Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Jun 8, 2017 in Stuff You Should Know

Japanese Birth Rate Falling

When you think of Japan, do you picture the crowded streets and skyscrapers of Tokyo? Just outside the city, the number of abandoned homes–called “ghost houses”—continues to rise, as the population of Japan continues to fall.

Japan has been keeping records of its number of births since 1899. Last year was the first time since then that the number of children born fell below one million. Japan has faced a “replacement rate” problem for many years, meaning that enough people aren’t being born to replace the aging population. Experts predict that if the current trend continues, Japan’s population will drop from 128 million (at the start of this decade) to 80 million by 2060: a loss of roughly a million people per year.

This is a problem for many reasons. First, it means there are fewer workers in the workforce, which leads to lower productivity and a shrinking economy. There also will be fewer workers to support the aging population. Second, it can lead to a housing crisis as the number of abandoned “ghost houses” continues to grow. Third, fewer babies means that each generation will have fewer mothers, who will in turn have fewer babies, and so on, as the problem continues to worsen. For individual families, this may mean that elderly people have to work well past retirement age, or that both parents will have to work.

Why is Japan’s birth rate falling? The number of births is declining in almost all wealthy, industrialized nations, as young people put off starting families and prioritize careers instead. But the reason the problem is worse in Japan than in other places is ironic: overcrowding, especially in cities such as Tokyo, where housing has become very expensive, makes it nearly impossible to purchase a home large enough to hold a family.

Dig Deeper Using internet resources, find the number of babies born in Japan each year for the past six years. Next, plot these data points on a line graph (where the x-axis are the years 2007-present and the y-axis is the population). Using your graph as a guide, estimate how many babies you think will be born in Japan in 2020. What about in 2025?

What Does the New Health Care Bill Mean for Americans?

On May 4, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a new health care bill. The point of the bill is to replace the Affordable Care Act (also known as the ACA or Obamacare). The bill has been very controversial because, even though it could save the federal government money, it could also leave millions of Americans without health care.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has now had a chance to analyze the new health care bill. Here is what they found:

  • Over ten years, the new bill would save the federal government $119 billion, mostly by cutting Medicaid benefits.
  • The number of Americans without health insurance would grow to 41 million in 2018. An additional 23 million more Americans will be uninsured ten years from now.
  • In the next decade, 14 million people on Medicare will lose their coverage.
  • Poor and elderly Americans would take the hardest hit under the new plan: they will pay up to nine times more for health insurance than they do now.
  • Insurance premiums will also rise steeply for less healthy Americans

Because the health care bill passed the House last month, it now moves on to the Senate. It is expected that the Senate will have to make major changes to the bill in order to come up with a health care plan that both Republicans and Democrats can support.

What Do You Think? Based on the Congressional Budget Office’s findings, do you think that the new Republican health care bill will be good for most Americans? Why or why not?

Ohio Lawmakers Fight Opioid Epidemic

In the latest battle of the national opioid epidemic, lawmakers in Ohio are suing five major drug companies for their role in promoting behavior that has led to widespread opioid addiction.

painkiller used mainly for cancer patients

This pill is a painkiller used mainly for cancer patients. Credit: MedicImage/Alamy

Opioids are drugs that come from opium or similar synthetic versions. Examples include fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. In 2015, more than 25,000 Americans died from overdosing on these drugs: more deaths than those caused by murder. The overdose rate is highest in Ohio, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. In Ohio, opioid addictions kill more people every year than traffic accidents: 4,100 overdose deaths last year alone.

Now, Ohio lawmakers, led by Attorney General Mike DeWine, are fighting back. They claim that drug manufacturers promoted the use of their painkillers while downplaying how dangerously addictive and potentially fatal they can be. In 2012, for example, opioid prescriptions equaled 68 pills per Ohio resident, including children. The state hopes to recover the cost of the pills in the first place (when they are prescribed to people on Medicaid) and the millions of dollars the government has spent on substance abuse recovery programs.

This is not the first time a state government has sued to reclaim funds spent on addiction. In the 1990s, lawsuits against tobacco companies led to penalties of over $200 billion. But many are arguing that lawsuits against drug companies may not go far enough toward addressing the problem because they focus only on who makes the drugs, and not on who distributes them. In an effort to combat the epidemic, De Wine’s office has also funded programs to help families harmed by drug abuse; frozen the price of naloxone (which combats overdoses); and helped shut down “pill mills” throughout the state.

What Do You Think? The states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic include Ohio, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. Why do you think these particular states are affected more than others?

Vinay Wins National Spelling Bee

Last Thursday was the final round of the National Spelling Bee. This was the 90th year of the event, which was held in Oxon Hill, Maryland. You may not think that spelling bee finals can be an exciting event, but this year’s competition was unique for several reasons.

First, it featured the youngest contestant ever to make it into onstage rounds: Edith Fuller, a kindergartener from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Edith lost late last Wednesday due to low scores on a preliminary test. Second, the National Bee has ended in a tie for the past three years, prompting officials to develop a new tiebreaking scheme. For the first year ever, all contestants were required to take a written test beforehand. In the event that the final two contestants would burn through the entire list of words (as has happened for the past three years), the written exam would be used to determine the winner.

However, those precautions turned out not to be necessary as finalist Rohan Rajeev, an eighth-grader from Edmond, Oklahoma,  was eventually beaten after several rounds by Ananya Vinay, a sixth-grader from Fresno, California. What was the word that cost Rohan the competition? Marram, a Norse-derived word for a type of beach grass.

As the first single winner of the Bee in four years, Ananya will receive $40,000 cash, a $2,500 savings bond, and a large collection of reference books. At only 12 years old, she was the youngest of all of the finalists in this year’s competition.

Dig Deeper Have you ever asked Google how to spell a word? In honor of the National Spelling Bee, Google took a look at search results from January through April of 2017 to determine which words people most often look up, according to state. Take a look at the map. What word do people most often ask Google to spell in your state? Are your surprised?