Mostly demographics this week, folks.

The share of people in the labor force (working or looking for work) is declining—not just because of recession, but mostly because we’re aging.

Surprising: wealth inequality isn’t nearly as stark, nor increasing as fast, as income inequality. The wealth data series ends in 2000, though, so I’m not sure what’s happened since…

According to census data, the coasts continue to grow, while the Great Plains continue to lose people. I can remember when mentioning the “Buffalo Commons“—the idea of creating a vast prairie reserve in the drier Midwest—was considered fighting words in some parts of the country. But given how fast the plains are losing people, maybe the Buffalo Commons is creating itself.

Blast from the past: remember when President Bush called for the nation to “conserve gasoline and avoid non-essential driving” after gas prices briefly hit the unprecedented heights of…wait for it…$2.80 per gallon? That was 2005, folks.  By comparison, the recent runup in gas prices has barely made the headlines.  Funny how quickly we get used to high gas prices, huh?

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  • Eric de Place:

    Light reading load this weekend. My top pick is from PubliCola, where Erica C. Barnett has an insightful critique of what she calls “poverty tourism”—the notion that people of privilege and means can understand what it’s really like to be poor by spending a week on a food stamps budget. To wit:

    If I’m working two jobs and spending all my disposable income on day care, I’m probably not going to spend hours lovingly preparing bechamel and bolognese sauces for a homemade lasagna… There’s a reason people buy food at McDonald’s, and it isn’t because they’re stupid.


    I’ve begun reading a new book by a Durning. Jean Durning (my mother!) has just published a memoir and history of the civil rights movement in Seattle in the 1960s, coauthored with three other veterans of the movement. It’s a piece of our history that too few sustainability champions know the first thing about. The Seattle Times ran a column on the book this week.

    Other fragments of Cascadia’s social-change history shine through in this new-classic column by the Seattle PI’s Joel Connelly about the passing of Mike Layton, long-time Olympia reporter for that paper. Layton was a fighter for the public good who could “spot BS at a hundred paces,” US Congressman Jim McDermott told Joel. Read Joel’s column and mourn the loss of so much of our old network of hard-hitting investigative journalism at daily papers.

    On the upside, we’re seeing newspapers invent new formats for stimulating thought and debate, like this forum of diverse thinkers on inequality from the New York Times. It’s not just about the scope of the problem, but about how Americans think about the problem of inequality. Highly recommended!


    Take a moment to celebrate Clean Energy Works Portland, a real green jobs success story right here in our backyard. Launched in 2009, the program provides help to low-income homeowners for energy-efficiency projects, allowing them to pay for their improvements over time through their utility bills. What’s most inspiring is that the program really is creating opportunities for quality, career-track jobs for a diverse workforce (almost 50 percent of the trade/technical hours were worked by people of color, about 23 percent of the pilot dollars went to minority- and women-owned firms, 381 construction workers were employed on pilot projects and $24.66/hour was the average wage, far above the so-called $8.73 living wage for an adult in Portland).

    If kids had their say, we’d probably be eating a lot more candy and ice cream. But we’d probably also have to stop putting toxics in kids’ toys and baby bottles! (And maybe we’d even pass some meaningful climate policy rather than handing our precious little darlings a lifetime of chaos and uncertainty—but that’s a different story). At any rate, it was refreshing to see babies and kids storm the Oregon Capitol building, er, accompany their moms as they testified in favor of a ban on toxic bisphenol A (BPA) in children’s food containers. Go, babies!

    Why is the Environmental Protection Agency particularly important for Latino families? As Center for American Progress points out,

    “All air is not equal in the United States. Low-income and minority Americans tend to live and work in areas where they are disproportionately exposed to pollution that harms their health. Latinos are a particularly vulnerable population: Two-thirds of Latino families reside in areas that do not meet the federal government’s air quality standards.”

    Reading a report like this and watching the EPA fight for its life in Congressional budget debates, I keep thinking that the agency is ill-named. Shouldn’t it just be the American Protection Agency?

    Finally, for what it’s worth, Gallup opinion research shows stabilization in Americans’ attitudes about climate change. Still, concern about global warming across several measures is generally in the lower range of what Gallup has found historically (This year, 51 percent say they worry a great deal or fair amount about the problem—compared to 66 percent just three years ago). A bit more promising is the finding that “Americans’ self-professed understanding of global warming has increased over time—from 69 percent saying they understand the issue ‘very well’ or ‘fairly well’ in 2001, to 74 percent in 2006 and 80 percent in the current poll.”

    Eric Hess:

    As someone who markets policy solutions to issues like climate change for a living, I take comfort in knowing someone has found a way to market carrots better–by treating them like junk food.

    And for those of you who are less in a reading mood on this sunny (at least in Seattle) Friday, check out the new Symphony of Science video: Ode to the Brain!