most concentrated Arab populations outside the Middle East — those in the Detroit area — could be missing out on federal funding for education, health care, crime prevention and other programs that the census determines how to divvy up.
That also includes money to help states address the fallout from the Coronavirus.
“We are trying to encourage people not just to fill it out because of all the reasons we had given before, where there’s education and health care and all of that, but also because it is essential for the federal government to know who is in Michigan at this point more than ever before,” said Rima Meroueh, director of policy and advocacy with Dearborn-based ACCESS, one of the largest Arab American advocacy nonprofits in the country.
The Arab American community checks many boxes that census and nonprofit officials say are hallmarks of the hardest-to-count communities: large numbers of young children, non-English speakers, recent immigrants and those who often live in multifamily or rental housing.
Arabs arrived en masse to the U.S. as the auto industry ramped up and worker demand grew. By the time those jobs began to decline in more recent decades, communities with strong Middle Eastern cultural roots had been firmly established in the Detroit area. It has remained a destination for people from across the Middle East fleeing conflict, reconnecting with family or simply seeking a better life. Even those who resettle elsewhere often first make their way to Detroit and surrounding cities.
Advocates have pressed ahead with “get out the count” campaigns despite restrictions designed to curb COVID-19. The pandemic has forced the Census Bureau to push back its deadline for finishing the 2020 count from the end of July to the end of October. It’s also asking Congress for permission to delay deadlines next year for giving census data to the states so they can draw new voting maps.
With the changes, ACCESS is stepping up its social media effort, mirroring it to focus as much on the once-a-decade count as their offices, which had been plastered with census posters, Meroueh said.
“If you check out our social media, it’s very census-heavy,” she said.
But groups face a hurdle after the Trump administration decided not to include a category that counts people from the Middle East or North Africa as their own group. The Census Bureau recommended the so-called MENA box in 2017 after years of research and decades of advocacy.
The decision to scrap the choice angers many Arab Americans, who say it hinders representation and needed funding. Democratic U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, an Arab American representing part of Detroit and several suburbs, expressed her displeasure while questioning Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham on Capitol Hill in February.
“The community did it right — they went through the process,” she said. “You’re making us invisible.”
Dillingham said the form would have a write-in box, allowing people to describe their ethnicity. It falls short for Tlaib, but Matthew Jaber Stiffler, a University of Michigan lecturer and research and content manager at the Arab American National Museum, said it’s better than nothing. Advocates will have to push harder to get people counted, he said.
“The onus is on community organizations, and local and state governments to get the people to complete the form, because it doesn’t say, ‘Are you Middle Eastern or North African?'” Stiffler said. “We’ll get really good data if enough people fill it out.”
Even though the MENA option isn’t there, Stiffler says census officials did preparatory work for it. If someone writes “Syrian” on their form, for instance, Stiffler has been told that the census will code that within the larger MENA ancestry group.
That’s precisely what Abdullah Haydar did when he filled out his census form electronically, which he said took five minutes.
“I definitely filled it out as soon as I got it. I believe in representation,” said Haydar, a 44-year-old from Canton Township, Michigan, who works in LinkedIn’s software engineering department.
But support for the census isn’t unanimous. Some in the Arab community have raised concerns about government questions over their citizenship status if they participate, though that is not part of the form. Many have reported extra scrutiny since the Trump administration issued a ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries in 2017 — creating an overall chilling effect when it comes to interacting with the government.
“They don’t trust the current administration. They don’t trust what they’re going to do with the information. And when you look at the the so-called Muslim ban that was put in, people don’t want to be on the government’s radar,” said Haydar, who assisted some elderly relatives in filling out their forms.
“I just told them, ‘Look, yes, there may be abuses. There’s always a risk of that. This administration seems to be pushing boundaries. But at the end of the day, this is the basis of our system of government, for people to count,'” he said.
The image above is strictly for illustration only.
DETROIT — In a Wednesday teleconference, leaders from the U.S. Census Bureau briefed media outlets that serve the Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) communities on the status of the 2020 Census, describing the efforts underway for all people to be accurately counted and the opportunity for individuals to apply for temporary jobs supporting the operation.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be conducted every 10 years. Census Bureau population statistics inform how billions of dollars in federal funds are allocated for critical public services like hospitals and healthcare clinics, emergency response, schools and education, and roads and bridges.
The 2020 Census will also determine how many seats each state gets in Congress and guide the drawing of local political boundaries. In mid-March 2021, households will receive an invitation to participate in the census with an option to respond online, by mail or by phone.
“We are working closely with state and local governments, the business community, civic organizations, nonprofits and the faith community to accomplish our goal of counting everyone, including young children and babies,” said Marilyn A. Sanders, Chicago regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Sanders underscored that census responses are confidential and protected by law.
“We do not share your information with law enforcement agencies or immigration officials,” she said.
Sanders also provided an update on the recruiting for the 2020 Census operation, emphasizing the importance of hiring census workers to work in the communities in which they live.
“We are offering competitive pay, flexible schedules and the opportunity for individuals to make a difference in their own communities for the next 10 years,” she said.
With a team of multicultural audience experts advising on campaign messaging and strategy, VMLY&R is the marketing communications partner for the 2020 Census. VMLY&R Strategy Director Basem Hassan explained his marketing campaign’s research process and insights.
“We are relying heavily on trusted voices in the MENA community to help ensure everyone understands what is at stake in the 2020 Census,” he said.
The Census Bureau officials were joined at the briefing by Nada Al-Hanooti, executive director of the Michigan office of Emgage, and Rima Meroueh, director of advocacy and community engagement at ACCESS, who addressed why the MENA communities should fully participate in the 2020 Census.
Al-Hanooti also encouraged Arab Americans to apply as census takers to help build confidence in the operation among the community.
No inclusion of MENA category on the census form
After the conference, The Arab American News reached out to Hassan to discuss a MENA-related census issue that has come under recent criticisms. The new census form will not include a separate MENA category, despite decades-long calls to change the bureau’s policy.
As of now, respondents will have to pick between two racial categories, White or Black, and then include their country of origin or the country of origin they choose to identify with.
Hassan said that in his nationwide research of MENA communities, he found this racial categorization to be a criticism and not necessarily a barrier to MENA populations engaging with the census.
The bureau conducted research in 2015 into the inclusion of a separate “Middle Eastern or North African” category and found including such a tick box would in fact “helps MENA respondents to more accurately report their MENA identities” and that it was optimal to use a dedicated MENA response category.
Despite these findings, the bureau did not take on MENA as a category. Hassan cautioned that this omission should not be construed as an under-representation of MENA in census data.
Race question on the 2020 Census form. Middle Eastern and North African respondents will be asked to pick a race and then include country of origin or ethnicity.
“The instruction for MENA, because we are so diverse, is to select the ethnicity that we most identify with,” he said. “When one writes their country of origin, the bureau has a way of tracking that back to a MENA category.”
“If we as a community come out en masse and be counted, it can only help,” he added. “If we’re not present and counted, it will be harder to demand that we be a tick box on future census forms.”
More information on a complete and accurate count of MENA on the 2020 Census will be released in an FAQ supplement in the coming weeks. For now, the country of origin subcategory under the race tick box is critical towards the MENA count.
The census in Dearborn
The Dearborn community came together at a Census 2020 kick-off event at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center on Wednesday.
Dearborn’s Economic and Community Development Department Deputy Director Hassan Sheik spoke along with Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, Zaineb Hussain from Wayne United and Linda Clark, a representative from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Speakers stressed the importance of a complete count in Dearborn, helping the mayor and Wayne County achieve this count, and the importance of informing the community of the confidentiality of census data.
Wayne County residents can apply to be census takers or field representatives, both of which are hourly jobs, or salaried regional technicians.
On a hot Saturday in August, the parking lot of the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance in West Ridge is filled with the sound of festivities. Kids jump in a bouncy house, Arabic pop music blares on the speakers, and a group of aunties chat as they watch over their charges. The organization, formerly known as the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, hosts this yearly event as a way to connect the families they serve with the rest of the immigrant community.
Children gather round a foldable plastic table with a tawula set, playing a Turkish version of backgammon popular throughout the Middle East. Among them is Asal Alshammari, 11, who lives in West Ridge with her grandparents and sister. She immigrated to America with the rest of her Iraqi family after living in Dubai for nine years. Since moving to Chicago, Alshammari has been puzzled by the way Americans categorize race. “I identify myself as Middle Eastern, but [on school forms] it says I’m white, and that’s kind of confusing,” she says.
Sometimes she’ll even whip out her smartphone to show other kids at school exactly where Iraq is located: western Asia. “If someone says, ‘Oh, you’re white,’ I tell them ‘No, I’m Asian.’ But they’re always like, ‘What? You don’t seem Asian,’ because I have blue eyes from my grandpa,” she says. Alshammari wishes there were a box that was a better fit for people from countries like Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and she’s not alone.
As the 2020 U.S. Census approaches, local groups are working to ensure there’s an accurate count of their communities. But the census has never included any racial or ethnic category for Middle Eastern or North African communities. That, along with the current climate of fear surrounding immigration status, is a big challenge for folks hoping a full census count can help the community build political representation and gain access to crucial social services.
More than 20 years ago, when the federal government made major changes to the way race and ethnicity are reported on official forms, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget recommended additional testing on a category that would be called Middle Eastern North African, or MENA. Without a MENA option on the form, people from this region usually chose the white category, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Race and Ethnicity Analysis.
In a 2015 community forum held by census officials to discuss the MENA category, participants indicated that “MENA responses should not be classified as White. They thought classifying this group as White makes them invisible in the data, even though they face discrimination in many aspects of society.”
With the support of advocacy groups like the Arab American Institute, the census bureau began testing a potential MENA category addition in 2015, and in 2017 released preliminary results that stated, “The use of a distinct Middle Eastern or North African category appears to elicit higher quality data for people who would identify with MENA.”
Despite all this, the bureau announced in 2018 that a MENA category would not be included in the 2020 census, claiming that “more research and testing is needed” since some in the MENA community felt that the designation should be treated as an ethnicity rather than a race.
“Some of us identify as white, some as Brown, some as Black,” says Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute. “We don’t necessarily need a category that reduces us to one race, but we do need visibility, inclusion, and to be seen as a group of Americans with needs and not just the focus of counterterrorism programs or political bigotry.”
With the decision made, local groups serving MENA residents in the Chicago region are now focused on ensuring that their community participates, period.
An accurate count is essential, they say, since census numbers determine the allocation of funding for services like cultural diversity training for institutions that interact with the community. Though federal funding formulas are complex, a George Washington University study in 2018 estimated that for every Illinois resident not counted, the state would lose $840 in Medicaid funding.
In Cook County, where an estimated 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern, North African, or Southwest Asian descent according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, outreach efforts are beginning. It won’t be easy, says Imelda Salazar, an organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, noting that many MENA residents are descended from immigrants or are immigrants themselves. Salazar says outreach to immigrants in general is difficult given the Trump administration’s policies, including increased restrictions on who can seek asylum and the executive order restricting entry of foreign nationals from some Muslim-majority countries.
“We give a lot of know-your-rights trainings and we tell people, Do not open the door [for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents],” she says, which makes it hard to allay their anxiety about opening the door for census workers. To try to dissipate these fears, SWOP precedes many of its workshops with a conversation about current deportation and detention issues and then talks about the legally mandated confidentiality of U.S. Census data. Salazar emphasizes that “fear won’t take us anywhere” and that if “we really want to build power, we need to be counted.”
Distrust of the federal government is particularly salient in the sizable Arab American community of Bridgeview, a southwest suburb. In the 2018 documentary The Feeling of Being Watched, Bridgeview native Assia Boundaoui uncovered evidence that Muslim residents were under FBI surveillance as far back as 1985 as part of a counterintelligence effort known as Operation Vulgar Betrayal.
With Trump administration policies like the public charge rule and the Muslim ban, some people have become wary even of receiving public benefits, according to Nareman Taha, cofounder of Arab American Family Services, a nonprofit social service agency in the southwest suburbs. They’re afraid the government is collecting their personal information through the institutions that dole out benefits.
“Clients would come and say, ‘Close my file. I don’t want anything from the government. I don’t want food stamps. I don’t want medical cards,'” she says. “And these are people who are working poor, they’re eligible. . . . Imagine that detriment and the impact that had on families.”
To counteract that fear, groups like AAFS are relying on the relationships and trust built over years working within communities.
AAFS founded the Arab American Complete Count Committee, which meets at their office, and they are local members of the national Yalla Count Me In campaign—both are aimed at increasing census participation. AAFS is asking people to mark the “other” box on the form and write in “Arab” or their country of origin, in the hopes that when the Census Bureau reevaluates the MENA category there will be evidence to support its inclusion. Other groups, like the Arab American Action Network, say they have not yet decided what to recommend; they’re planning more conversations with community and national partners before making a decision.
Though race and ethnicity data in the census are rarely tied directly to federal funding, local organizations say that if the data were available, it could help them raise money from other sources and draw publicity for their work.
When Hatem Abudayyeh of the Arab American Action Network raises funds for the group’s work to protect youth against discrimination in schools, he says government representatives and donors will ask questions like, “What are the academic levels? How do they do in school? What are their literacy rates?”
“We were in a coalition with Black and Latino organizations, and they all had these stats about how Black and Latino kids were being suspended and expelled from school at much higher rates than whites for the same alleged activities,” he explains. “And we didn’t have any numbers for the Arab kids, even though anecdotally we knew that those things were happening to Arabs as well.”
Taha, at AAFS, says most of their funds come from state government, corporations, foundations, and private donors. The group has been encouraging local universities and other nonprofits to collect data using the MENA category to help them make the case for the services they provide, like domestic violence prevention and immigration legal consultation. One funder, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, did just that, adding a MENA category to collect better health data statewide.
Some organizations rely on their own surveys or draw noncensus data from sources like Chicago Public Schools. CPS conducts an annual survey asking what languages are spoken in students’ homes, and Arabic was the third-most common non-English language in 2019, preceded only by Spanish and Cantonese, according to data City Bureau received through a public records request.
Laura Youngberg, the executive director of the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance, says her group was able to use CPS data to advocate for federal and state grants that support its youth and family services. “It’s a battle of like going back to the state and saying, your data is wrong,” she says. “This is the correct data [from the school district]. This is why we deserve to have funding.”
The census category gets at “the bigger issue of, how does a community define itself and how the families define themselves,” Youngberg says. Better data around MENA communities could improve language access for Arabic-speaking people, increase visibility and political representation, and contribute to a larger sense of belonging.
Beyond the census, Taha wants to push for the MENA category at the state level, asking newly elected governor J.B. Pritzker, “How would you recognize the Arab American community? I mean, you came to us when you needed our votes.” Now, more than ever, her community needs to be counted.
Sarah Conway contributed reporting.
This report was produced by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based in Woodlawn. Learn more and get involved at citybureau.org.
Around the world, trillions of dollars are spent each year building skyscrapers, highways, pipelines, schools, and countless other structures, and the resources that could be saved using advanced analytics, automations, machine learning, and other technologies that are available now is staggering. As a primary investor and procurer in infrastructure projects and the shepherd of national economies, governments have a clear incentive to help accelerate adoption within the construction industry.
New technologies can advance project outcomes in the construction industry. Governments are well-poised to cultivate greater adoption.
An industry notorious for cost and time overruns, the construction sector can capture significant efficiencies by adopting new technologies. While many executives acknowledge the potential of new technology, they often hesitate to risk multi-billion-dollar projects on applications they consider unproven. To create greater value from public and private spending on large capital projects, governments can help clear the path and bring new technologies to bear.
New technologies—advanced analytics, automation, machine learning, and the Internet of Things, for example—have delivered substantial benefits to industries at the forefront of adoption, particularly telecommunications and finance. And while these disruptive forces will eventually wash over every industry, the construction industry still lags.
Digital tools are already available, with $18 billion invested in construction technology between 2013 and early 2018. McKinsey research, however, finds that leaders struggle to adopt these applications—not because of cost concerns or lack of interest, but rather because of insufficient internal processes and risk aversion.
Pressing need for improvement
Using technologies to boost construction productivity can have a profound impact on public and private spending. In the United States alone, expenditures on construction reached $1.29 trillion in 2018, after rising an average of 7.4 percent annually over the previous five years.1 1.US Census Bureau.
The public sector accounts for a significant share of this total. Stripped of residential and private-use projects, construction expenditure on public infrastructure—for instance health care, education, and transportation—reached $334 billion in 2018 (Exhibit 1). Public spending will finance almost 80 percent of these infrastructure expenditures, by our estimates.
And the rise in construction spending is unlikely to abate soon. Increased urbanization is creating demand for projects that support denser population centers, such as transportation, power, and sewage. And in the United States, deteriorating public infrastructure must be addressed urgently. McKinsey research found that the country requires an additional $500 billion in infrastructure funding between 2017 and 2035 to meet its estimated requirements.
Amid this growing need, public and private projects have struggled to keep costs and construction times within original projections, especially for complex, high-cost projects. Early adopters have already begun to test new technologies to improve project outcomes. For instance, some companies are using wearable GPS devices or smartphone apps to optimize workflows and resources. Others have begun using virtual-reality systems for supervisors and crew to “walk through” processes to prepare sequencing, identify potential problems, and conduct safety trainings more efficiently.
Governments are well positioned to catalyze change
Despite these early efforts, many companies are reluctant to experiment in untested waters. This is understandable since billions of dollars and corporate reputations are at risk with these projects, and there is no room for do-overs. These hurdles, however, present a prime opportunity for governments to take the lead and break the inertia that slows the construction industry from entering a digital era.
Public expenditures account for a significant portion of non-residential, public-use construction projects, and government agencies work closely with private companies of all sizes to deliver these complex infrastructure projects. Such projects span a wide range of infrastructure, from roads to buildings to sewer systems (Exhibit 2). The government’s purchasing power touches every corner of the construction industry, while its regulatory power allows it to set standards that are most easily met using new technologies or even to mandate their use.
Our experience and research suggest five measures available to governments that can be powerful tools in accelerating adoption.
Set bold aspirations
At the outset, governments can articulate bold aspirations for the adoption and use of technology in public sector projects. Beyond increasing awareness, such public aspirations demonstrate the priority given to developing a more efficient construction industry through broader deployment of new technologies.
One approach would be to craft a digital construction strategy that encourages the use of new tools to reduce the time and cost of public works projects. For example, clear targets could be set for the use of pre-fabricated or modular components, enabled by digital collaboration tools such as BIM, that would reduce the instances of rework and change orders.
Some countries have already taken steps on this direction. In Ireland, for example, the National BIM Council published a national strategy for the construction industry in 2017 that included clear digital targets.2 2.National BIM Council, Ireland, Roadmap to Digital Transition for Ireland’s Construction Industry 2018-2021, December 2017. As part of its vision, the council strives to reduce project delivery times by 20 percent, increase construction exports by 20 percent, and cut capital costs by 20 percent, all by 2021 compared to 2018 levels.
Create meaningful incentives
Governments can also use their purse strings and tendering processes to create meaningful incentives for construction companies. For example, public grants could be offered to help companies adopt technologies that aid in project design and execution. National competitions and prizes that reward technology adoption in construction projects can also provide first movers with additional financial support, as well as publicly recognizing the importance of using technology to accelerate and bring down the costs of construction. Similarly, governments may consider publicly supported incubators that allow low-risk testing for new applications.
Further, public contracting agencies can insist that successful bidders incorporate digital collaboration tools into publicly-owned projects. For example, the Tennessee Department of Transportation recently announced it will require prime contractors and designers to use construction productivity software on all its projects, beginning with March 2019 contract awards.
In another example, the UK Infrastructure and Projects Authority estimated that public and private investment in infrastructure projects will total about $780 billion between 2017 and 2027 and pledged “to use its purchasing power to drive adoption of modern methods of construction.”3 3.UK Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Transforming Infrastructure Performance, December 2017. Among the announced measures, five major government departments will weigh offsite construction capabilities in assessing tenders for projects.
In addition to creating meaningful incentives to spur adoption, governments can help reduce the barriers and risks that are unique to these emerging technologies. For example, procurement or acquisition regulations often place a great deal of emphasis on a contractor’s past performance in future source selections. However, contractors that wish to pilot new technologies will not have as much experience or demonstrated cases as those offering traditional solutions. If this is seen as a major disadvantage, it could hinder the use of government procurement processes to encourage the adoption of new technologies. Re-thinking these guidelines to make allowances for emerging technologies, giving them time to establish a foothold, may be crucial to accelerated adoption.
At the same time, governments can consider assuming some of the contractor risks associated with trialing new technologies. In selected projects or portions of projects, for example, governments can offer to reimburse contractors if the new technologies fail to deliver projected savings. Such guarantees may sound bold, but they can be successful if focused on targeted project components, phases, or solutions with substantial long-term savings potential.
Measures can also be taken to increase transparency around the costs and progress of public projects. This transparency is supported by digital technologies that provide real-time information on the progress of major projects. In turn, increased transparency creates pressure to complete projects on budget and on time, which becomes easier when new technologies are deployed. The United Kingdom’s infrastructure initiative includes benchmarking tools that track cost and schedule during the life of a project. The system not only follows the progress of individual projects underway, but also assesses the impact of completed projects in their overall asset class, as well as movement toward network goals, such as customer satisfaction and performance, and national goals, such as reduced carbon emissions and economic development.
Ultimately, these benchmarks can be provided on online dashboards that allow the public and other stakeholders to monitor progress, increasing the pressure on construction companies to meet deadlines and costs. For now, like in the United Kingdom, the results of these benchmarking exercises are generally available in annual reports.
As with most industries, the construction sector will struggle to find the talent needed to use new technologies effectively. Governments can play a dual role in helping to meet this challenge. First, they can invest in training programs that not only build needed capabilities but also provide new opportunities to workers displaced by these technologies.
Singapore, for instance, includes construction in its $3.3 billion Industry Transformation Programme, announced as part of the country’s 2016 budget plan.4 4.Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry, “Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs),” Oct. 31, 2016. In this effort, the government wants to train 80,000 workers in new construction technologies, such as design for manufacturing and assembly methods, integrated digital delivery, tools that enhance collaboration, and offsite construction, as well as green building capabilities. Structured internships and additional training for recent university graduates are two measures the country is using to reach this goal.
And second, governments can lead by example by building their own internal digital capabilities. Developing these skills—for instance by creating an advanced analytics group—would allow public agencies to use new technologies more effectively in overseeing projects and optimizing maintenance operations and to understand more clearly how new technologies can be deployed broadly in the industry.
(Ethnic Media Services) — For generations, millions of Americans whose roots lie in the Middle East and North Africa — MENA — have essentially become invisible people because the Census Bureau has denied requests for their own racial category.
“Legally, in America, I’m classified as white,” says Dr. Hamoud Salhi, associate dean of the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, CSU-Dominguez Hills. “I was born in Algeria, which is part of Africa, so technically I could declare myself as African American, but I can’t.”
Palestinian-American Loubna Qutami, a President’s postdoctoral fellow at U.C. Berkeley specializing in ethnic studies, says that since MENA doesn’t have a classification of its own, it legally falls under the white category.
MENA populations have their own specific needs for health care, education, language assistance, and civil rights protection, but they have no way to advocate for themselves because numerically they are folded into the category of white Americans.
To change this, Dr. Salhi, Dr. Qutami, and other MENA leaders have been mobilizing their communities to participate in the 2020 census, encouraging people to write in their ethnicity. They spoke with other experts and activists on a May 13 two-hour video conference organized by Ethnic Media Services on the historical, linguistic and political challenges that make the MENA population among the hardest to count in California.
Geographically, MENA populations live on three continents — from the border of Afghanistan south to the tip of Africa — and in 22 nations in the Middle East alone, with numerous subgroups such as Kurds, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians.
“North Africa is actually a concept that the French gave to Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, which they colonized,” says Dr. Salhi. The neighboring countries of Egypt and Libya were added later.
Because of their shared Arabic language and Islamic religion, people in the United States from North Africa were lumped together with people of the Middle East to form the MENA acronym.
For decades, the Census Bureau has turned down requests to add MENA to the official category of races, currently white, black or African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian American and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander.
The result, says Dr. Qutami, artificially props up the white population count, which has been in decline, while suppressing the count of MENA residents who don’t identify themselves as white. According to the 2015 Census Bureau’s “National Content Test – Race and Ethnicity Report, “As expected, the percent reporting as White is significantly lower with the inclusion of a distinct MENA category when compared to treatments with no MENA category.”
California mirrors the challenge to the MENA population of geographic size and diversity, says Emilio Vaca, deputy director of the state’s Complete Count Committee, which directs census outreach. The Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey reported that 11 million of California’s 40 million residents, about 27 percent, are immigrants.
“That’s equivalent to the entire state of Georgia,” Vaca emphasized. At home, most of those immigrants speak one or more of 200 languages other than English.
Homayra Yusufi, from the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, broke down the face of diversity in just one San Diego neighborhood that her organization serves: “We have 45 different national origins — from MENA, Asia and Latin America — who speak more than 100 languages in the 6.5-mile City Heights district, a distinct community of refugees and immigrants.” Educating and motivating these groups to participate in the census is a way to engage them in the civic life of the wider city.
Historical necessity — what specific immigrant groups have done to survive — also plays a role in the MENA undercount. Up until the mid-20th century, only whites could own property, and only “free white immigrants” could become American citizens.
To survive and advance, Middle Eastern immigrants successfully petitioned the federal courts to be allowed to identify themselves as white in 1920. North African immigrants, as members of the MENA population, got pulled along and found themselves legally classified as white as well.
The discriminatory policy for citizenship and property ownership favoring whites-only ended with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. But even then, MENA communities found it difficult to raise funds and mobilize calls for action to address their needs. They didn’t know where their fellow compatriots were located and couldn’t raise official numbers to request funds and resources.
“We were helpless. In many instances, we had to generate our own data,” says Dr. Qutami.
Over the years, the Census Bureau has never clearly answered why they’ve refused to include the MENA classification, despite concluding, in a 2017 report, that “the inclusion of a MENA category helps MENA Respondents to more accurately report their MENA identities.”
The bureau again turned down the 2018 request for the 2020 census. Karen Battle, chief of the bureau’s population division, announced in a public meeting on census preparations that “We do feel that more research and testing is needed.”
MENA advocates believe filling out the 2020 census is the only way to avoid another undercount. Without doing this, Yusui says, “our communities will continue to be invisible and left in the margins because data really matters.”
Gaining services customized to MENA’s needs is only part of what’s at stake. So, too, argues Yusufi, is building power. MENA populations then can elect individuals “who reflect the needs of our communities and hold lawmakers accountable” when they stigmatize MENA communities.
Kathay Feng of the nonpartisan watchdog Common Cause emphasized that participation in the census is the first step to representation. In America, resources and rights are accorded by representation based on the number of residents at all levels, from the state down to the municipality, in proportion to the total population.
“Everyone is counted, regardless of immigration status or whether they are registered voters or not,” Feng said, “because all residents pay taxes in one way or another, and most immigrants would eventually become citizens in the long run.”
Every 10 years, immediately after the decennial census submits population data, electoral districts are redrawn. In California, which has been at the forefront of redistricting reforms, the old practice of allowing legislators to draw district lines based on which populations are sure to vote them back into office — known as gerrymandering — was replaced in 2009 by independently selected commissioners. Nine other states have followed California’s lead.
But, Feng emphasized, to be effective and to ensure their voices are heard, residents have to be engaged at the local level. And this year, there is a danger that anti-immigrant forces will restrict the residents who count in redistricting to voters only.
“In the city of El Cajon, San Diego, we faced a lot of discrimination, especially when the Syrian refugees arrived. Our children got bullied in school but the schools didn’t want to adopt any bullying policy because we don’t have representation,” said Dilkhwaz Ahmed, executive director of License to Freedom. “Representation is very important to us as a Kurdish community, as refugees, and as immigrants.”
Emilio Vaca is optimistic that California can meet the undercount challenge: “As of May 11, California has a self-response rate of 59.6 percent, which is above the national average of 58 percent.” This is all the more impressive, Vaca noted, given how the pandemic has affected outreach.
Many of the speakers on the call testified to the ongoing efforts to shift to virtual outreach and “drive by” caravans and taking the census to where the people are.
“We had a food bank event for the Middle Eastern and Muslim community in south Sacramento that attracted more than 2,000 families who came by cars, and we actually engaged with them about the census in every single car,” said Basim Elkarra, executive director of CAIR in Sacramento. “Many were recent refugees.”
The 2020 census form doesn’t include the MENA racial category, but Question 9 allows respondents to write in “MENA” and their specific ethnicities such as Lebanese, Palestinian, Algerian or Kurd.
Being visible in the 2020 census, the speakers agreed, will lay the foundation for the next few MENA generations to build on what this generation has started.
This article originally published in the May 25, 2020 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.
The New York Times Ted Widmer’s Opinion is that A Century Ago, the Modern Middle East Was Born. Lots could object to that statement but reading his Christmas Day article republished here with our thanks, could be as enlightening as perhaps the Messiah’s birth anniversary.
At the end of 1919, Woodrow Wilson still wanted the region to decide its future. Britain and France had other ideas.
As 1919 came to a close, people around the world were celebrating the holidays, grateful for the return of peace on earth after the convulsions of the Great War. “Peace on earth” was a relative concept; there was still fighting in Russia. But for the most part, the soldiers were home, and their families were looking forward to a new decade, free of conflict.
In Paris, there were long lines outside of restaurants, as the French celebrated the holiday with gastronomic exuberance. In Berlin, Vienna and Budapest there was less Christmas cheer, thanks to food shortages and inflation, but the people flocked to cafes and did their best to revive the old holiday traditions. In Washington, there was no snow, but Woodrow Wilson issued a flurry of proclamations, including one on Christmas Eve that relinquished federal control of the railroads, a wartime measure that was no longer necessary.
But for all the Christmas cheer, there was a general restlessness as the long year 1919 drew to a close, without the clarity that so many hoped would follow the war’s end. An elaborate treaty was signed at Versailles on June 28, ending hostilities between the principal powers, but creating a host of new problems. Germans were furious when they realized the scale of the reparations imposed on them. New and dangerous political actors were quick to seize upon the public’s hunger to find scapegoats as the political mood turned dark.
Wilson’s thoughts must have been conflicted this Christmas season. As the son of a Southern Presbyterian minister, he had many reasons to rejoice at the arrival of Christmas, including the fact that he was sometimes compared to Jesus, with his “sermonettes” about the new era that was approaching. As a young man, he had written an essay on “Christ’s Army,” and it must have felt at times that he was in charge of this organization, with all of his schemes for human betterment. But as the year progressed, the comparisons to Jesus began to turn sardonic, as Wilson’s perfectionism grated on his allies.
Mistakes were plentiful as the world’s leaders contemplated missed opportunities in the great reshuffling of 1919.
A year earlier, Wilson strode the world like a colossus. On Christmas Eve 1918, he was in Paris, enjoying the last night of his first visit to France, where he received a tumultuous welcome as the embodiment of the people’s hopes. A year later, he was significantly diminished, by the flawed treaty, by the Senate’s refusal to approve the League of Nations, and by the stroke that had crippled him in October, as he brought his case to the American people.
He never lost his religiosity, and for that reason, the arrival of another Christmas may have felt reassuring. But the year had taken a severe toll. He said, “If I were not a Christian I think I should go mad, but my faith in God holds me to the belief that he is in some way working out his own plans through human perversities and mistakes.”
Mistakes were plentiful as the world’s leaders contemplated missed opportunities in the great reshuffling of 1919. Three enormous empires — the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian — had folded within the last two years, sweeping away centuries of dynastic privilege, but leaving a gaping void.
Then there was the Ottoman Empire, reeling from a series of catastrophes, but not quite defunct. From their palaces in Constantinople, sultans had once exercised sway over huge stretches of the lands stretching in all directions from Asia Minor. Even further afield, they commanded the loyalties of hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world as the caliphs of Islam.
But in recent years, sultans were struggling to maintain control of their own administrators. The Ottomans had backed the losing side in the war, then horrified the world with a genocidal campaign against the Armenian people. They were also losing credibility in other ways. In the years before the war, European powers had gobbled up nearly half a million square miles of former Ottoman territory. Then, during the war, an Arab revolt stoked by the British had removed large portions of what we would now call the Middle East.
Wilson even contemplated an American mandate over Armenia, the Dardanelles and the Bosporus.
With Christmas approaching, the English and French were negotiating over the fate of what remained. Earlier in the year, they had dutifully nodded as Wilson articulated his idea of a new diplomacy that would show respect to small countries, and affirm the rights of all peoples to something called “self-determination.” There would be fewer colonies, although some “mandates” would be allowed to exist, in which Western powers would act as benevolent caretakers for peoples who were “not yet ready” for self-determination. So idealistic did the word sound that Wilson even contemplated an American mandate over Armenia, the Dardanelles and the Bosporus.
But there had been a number of shocks to his idealistic vision. One came on March 20, 1919, when Wilson learned that his French and English allies had secretly agreed to carve up the Ottoman Empire as soon as the war ended, and were continuing to scheme both with and against each other. That seemed very much like the old diplomacy. A 1916 understanding, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, promised to give each side what it wanted in the region, with little regard for anyone’s right to self-determination.
For the British, that meant Palestine and a region that they were calling “Mesopotamia,” including the Ottoman provinces of Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. For the French, it was a generous slice of the eastern Mediterranean, around the city of Beirut, and an internal corridor stretching to Damascus, Aleppo and beyond.
Neither of these zones were natural countries. The Ottomans had considered Mosul a different region from Baghdad, but the British coveted the oil that was beginning to spurt out of the earth. Eventually, this awkward assemblage of provinces would receive a new name, Iraq, when the British succeeded in placing an Arab ally on its throne. In Arabic, the word means “deeply rooted,” but the new country was anything but that. The French went along, in return for some of the oil, and an agreement from the British to let them pursue their own intrigues in Lebanon and Syria.
Wilson responded by piously expressing his belief in “the consent of the governed,” and his hope that the wishes of local peoples would be taken into consideration as the European powers prepared to carve up the Middle East. He also proposed that a commission be created for that purpose, to earnestly inquire what form of government the locals wanted.
The French and British immediately shelved his quaint idea, but Wilson stuck with it, and appointed two commissioners, Henry Churchill King, the former president of Oberlin College, and Charles R. Crane, the scion of a family that had made a fortune from plumbing parts. They worked quickly and made a tour of the region, spending 42 days in what would later be Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Syria. On Aug. 28, they submitted a report that confirmed Wilson’s sense that no one in the region wanted European powers to come in and colonize them. It may have been the first time anyone asked local Arabs what they wanted.
But events were happening quickly on the ground, and the old diplomacy refused to give up the ghost. Throughout the spring and summer, the French and British continued to divide up the Middle East as if they were shopping at a spice bazaar.
In his Fourteen Points, Wilson had tried to assure the peoples of the region that they would be free to pursue “autonomous development.” But that was a confusing concept as the victors made overlapping promises to Greeks, Italians, Armenians, Lebanese Christians, Arabs, Kurds and an increasingly vocal group of Zionists, mostly from Eastern Europe. As they clamored for their pieces of the Ottoman Empire, these disparate populations remembered a great deal of history. The Crusades, Constantine and the Roman Empire, the Greek wars against Persia, the Babylonian Captivity — all of it could be summoned in an instant to justify a historic claim to an attractive parcel of land. That didn’t sound like new diplomacy at all.
In the Ottoman lands, a curious version of self-determination was beginning to take place, without permission from Wilson.
Wilson might have done more to push back against the land grab, but he was having problems of his own. After he returned to the United States, he received a hard lesson in self-determination when the Senate killed his vision in November. In a sense, his defeat was shared by the peoples of the Middle East, still looking for a champion.
But in the Ottoman lands, a curious version of self-determination was beginning to take place, without permission from Wilson, the allied leaders, or even the Ottomans. As the sultan, Mehmed VI, conceded point after point to the Allies, an angry Turkish soldier began to take matters into his own hands. Mustafa Kemal Pasha had already shown a great military aptitude during the war, particularly during the Turkish victory at Gallipoli. Throughout 1919, Kemal (later to be known as Ataturk) traveled across Anatolia, organizing Turkish resistance to the dismemberment of his country. Increasingly, it became clear that he was creating a new country — Turkey — that would no longer be headed by the sultans.
In other ways, as well, the victors discovered that the lines on the map were not as easy to redraw as they had first thought. In some places, like Palestine and Israel, a state of near-constant violence has persisted among peoples who wish to exercise self-determination at the same time, in the same place. In other places, too, we see how much we still live with the decisions made at the negotiating table in 1919. Russia continues to seethe against its limits and its neighbors, and is pressing up close against the old Ottoman borderlands. Certain boundaries in the Middle East appear to be in flux again — most recently, the southern border of Turkey. Self-appointed “Caliphs” continue to appear and disappear, suggesting that a void remains unfilled since the last sultan occupied that role. In retrospect, the new maps of 1919 were something of a palimpsest.
But at least it was quiet in one place as night descended on Christmas Eve a century ago. Bethlehem was a small town in what had been the Ottoman province of Palestine, but its future was uncertain as the armies of different powers ranged closer, and the cartographers kept redrawing the maps in Paris. Still, it had endured a very long time by showing the right level of respect to the old diplomacy, even as the new diplomacy was coming in. Chapter Two of the Book of Luke records that Jesus was born there because of a census, ordered by the Roman Empire, requiring heads of families to return to their native villages. Diligent administrators, the Romans believed that “all the world should be registered.” As Woodrow Wilson learned, that was harder than it looked.
Sources: Ray Stannard Baker, “Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement”; Harry N. Howard, “Turkey, the Straits and U.S. Policy”; Margaret Macmillan, “Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World.”
Ted Widmer is a distinguished lecturer at the Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York and a fellow of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
Jackline Wahba, Professor of Economics at the University of Southampton looks at the civil unrest in Syria direct implications on the country’s populations movements on one of the neighbouring countries, i.e. Jordan. Why Syrian refugees have no negative effects on Jordan’s labour market is a question in everybody’s mind since the start of the ensuing multilateral conflicts.
Forced displacement is a global challenge. The number of displaced people rose from 43m to 69m between 2007 and 2017, with the highest growth primarily due to the Syrian conflict, which started in 2011. Since then, more than 6.3m Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries and beyond. This humanitarian crisis has generated public sympathy as well as concern about the implications of such a massive flow of people.
Jordan, which shares a border with Syria, has experienced a substantial influx of refugees. Around 1.3m Syrians live in Jordan, which has a total population of just 6.6m. The impact of so many people on members of the host community is a subject of great importance and debate.
One area of particular concern tends to be the job market. Jordan gives a unique insight into this as it signed an agreement with the EU in 2016, agreeing to allow Syrian refugees to enter legal employment in return for humanitarian aid, financial assistance and trade concessions from the EU. Known as the Jordan Compact, I studied its effect on the Jordanian labour market with colleagues Belal Fallah and Caroline Krafft. We found that the compact did not have a negative effect on Jordanian jobs or wages.
Using data that represented the whole country, combined with information on where most refugees live (which is fairly concentrated in certain areas of the country), we were able to identify the effects that Syrians had on Jordanians’ job prospects by comparing Jordanians’ labour market outcomes before and after the Syrian influx.
We found that Jordanians living in areas with high concentrations of refugees had no worse labour market outcomes than Jordanians with less exposure to the refugee influx. This result held across all labour market outcomes, including unemployment levels, hours, wages and characteristics of employment (such as sector, occupation and whether the work was formal or informal).
Our findings contrast with most of the very recent literature on the impact of the Syrian refugee influx, which to date had been limited to evidence from Turkey. Here, research found that natives who were employed informally were affected by Syrian refugees. But the global literature generallyfinds a similar mix to our findings of refugees having no or small specific negative effects on native job markets. This could be due to the demographics of refugees in Turkey and the fact that refugees aren’t legally allowed to work there, among other reasons.
There are several reasons why the massive influx of Syrian refugees has had a minimal impact on the job situation in Jordan. The demographics of the Syrians in Jordan may have played an important role. Almost half are under the age of 15 and only 23% of Syrian refugees in Jordan are in the labour force (45% of men and 4% of women).
The aim of the Jordan Compact was to provide 200,000 Syrian refugees access to work permits and formal work. But the take up of work permits by Syrians has been very low. According to Jordan’s Ministry of Labour, by the end of 2017 only 87,141 work permits to Syrians were issued. This means there are few Syrians competing in Jordan’s (formal) labour market, making their effect on the labour supply relatively small.
Despite the massive inflow of Syrian refugees, the number of non-Syrian immigrants has not decreased in Jordan over the same period of time. According to Jordan’s 2015 population census, Jordan hosted an additional 1.6m non-Syrian foreigners. Other research has shown that Syrians mainly compete with economic immigrants in the informal sector where they don’t get given contracts, such as construction and some sales jobs. Here there is limited competition between refugees and Jordanians.
Demand and supply
The inflow of foreign aid has also been a potential mechanism for creating jobs for Jordanians. To help address the needs of the Syrian refugees, Jordan has received foreign aid from multiple sources. This aid has been channelled to help offset the budget deficit, finance public projects and support public services such as schools, hospitals and transport nationwide. Both direct assistance to refugees and aid to the government can create jobs, the latter disproportionately in the government and public sectors.
Finally, the increase in demand for public services by refugees, in particular education and health, has resulted in the Jordanian government increasing the provision of those services, which in turn increased the demand for workers (almost exclusively Jordanians) in these sectors.
Overall our results suggest that providing legal work opportunities to refugees is not detrimental to the native job market. The inflow of foreign aid to Jordan to assist with some of the needs of refugees, as well as the conditions of the Jordan Compact, which included aid and trade concessions and employment support for Jordanians, may have played an important role in creating labour demand for Jordanians. So it is vital to ensure sufficient resources and public services are in place to support refugees and the host economy.
Any kind of taxation on migrant labour populations remittances (funds that emigrant workers earn and transfer to their home countries) news from say the GCC Countries as well as its potential impact on all recipient countries was a hot subject after the world’s oil and gas prices started dropping back in June 2014. In 2013, 15 million expats in GCC countries send home $80b in remittance every year.Taxation of foreign workers’ transfers of money in the Gulf countries begun to be debated as a potentially viable solution to address the respective GCC government budget deficits. So for the sending countries, the short-term economic benefit of taxing this outflow of funds could be somehow taken as some sort of shortcoming by the receiving countries.
The MENA region in this matter is interesting because it holds the top sending as well as top receiving remittances flows in the world.
For instance, the top 10 remittance recipient countries in the MENA were in 2015 Egypt with $20.4 billion, Lebanon with $7.5 billion and Morocco with $6.7 billion.
The top sending ones were in 2014/15, according to the local media Saudi Arabia with about $40 billion, the UAE with $29 billion and Qatar with more than $10 billion.
In 2012, the biggest recipient country was India with $70 billion followed by China with $66 billion and the Philippines with Mexico and Nigeria with more than $21 billion each. A small remark in passing is that the size of remittance flows to developing countries is now much greater than any official development funding. The picture however is not that positive onto both sets of countries socio-economic life as briefly noted below:
Outflow of workers from any country normally causes labour shortages with direct consequences on the local economy
Large inflows of remittances could affect the local currency exchange rate to appreciate
The proposed article of the following World Bank report although fairly exhaustive is as detailed and as comprehensive as one would want and it does nevertheless lead us to believe that remittances flows one way or the other is a fact of life that whilst sustaining the global economy, it is an increasing trend that is not relevant only to the MENA and the OECD countries. It is world wide and increasing.
The number of international migrants is expected to surpass 250 million this year, an all-time high, as people search for economic opportunity. And, fast growing developing countries have increasingly become a strong magnet for people from other parts of the developing world.
The United States was the largest remittance source country, with an estimated $56 billion in outward flows in 2014, followed by Saudi Arabia ($37 billion), and Russia ($33 billion). India was the largest remittance receiving country, with an estimated $72 billion in 2015, followed by China ($64 billion), and the Philippines ($30 billion).
“At more than three times the size of development aid, international migrants’ remittances provide a lifeline for millions of households in developing countries. In addition, migrants hold more than $500 billion in annual savings. Together, remittances and migrant savings offer a substantial source of financing for development projects that can improve lives and livelihoods in developing countries,” said Dilip Ratha, co-author of the Factbook.
The report provides a snapshot of latest statistics on immigration, emigration, skilled emigration, and remittance flows for 214 countries and territories. It updates the 2011 edition with additional data on bilateral migration and remittances and second generation diasporas, and recent movements of refugees, collected from various data sources, including national censuses, labor force surveys, and population registers.
It finds that South-South migration is larger than South-North migration. Over 38 percent of the international migrants in 2013 migrated from developing countries to other developing countries, compared to 34 percent that moved from developing countries to advanced countries.
The top 10 migrant destination countries were the United States, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Russia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom, France, Canada, Spain and Australia. The top 10 migrant source countries were India, Mexico, Russia, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and United Kingdom.
Mexico-United States was the largest migration corridor in the world, accounting for 13 million migrants in 2013. Russia-Ukraine was the second largest, followed by Bangladesh-India, and Ukraine-Russia. The latter three are South-South corridors according to United Nations classification.
“There is ample research to demonstrate that migration, both of highly-skilled and low skilled workers, generates numerous benefits for receiving and sending countries. The diaspora of developing countries and return migration can be a source of capital, trade, investment, knowledge, and technology transfers,” said Sonia Plaza, co-author of the Factbook.
In this article written by Maëlle Gavet, COO of Compass and published by the WEF of Tuesday 7 February 2017. It is question of Democracy in the fourth revolution and how authorities in any given state ought to fulfill their mission, i.e. :
To regulate: pass laws, preserve and protect democracy;
To “redistribute” so as to uphold a social contract with its citizens;
To invest in critical infrastructure and non-market projects;
To protect all citizens and uphold the rule of law above all.
That was the way it was up until the advent of the on-going Digital Revolution . . .
Amid the waves of populism currently engulfing many Western democracies, it’s all too easy to forget the core purpose of governments; what the men and women who roam the corridors of power, and the civil service who support them, are actually supposed to do.
In my view, governments have four overriding (and somewhat overlapping) duties.
The first is to regulate: to pass laws, preserve and protect democracy, limit corruption, and strike the right balance between ensuring stability and allowing citizens to run their own lives. When (widely) unforeseen events, such as the 2008 financial crisis, take place, their task is to steer the oil tanker of government through the ensuing storm and reduce the impact on households and businesses. Failure to do so invariably brings administrations down – a sign that democracy, for all its flaws, is functioning and, if the need arises, the electorate can still kick incumbents in the teeth.
A democratic government’s second role might loosely be termed “redistribution”: to uphold a social contract with its citizens, whereby the poorest and most vulnerable are protected. This strand of governance encompasses everything from resourcing and maintaining a viable health service to providing support for the unemployed.
The third is investment in critical infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports) and education (from nurseries to universities), as well as those areas that cannot be left to the mercy of the markets alone – scientific research, the arts, sports, historical monuments and national parks, for example.
The fourth, and some might argue the most important responsibility of government, is to protect its citizens and uphold the rule of law. Without police, a functioning court and legal system, a military and agencies to safeguard people against everything from global pandemics to natural disasters and from homegrown terrorism to external aggression, society in any meaningful sense cannot exist. That Western societies do not descend into riots and mass lawlessness is testament to the fact that representative democracy by and large works.
Of course the degree to which democracies prioritize these four areas varies profoundly. The United States under Donald Trump, for example, is set to spend heavily on infrastructure and defense, while slashing the government workforce (indeed, at the time of writing, he had already ordered a federal hiring freeze). Meanwhile, nations such as France, Finland, Belgium and Denmark devote far more than the OECD average to social services.
Yet, however they spend their budgets, broadly speaking, Western societies, led by the US, were built on the same premise. Namely that governments and major corporations must work together to build long-term stability. Across the past century, as the Stratechery’s Ben Thompson describes, this unwritten contract meant that – via trade treaties, military and police protection, investments in infrastructure and research – governments ensured the development and acquisition of markets for businesses. In return, the private sector provided stable full-time jobs, financing health insurance and pensions for their employees.
At least that was the way it used to work.
Digital changes everything
For all its upsides, the digital revolution – which has done so much to transform our daily lives – has not so much disrupted this decades-old model as upended it. The implicit understanding and partnership between governments and businesses has become unworkable, threatening the very fabric of democracy.
To understand why, it’s first necessary to consider the particular characteristics of lean digital businesses that set them apart from the traditional corporate world, which is itself scrambling to adjust. There are five of them; together, they are game-changing.
First is what we might term “non-localization”. Whether it’s the companies themselves, their headquarters for tax purposes or the teams who build and run them, locations no longer matter and borders are irrelevant. Digital businesses, like talent and money, are fluid and can now base themselves anywhere. Not so long ago, if you wanted to market your product or service in India, you needed a distribution network, an office and employees there. Today, you can build a thriving SaaS product in India, from London, Amsterdam or Palo Alto. Or as a startup in Paris or Stockholm, you can outsource your entire back-office or sales team to India, without even getting on a plane.
Next, many internet businesses are simply platforms or marketplaces (think eBay, Uber, Airbnb, and Etsy), which connect demand and supply, or buyers and sellers. While the battle still rages as to whether Uber is an employer or merely a facilitator for self-employed “entrepreneur” drivers, there’s little doubt on which side the firm itself comes down. Similarly, even those celebrated billion-dollar tech unicorns that do employ staff require far fewer than “traditional” tech corporations. Founded over a century ago, IBM, for example, had over 377,000 employees in 2015; Google, less than two decades old, has a rather more modest workforce of fewer than 16,000. Meanwhile, WhatsApp had around 35 employees when it was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014. What a fully-automated digital business 20 years from now might look like, we can only imagine.
The network effect digital businesses enjoy creates a winner-takes-all environment, while the consequent and ever-expanding data deluge enables such companies to drive efficiencies and do far more with less. The net result of fewer successful companies employing ever-fewer people is of course a hugely reduced tax base – with the burden of healthcare and pensions falling on individuals, and ultimately, increasingly, government. Furthermore, the fact that these companies are not tied to any particular geography and can base themselves wherever is most tax-efficient (in fact, governments are scrambling to offer incentives to attract these corporations) explains why corporate taxation rates across 28 G20 and OECD countries have plunged from an average of 45% in 1983 towards 25% today.
Corporate tax rates, 28 G20 and OECD countries, 1983-2015
Image: CBT Corporate tax ranking 2012, Oxford University
As a result, the aforementioned contract between corporations and government is slowly splintering; few would doubt who holds the whip hand today.
The list of obligations it is increasingly difficult for governments to fulfill looks set to grow. The squeeze on corporate tax revenues and the coming impact of AI/automation on jobs makes it harder for government to tax and regulate businesses and, as a consequence, hamstrings its role as redistributor. Meanwhile, rising numbers of participants in the gig economy – and according to the McKinsey Global Institute, 20-30% of the labour force in the US & EU-15 are now classified as independent workers – make protecting workers’ rights evermore fraught and complex.
Nor can governments continue to effectively protect their citizens’ privacy. The explosion in the number of data-brokers (there are at least 4,000 data broker companies worldwide and the industry is estimated to be worth some $200 billion), who gather, repackage and resell data derived from publicly available records and online activity, means that private corporations are increasingly straying onto what was traditionally government turf. Areas such as security, censuses and healthcare are just another market opportunity for digital companies who, by definition, prioritize profit over the public good.
And the fact that many hundreds of millions of people have freely handed over their private data to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and countless others – who have a great deal of freedom to use this data as they see fit – merely emphasizes how governments, who are hardwired to regulate existing behaviours rather than future ones, are reduced to playing catch up with businesses who can – and do – outmaneuver them at every turn.
Slipping into irrelevance
All of the above factors are steadily converging to create a perfect storm for the very notion of Western liberal democracy. As the power of tech companies continues to grow, the corresponding legitimacy of governments starts to leach away. After all, how can a government enjoy the trust of its people if it can no longer fulfill its fundamental obligations? Put even more starkly, if it cannot serve its citizens, or adjust to the hyper speed of the digital economy, then government itself is in danger of slipping into irrelevance.
Indeed, if things do not change, then I believe two extreme yet entirely plausible scenarios may soon see the light of day. In the first – and arguably we are already starting to see this – governments, hemorrhaging power, will start to assert their authority in a very aggressive way. With their backs to the wall, they will become increasingly authoritarian, pandering to tides of popular anger by blocking immigration, stigmatizing minorities, vilifying opponents (and I include the free press here), nationalizing businesses, and beefing up security laws, including, in all likelihood, forcing tech companies to create backdoors with which to collect information on all citizens “in the public interest”.
In the other scenario, governments will become mere gatekeepers, as they grow increasingly algorithmic, with policy shaped by data and public services outsourced to private businesses and the slipstream of the marketplace. Under such circumstances, it is all but certain that regulatory oversight of corporations will be dramatically scaled back, in effect ripping up a government’s contract with its people.
Image: REUTERS/Jason Redmond
4 main areas to be addressed
Yet, while we may be edging closer to such doomsday scenarios, there is still time for reform. Going into any depth on the necessary steps would require several thousand more words. So, at a high level, I’d argue there are four main areas which urgently need to be addressed.
As money equals power, the first is “solving” corporate taxation. This is an issue which politicians are fond of talking about, but rather less inclined to confront. Why? Because they run headlong into difficulties with the very employers they rely upon to create and maintain jobs for their populations.
In an era where corporation tax rates are in free-fall, certain tech giants have deeper coffers than many exchequers and digital multinationals have become ever more adept at tax avoidance (as opposed to evasion), governments of all stripes need to work together to forge a global response and secure this income stream for the long term. This is likely to involve moving to a destination-based cash flow taxation model, where the location of sales supersedes that of operations. Some tentative steps have been taken in this direction, but meaningful implantation is still a pipedream.
Next, labour laws need an urgent reboot so that they take into account that the on-demand economy is no passing fad, but a sea change in the way people transact. Anyone who doubts the staying-power of the gig economy should consider the way urban lives have changed over the past few years. Millions have grown used to summoning a car, a restaurant-cooked meal or a flat-pack furniture assembler to their door with a couple of taps of their phone. Regulating this growing industry out of existence may be popular with a few incumbents (such as taxi drivers and hotel chains), but would be a major blow to innovation and unlikely be supported by the population at large. That’s why governments should work together to rebuild social protections with on-demand platforms, rather than despite them.
Borrowing heavily from an analysis by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), I’d suggest a couple of options for better supporting on-demand workers. One is to create a new category of worker, which would fall somewhere between full employee and freelancer, with associated protections. Another is to revisit each labour law, in turn, to adapt them to the new reality, focusing on the law’s original intention rather than fixating on whether a worker is an employee or not (we need to get over that distinction, and fast). In the meantime, as the ITIF suggests, lawmakers could introduce temporary exemptions for the gig economy, while these laws are debated and revamped.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), there are currently more journalists jailed than in nearly 3 decades. Further to our story of yesterday Friend and Fellow Countryman M. Tamalt Passing Away , on and concerned by the sudden death of British-Algerian journalist in an Algerian hospital following his obviously wrongful arrest, trials and ensuing imprisonment for his alleged satirising Algeria’s present leadership on his Facebook page, we reproduce here below, an Associated Press article on the same subject but in other countries. In the meantime, the Algerian on and offline media having amply covered the regrettable event, know that the story of Mohamed Tamalt would sadly be repeated over and over. We also learned whilst going through the same media, that certainly not a few journalists are already held without judgement whatsoever and for reasons best known to their authors. Is it negligence and / or structural issues linked to an outdated system that is fast degenerating.
More journalists have been jailed this year by governments around the world than at any time in nearly three decades, primarily because of the crackdown in Turkey after a failed coup in July, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
At least 81 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey as of Dec. 1, all facing anti-state charges, said the nonprofit group that works to defend press freedoms.
“In Turkey, media freedom was already under siege in early 2016, with authorities arresting, harassing, and expelling journalists and shutting down or taking over news outlets,” said the group’s report on its annual census of imprisoned journalists.
Written by Elana Beiser, the report said a total of 259 journalists are jailed around the world, compared to 199 at the same time last year. That is the highest number since the group began keeping detailed records in 1990. The numbers do not include journalists who have disappeared or are held captive by non-state groups.
A state of emergency is still in force in Turkey following the July 15 coup attempt and the resulting government crackdown on alleged coup sympathizers has landed thousands in jail and forced tens of thousands of people from their jobs. Critics call the move a witch hunt. Western governments, human rights group and legal experts have repeatedly expressed concern over events in Turkey, which was once hailed as a model of Muslim democracy.
In a two-month period, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government detained more than 100 journalists and closed down at least 100 news outlets, the report said.
Even before the coup attempt, the rate of press freedom violations in Turkey spurred the Committee to Protect Journalists to launch last March a special diary called “Turkey Crackdown Chronicle.”
The group said that after Turkey, the worst offender in 2016 was China, where 38 journalists were in custody on Dec. 1. China had jailed the most journalists worldwide in the previous two years.
“In recent weeks, Beijing deepened its crackdown on journalists who cover protests and human rights abuses,” the report said.
Egypt was listed in third place, with 25 journalists incarcerated.
This year marked the first time since 2008 that Iran was not among the top five worst offenders. The report said that is because many of those sentenced in a postelection crackdown in 2009 have served their sentences and been released.
FILE – In this July 16, 2016, file photo, Turkish soldiers secure the area as supporters of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan protest in Istanbul’s Taksim square. A state of emergency is still in force in Turkey following the July 15 coup attempt and the resulting government crackdown on alleged coup sympathizers has landed thousands in jail and forced tens of thousands of people from their jobs. Emrah Gurel AP Photo
FILE – In this Oct. 31, 2016, file photo, Journalists and lawmakers hold a latest copy of Cumhuriyet newspaper outside its Istanbul headquarters after police detained chief editor Murat Sabuncu and two columnists of Turkey’s opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper and had warrants to detain 10 other senior staff members, in Istanbul, Turkey. In a two-month period, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government detained more than 100 journalists and closed down at least 100 news outlets, a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, said on Tuesday, Dec. 12. Emrah Gurel, File AP Photo
FILE – In this Friday, April 17, 2015 file photo, anti-Beijing protesters hold pictures of jailed veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu during a rally outside Chinese central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong. In a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the group said that after Turkey, the worst offender in 2016 was China, where 38 journalists were in custody on Dec. 1. China had jailed the most journalists worldwide in the previous two years. Kin Cheung, File AP Photo
FILE – In this Nov. 22, 2016, file photo, Turkey’s President addresses police officers in Ankara, Turkey. A state of emergency is still in force in Turkey following the July 15 coup attempt and the resulting government crackdown on alleged coup sympathizers has landed thousands in jail and forced tens of thousands of people from their jobs. In a two-month period, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government detained more than 100 journalists and closed down at least 100 news outlets, a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, said on Tuesday, Dec. 12. Murat Cetinmuhurdar, Presidential Press Service, Pool photo via AP
A subject that is currently preoccupying all MENA’s oil exporting countries leadership is the subject of this article. It is in fact about how to re-distribute the export revenues of the underground resources amongst their national populations. Nobody throughout these countries, these days has any doubt that it should be done and to be undertaken only through improving data collection for a better welfare.
This article written by Aziz Atamanov and Nandini Krishnan was published on The World Bank website on May 10, 2016, is meant to follow on our previous ones about the on-going revolution of the ICTs that is presently affecting all countries, oil exporting and importing alike of the MENA.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has witnessed a surge of conflict and economic uncertainty and, while the causes of conflict vary, there is no ambiguity about the negative impact it has on people’s wellbeing. Today, the region is both the world’s largest host for displaced populations and the single largest source of forcibly displaced people. As a result, for us the development challenge has broadened beyond issues of governance, accountability, youth unemployment, and job creation, to humanitarian aid, post-conflict reconstruction, and targeted help for a range of vulnerable groups—all set within a difficult security and political environment. In such a context as this, developing countries in the MENA region will face a huge challenge meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The data challenge Timely, accessible, good quality data is key to measuring and tracking poverty and other SDG indicators. And monitoring progress in poverty reduction starts with collecting household consumption survey data. MENA’s 13 developing countries have been making progress on this front since 2000—in the 1990s, one-third of them had not done a single survey but between 2006 and 2015, all collected data for at least one survey, and two-thirds collected data for at least two. Despite this, the availability of household surveys in MENA is far from ideal. MENA countries collected on average four surveys per year between 2006 and 2010, but this rate slowed to three per year between 2011 and 2015. To the best of our knowledge, only three countries of 13 considered had two comparable surveys after 2009. And in the Mashreq region (Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Syria and Iraq), where conflict and displacement have been particularly acute, no poverty estimates using household surveys have been released since 2012. Thus, the region is at risk of data deprivation.
The lack of recent data is the reason why estimates of extreme poverty have not been produced by the World Bank for MENA since 2010, and why they are not included in the “Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016” flagship report. Access to survey data is another problem: Only one-sixth of the surveys from 2006–15 contained data needed to measure poverty and were freely available to the public for downloading. Turmoil has also diverted resources from data collection. Official sensitivity to numbers about poverty has reduced accessibility, as has concerns over confidentiality. At the same time, though, national statistics agencies recognize the need for data to inform policy, particularly during these tumultuous times.
Gathering to troubleshoot
Participants from national statistics’ offices discussed the challenges involved in collecting micro-data
To stimulate peer-to-peer learning both outside the region and in it, the Bank’s MENA Team for Statistical Development organized a regional conference at the Centre for Mediterranean Integration in France. Keynote speakers and high-level participants from national statistics’ offices across MENA discussed the challenges involved in collecting and sharing micro-data for monitoring welfare, and for evidence-based policy making. Speakers from Mexico and Indonesia shared their experience of systems for micro-data collection, data access, and linking systems to policy making. They emphasized the importance of informing policy by creating a loop connecting frequent, high-quality data, to rich public feedback.
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) is an example of this as it shares most of the micro-data it collects on its website. Its president, Ola Awad, said the main goal of statistics bureaus was to produce data and disseminate it: Any responsibility for its misuse lay with users and was anyway rare. The Bank has used Palestinian household budget surveys and a census to construct a detailed poverty map of the territory, drawing links between various barriers and constraints to growth and investment. Najla Ali Murad, the Director of Iraq’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, showed how Iraq was turning to new technology and data collection methods during a time of crisis. Iraq’s statistical offices, supported by the Bank, collected high-quality household budget surveys for 2006 and 2011—they are available on the Bank’s website. The 2011 data helped the Government of Iraq assess the implications of the crises Iraq faced in 2014 on poverty. The Bank itself has advanced tools that may be able to help countries collect new information, and may be able to measure wellbeing in fragile and conflict-affected areas. These include the use of satellite images when census data is either not available or outdated; using small-area estimation techniques for poverty maps; and using the Survey of Well-being via Instant and Frequent Tracking to collect household income and expenditure data in a cost-effective, user-friendly way. The ways countries can benefit from tools to help statistics agencies anonymize, document, and disseminate their data were discussed. Many countries in the region share problems in common, including the widely held perception that national statistics agencies need only publish indicators rather than share microdata. Collecting meaningful data and putting it to good use is a critical step for countries—in MENA and around the world—to identify and manage the many challenges their people face.
We republish this beautiful article written by David Bier and published by Cato Institute on November 14th, 2016 It is about the hot issue of immigration of the US and titled Nativists Created Our Immigration Problems-They Can’t Fix Them. The Cato Institute is an American think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1977: Wikipedia.
p style=”text-align: justify;”>Why this subject in MENA-Forum today, you might ask. The answer would be simple and the current prevailing conjecture in the MENA could explain it very easily for without lengthily elaborating on the MENA some populations of oil-exporting and importing countries alike would most probably be currently going through a thin patch of dry not so green fields. In view of the near to be confirmed trends, this is not likely in the close by future to diminish nor to be reversed.
This article is available to members of MENA-Forum only.
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