A.J. Frank watched the Phoenix real estate market and its entire economy implode as he was graduating from high school in 2009, a scarring experience that has made him a cautious saver. He is again living through a major economic upheaval as the cost of living climbs sharply.
Phoenix — among the hardest-hit cities during the housing crisis — is now on the leading edge of another painful economic trend as the United States faces the most rapid inflation in 40 years. The city is experiencing some of the fastest price increases in the nation, something Mr. Frank has felt firsthand.
His landlord tried to raise his rent nearly 30 percent this year, prompting him to move. Mr. Frank, a 31-year-old engineer, is still paying $250 a month more than he was previously, and rising grocery and gas bills have reduced his disposable income.
national rate of 8.5 percent in July. Prices in the Southern United States have risen 9.4 percent over the past year, the fastest pace of any large region in the nation and more rapid than in the Northeast, where prices are up 7.3 percent.
surged earlier this year. Because many Sun Belt cities depend on cars and air-conditioning, those purchases make up a larger percentage of consumer budgets in the region. And, just as it did in 2008, housing is playing a crucial role — this time, through the rental market, which is a major contributor to overall inflation. In Phoenix, rents are up 21 percent from a year ago, and in Miami, they are up about 14 percent. For urban dwellers nationally, rent is up only about half as much, 6.3 percent.
The Sun Belt’s intense bout of inflation matters for several reasons. While inflation is painful everywhere, it is having a disproportionate impact on families in cities like Tampa Bay, where prices have shot up faster than in areas like New York City. Demand at food banks and for eviction counselors has jumped across the region, providers said, as signs of that distress manifest.
Real-time market rent trackers that reported prices shooting up in Sun Belt cities last year are now showing bigger increases in places like New York, San Jose and Seattle.
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What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.
What causes inflation? It can be the result of rising consumer demand. But inflation can also rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions, such as limited oil production and supply chain problems.
Is inflation bad? It depends on the circumstances. Fast price increases spell trouble, but moderate price gains can lead to higher wages and job growth.
Can inflation affect the stock market? Rapid inflation typically spells trouble for stocks. Financial assets in general have historically fared badly during inflation booms, while tangible assets like houses have held their value better.
Those market rent increases take time to trickle into official inflation figures because of the way the government calculates its data. Much as Phoenix’s official inflation numbers are surging now partly because of the run-up in market rents in 2021, nascent increases in big coastal cities could keep pressure on inflation in months to come. And the effect could be palpable at a national level: New York and its suburbs account for about 11 percent of the nation’s rental housing-related costs in the Consumer Price Index, compared to about 1 percent for Phoenix.
“Even if we get a slowdown in the Sun Belt, it may not be enough to offset what we’re seeing in other markets,” said Omair Sharif, founder of Inflation Insights.
Federal Reserve officials noted that risk at their July meeting, according to minutes released Wednesday, observing that “in some product categories, the rate of price increase could well pick up further in the short run, with sizable additional increases in residential rental expenses being especially likely.”
The Fed has been raising interest rates since March to try to slow consumer and business demand and cool inflation and is expected to lift them again at its meeting in September.
To date, much of the regional divide in price increases — from rents to consumer goods and services — has traced back to migration. People have been flocking to less expensive cities from big coastal ones for years, but that trend accelerated sharply with the onset of the pandemic. The pattern is playing out across both the Mountain West, where inflation is also remarkably high, and the Sun Belt.
experienced some of the biggest population gains in 2021, adding about 221,000 and 93,000 residents through domestic migration. Phoenix and Tampa added newcomers especially rapidly. “As people have basically poured into these Sun Belt metros, that’s put additional demand on the housing market, and supply has struggled to keep up,” said Taylor Marr, an economist at Redfin. “A lot of the inflation variation is pretty correlated with these migration patterns.”
leases are 35 percent more expensive than at the start of the pandemic but have risen only 2 percent in the past six months, for instance.
Adam Kamins, a director at Moody’s Analytics who focuses on regional and local forecasting, said he expected inflation to begin to equalize across the country as price increases in the South fade more swiftly.
“I think there’s going to be some level of convergence in regional inflation,” Mr. Kamins said. “We just haven’t seen it yet.”
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — In Chile, a tattooed former student activist won the presidency with a pledge to oversee the most profound transformation of Chilean society in decades, widening the social safety net and shifting the tax burden to the wealthy.
In Peru, the son of poor farmers was propelled to victory on a vow to prioritize struggling families, feed the hungry and correct longstanding disparities in access to health care and education.
In Colombia, a former rebel and longtime legislator was elected the country’s first leftist president, promising to champion the rights of Indigenous, Black and poor Colombians, while building an economy that works for everyone.
election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico and could culminate with a victory later this year by a leftist candidate in Brazil, leaving the region’s six largest economies run by leaders elected on leftist platforms.
A combination of forces have thrust this new group into power, including an anti-incumbent fervor driven by anger over chronic poverty and inequality, which have only been exacerbated by the pandemic and have deepened frustration among voters who have taken out their indignation on establishment candidates.
sliding backward, and instead of a boom, governments face pandemic-battered budgets, galloping inflation fed by the war in Ukraine, rising migration and increasingly dire economic and social consequences of climate change.
In Argentina, where the leftist Alberto Fernández took the reins from a right-wing president in late 2019, protesters have taken to the streets amid rising prices. Even larger protests erupted recently in Ecuador, threatening the government of one of the region’s few newly elected right-wing presidents, Guillermo Lasso.
“I don’t want to be apocalyptic about it,” said Cynthia Arnson, a distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “But there are times when you look at this that it feels like the perfect storm, the number of things hitting the region at once.”
Chile and Colombia, have shown people the power of the streets.
five of the six largest economies in the region will be run by leaders who campaigned from the left.
focused on austerity, is reducing spending.
What does link these leaders, however, are promises for sweeping change that in many instances are running headlong into difficult and growing challenges.
Ninety percent of poll respondents told the polling firm Cadem this month that they believed the country’s economy was stuck or going backward.
Like many neighbors in the region, Chile’s yearly inflation rate is the highest it’s been in more than a generation, at 11.5 percent, spurring a cost-of-living crisis.
In southern Chile, a land struggle between the Mapuche, the country’s largest Indigenous group, and the state has entered its deadliest phase in 20 years, leading Mr. Boric to reverse course on one of his campaign pledges and redeploy troops in the area.
Catalina Becerra, 37, a human resources manager from Antofagasta, in northern Chile, said that “like many people of my generation” she voted for Mr. Boric because Mr. Kast, “didn’t represent me in the slightest.”
according to the Institute of Peruvian Studies — is now subject to five criminal probes, has already faced two impeachment attempts and cycled through seven interior ministers.
40 percent of households now live on less than $100 a month, less than half of the monthly minimum wage — while inflation has hit nearly 10 percent.
Still, despite widespread financial anxiety, Mr. Petro’s actions as he prepares to assume office seem to have earned him some support.
He has made repeated calls for national consensus, met with his biggest political foe, the right-wing former president Álvaro Uribe and appointed a widely respected, relatively conservative and Yale-educated finance minister.
The moves may allow Mr. Petro to govern more successfully than say Mr. Boric, said Daniel García-Peña, a political scientist, and have calmed down some fears about how he will try to revive the economy.
But given how quickly the honeymoon period ended for others, Mr. Petro will have precious little time to start delivering relief.
“Petro must come through for his voters,” said Hernan Morantes, 30, a Petro supporter and environmental activist. “Social movements must be ready, so that when the government does not come through, or does not want to come through, we’re ready.”
Julie Turkewitz reported from Bogotá, Colombia, Mitra Taj from Lima, Peru and John Bartlett from Santiago, Chile. Genevieve Glatsky contributed reporting from Bogotá.
This past week brought home the magnitude of the overlapping crises assailing the global economy, intensifying fears of recession, job losses, hunger and a plunge on stock markets.
At the root of this torment is a force so elemental that it has almost ceased to warrant mention — the pandemic. That force is far from spent, confronting policymakers with grave uncertainty. Their policy tools are better suited for more typical downturns, not a rare combination of diminishing economic growth and soaring prices.
Major economies including the United States and France reported their latest data on inflation, revealing that prices on a vast range of goods rose faster in June than anytime in four decades.
China reported that its economy, the world’s second-largest, expanded by a mere 0.4 percent from April through June compared with the same period last year. That performance — astonishingly anemic by the standards of recent decades — endangered prospects for scores of countries that trade heavily with China, including the United States. It reinforced the realization that the global economy has lost a vital engine.
The specter of slowing economic growth combined with rising prices has even revived a dreaded word that was a regular part of the vernacular in the 1970s, the last time the world suffered similar problems: stagflation.
Most of the challenges tearing at the global economy were set in motion by the world’s reaction to the spread of Covid-19 and its attendant economic shock, even as they have been worsened by the latest upheaval — Russia’s disastrous attack on Ukraine, which has diminished the supply of food, fertilizer and energy.
“The pandemic itself disrupted not only the production and transportation of goods, which was the original front of inflation, but also how and where we work, how and where we educate our children, global migration patterns,” said Julia Coronado, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin, speaking this past week during a discussion convened by the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Pretty much everything in our lives has been disrupted by the pandemic, and then we layer on to that a war in Ukraine.”
Great Supply Chain Disruption.
meat production to shipping exploited their market dominance to rack up record profits.
The pandemic prompted governments from the United States to Europe to unleash trillions of dollars in emergency spending to limit joblessness and bankruptcy. Many economists now argue that they did too much, stimulating spending power to the point of stoking inflation, while the Federal Reserve waited too long to raise interest rates.
8 Signs That the Economy Is Losing Steam
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Worrying outlook. Amid persistently high inflation, rising consumer prices and declining spending, the American economy is showing clear signs of slowing down, fueling concerns about a potential recession. Here are other eight measures signaling trouble ahead:
Consumer confidence. In June, the University of Michigan’s survey of consumer sentiment hit its lowest level in its 70-year history, with nearly half of respondents saying inflation is eroding their standard of living.
The housing market. Demand for real estate has decreased, and construction of new homes is slowing. These trends could continue as interest rates rise, and real estate companies, including Compass and Redfin, have laid off employees in anticipation of a downturn in the housing market.
Copper. A commodity seen by analysts as a measure of sentiment about the global economy — because of its widespread use in buildings, cars and other products — copper is down more than 20 percent since January, hitting a 17-month low on July 1.
Oil. Crude prices are up this year, in part because of supply constraints resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but they have recently started to waver as investors worry about growth.
The bond market. Long-term interest rates in government bonds have fallen below short-term rates, an unusual occurrence that traders call a yield-curve inversion. It suggests that bond investors are expecting an economic slowdown.
Now playing catch-up, central banks like the Fed have moved assertively, lifting rates at a rapid clip to try to snuff out inflation, even while fueling worries that they could set off a recession.
Given the mishmash of conflicting indicators found in the American economy, the severity of any slowdown is difficult to predict. The unemployment rate — 3.6 percent in June — is at its lowest point in almost half a century.
American consumers have enhanced fears of a downturn. This past week, the International Monetary Fund cited weaker consumer spending in slashing expectations for economic growth this year in the United States, from 2.9 percent to 2.3 percent. Avoiding recession will be “increasingly challenging,” the fund warned.
Orwellian lockdowns that have constrained business and life in general. The government expresses resolve in maintaining lockdowns, now affecting 247 million people in 31 cities that collectively produce $4.3 trillion in annual economic activity, according to a recent estimate from Nomura, the Japanese securities firm.
But the endurance of Beijing’s stance — its willingness to continue riding out the economic damage and public anger — constitutes one of the more consequential variables in a world brimming with uncertainty.
sanctions have restricted sales of Russia’s enormous stocks of oil and natural gas in an effort to pressure the country’s strongman leader, Vladimir V. Putin, to relent. The resulting hit to the global supply has sent energy prices soaring.
The price of a barrel of Brent crude oil rose by nearly a third in the first three months after the invasion, though recent weeks have seen a reversal on the assumption that weaker economic growth will translate into less demand.
major pipeline carrying gas from Russia to Germany cut the supply sharply last month, that heightened fears that Berlin could soon ration energy consumption. That would have a chilling effect on German industry just as it contends with supply chain problems and the loss of exports to China.
euro, which has surrendered more than 10 percent of its value against the dollar this year. That has increased the cost of Europe’s imports, another driver of inflation.
ports from the United States to Europe to China.
“Everyone following the economic situation right now, including central banks, we do not have a clear answer on how to deal with this situation,” said Kjersti Haugland, chief economist at DNB Markets, an investment bank in Norway. “You have a lot of things going on at the same time.”
Understand Inflation and How It Impacts You
The most profound danger is bearing down on poor and middle-income countries, especially those grappling with large debt burdens, like Pakistan, Ghana and El Salvador.
As central banks have tightened credit in wealthy nations, they have spurred investors to abandon developing countries, where risks are greater, instead taking refuge in rock-solid assets like U.S. and German government bonds, now paying slightly higher rates of interest.
This exodus of cash has increased borrowing costs for countries from sub-Saharan Africa to South Asia. Their governments face pressure to cut spending as they send debt payments to creditors in New York, London and Beijing — even as poverty increases.
U.N. World Food Program declared this month.
Among the biggest variables that will determine what comes next is the one that started all the trouble — the pandemic.
The return of colder weather in northern countries could bring another wave of contagion, especially given the lopsided distribution of Covid vaccines, which has left much of humanity vulnerable, risking the emergence of new variants.
So long as Covid-19 remains a threat, it will discourage some people from working in offices and dining in nearby restaurants. It will dissuade some from getting on airplanes, sleeping in hotel rooms, or sitting in theaters.
Since the world was first seized by the public health catastrophe more than two years ago, it has been a truism that the ultimate threat to the economy is the pandemic itself. Even as policymakers now focus on inflation, malnutrition, recession and a war with no end in sight, that observation retains currency.
“We are still struggling with the pandemic,” said Ms. Haugland, the DNB Markets economist. “We cannot afford to just look away from that being a risk factor.”
An estimated third of Ukraine’s population has been forced from their homes since Russia invaded in February, including more than 6.27 million people who are displaced inside the country, according to International Organization for Migration data, illustrating the scale of a humanitarian crisis that has gone largely unseen as the war grinds on.
The number of internally displaced people dwarfs the 4.8 million Ukrainians who have fled into Europe as refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency, which has described levels of displacement unseen since World War II.
While large swaths of the country were subject to the brutality of the Russian invasion in its early weeks, most of Ukraine’s displaced are now coming from the east, as that region becomes the center of the conflict.
Boarding trains and buses, civilians have poured out of cities and towns across eastern Ukraine, fleeing for the relative safety of the west and the northern capital, Kyiv. Some have left in humanitarian convoys, navigating treacherous roadways amid the threat of gunfire or shelling. Others have left on foot, literally running for their lives.
And as Russian forces now train their artillery on Donetsk Province in the east, aiming to capture all of the industrial Donbas region, more people are being forced from their homes daily. Shellfire by Russian forces killed five civilians in Donetsk in the last 24 hours, the head of the regional military government, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on Wednesday on the Telegram social messaging app.
For days, Mr. Kyrylenko has advised residents to leave the province, a sign that Ukrainian authorities believe the fighting will escalate. Officials hope to avoid having to attempt large-scale evacuations as in the neighboring province of Luhansk, which fell to the Russians in recent days.
Just three million people have officially been registered as internally displaced, although the true number is believed to be more than double that. A shortfall in international humanitarian support has further strained local resources.
“The state was not ready for such a scale of displaced persons in many areas,” Vitaly Muzychenko, the deputy minister of social policy for Ukraine, told a news conference this week, where he announced new plans to register displaced people for state benefits.
This mass displacement has reshaped communities across the country, even those that have been spared the physical devastation of the war. Shelters have sprung up in public buildings, university dorms have been converted and some modular homes have been set up to house the displaced.
The majority of internally displaced people, much like refugees, are women and children, and many face shortages of food, water and basic necessities, according to U.N. experts.
Oksana Zelinska, 40, who was the principal of a preschool in the southern city of Kherson, which is now occupied by Russian forces, fled in April with her two children, a co-worker and that woman’s children to the western city of Uzhhorod near the Slovakian border. Her husband has remained behind in Kherson, and she would like to return, but she said she stays in the west for her children.
“When we came here, I needed to do something, it was difficult and I didn’t want to sit around getting depressed,” she said. “I wanted to be useful.”
She began volunteering at the community kitchen that she had used when she first arrived, peeling potatoes and preparing food for the dozens who troop in daily for a hot meal.
Helping the displaced return to their homes — or find new ones — looms as one of Ukraine’s greatest challenges, whatever the outcome of the war. Some of their hometowns may not return to Ukrainian control. Others that are retaken could be almost entirely destroyed, with homes, water lines and other vital infrastructure pulverized by the Russian Army’s scorched-earth tactics.
Spain likely to push for more shared intelligence, sources
Families making dangerous crossings from Africa to Canaries
Morocco clamping down on migration after deal with Spain
Migrant deaths in Melilla highlight dangers, NGOs say
MADRID/LAS PALMAS, June 27 (Reuters) – Spain is shifting its foreign policy towards Africa while lobbying the EU and NATO for support to address migration from the continent, aggravated by the Ukraine invasion, two senior government officials and two diplomatic sources told Reuters.
Spain will use a NATO summit in Madrid this week to press its case, and is likely to ask for increased intelligence sharing by the alliance including on issues related to migration, the diplomats said.
Even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez had revived a strategy mothballed by previous governments of working with African partners to contain migration and to tackle root causes such as instability and climate change, two officials close to him said.
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That drive has now taken on more urgency, they added.
“We are looking for good relations with all the neighbours around us and jointly managing phenomena that no one, not even the most powerful state on the planet, can deal with on its own,” Spain’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares told Reuters. He declined to give details.
Spain, its southern neighbours and EU officials are increasingly alarmed that a hunger crisis worsened by the disruption of Ukraine’s grain exports will trigger chaotic migration from the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions of Africa, with numbers already on the rise this year, the sources said.
On Friday, at least 23 migrants died after clashes with Moroccan security forces when around 2,000 people tried to cross into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla. Morocco in recent weeks has toughened containment measures following Spain’s new diplomatic approach. read more
Migration by sea to the Canary Islands, another risky but popular entrance point into Europe, jumped 51% between January and May this year compared to last year, Spanish data showed, with the busiest period of the year still to come.
Spain is used as a gateway to Europe by migrants from other continents, including Africa and Latin America. Although it is largely a transit country, previous jumps in arrivals have put its border resources under intense pressure.
Albares said the new strategy, which has seen Sanchez visit nine African countries since last year, was designed to keep migrants from danger.
“We cannot allow the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, to become enormous watery tombs where every year thousands of human beings die when all they aspire to is a better life,” Albares said.
Human rights groups and migration advocates, however, say Spain’s quest to outsource enforcement puts vulnerable people in the hands of security forces in countries with a history of abuses and heavy-handed policing.
The deaths in Morocco “are a tragic symbol of European policies of externalizing the borders of the EU,” groups including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and Spanish migration charity Walking Borders said in a joint statement on Saturday.
Sanchez’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
In a sign of its growing anxiety, Madrid hopes to secure a commitment at the NATO summit to better policing of “hybrid threats,” including the possibility irregular migration is used as a political pressure tactic by hostile actors. It will also lobby NATO to dedicate resources to securing the alliance’s Southern Flank. read more
Madrid will ask NATO for “allied intelligence sharing,” including on issues related to migration, a senior Spanish diplomatic source and an EU diplomat said. This could formalise and expand on existing intelligence cooperation.
At the summit, NATO will reinforce cooperation efforts with southern countries and agree a package for Mauritania to help “the fight against terrorism, border control and strengthening its defence and security,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told newspaper El Pais at the weekend.
Migrants wait to disembark from a Spanish coast guard vessel, at the port of Arguineguin, in the island of Gran Canaria, Spain, May 7, 2022. REUTERS/Borja Suarez
The expanded NATO presence could see Mauritania, which works closely with Spain, help coordinate with other countries in the Sahel region, said Felix Arteaga, senior defence analyst with Madrid’s Elcano Institute, a think tank.
Foreign Minister Albares declined to give details on how NATO could expand operations in Africa.
NATO sources and academics signal that Spain’s proposals will face resistance amid conflicting needs from countries such as Russia’s vulnerable neighbours in the Baltic States. read more
Spain says the growing influence of Russia in unstable countries including the Central African Republic and Sahel nation Mali risks fuelling insecurity to the south of Europe. read more
Citing the presence of Russian military contractors in Mali, the blockade of grains exports from Ukraine and Moscow ally Belarus’ policy last year of allowing migrants into the EU, Madrid says President Vladmir Putin could use migration and hunger as part of his war effort.
“Putin wants to use food crisis to orchestrate a repeat of migration crisis of the magnitude we have seen in 2015-16 to destabilise the EU,” one European Union official told Reuters.
Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions that limit its own exports of grains for a jump in global prices.
Russia’s foreign ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
FUNDING FOR THE SAHEL
In recent weeks, Sanchez has held a flurry of bilateral meetings with heads of state and officials from Nigeria, Morocco and Mauritania to discuss economic cooperation, human trafficking, capacity building for controlling borders and the fight against terrorism.
In June, the government sent to parliament a new development bill to channel funding to the Sahel. The legislation would mark a significant expansion of existing funding for migration control to eight African countries.
Italy too has sought to enlist support, with the government earlier hosting a meeting of southern European nations to push for a post-Ukraine migration policy that distributes arrival numbers more evenly throughout Europe. read more
People are already on the move. Data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) shows departures from the Sahelian nation of Niger in the first four months of this year have risen by 45%, and from neighbouring Mali they have doubled.
The rise has not yet been reflected by arrivals to European shores.
A Reuters review of data from European border and coast guard agency Frontex showed migrant numbers arriving in the Canary Islands from the Sahel region of Africa and below it, from Guinea, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, rose in the first five months of 2022 compared to the same period last year.
Whole families are increasingly making the trip to the Atlantic islands in fragile rubber dinghies from as far south as Senegal and Guinea, citing insecurity, climate change and, in more recent cases, high food prices, said Jose Antonio Rodríguez Verona, a Red Cross official in the Canary Islands.
Morocco remains the biggest origin country and transit point for migrants to Spain, with record numbers of Moroccans reaching the Canary Islands in January and February this year.
Those figures however fell by 85% in March and April from the previous two months, according to figures from Frontex, after Spain changed its policy on the disputed Western Sahara to align with Morocco’s stance. Albares has attributed the drop directly to the change of policy.
“I would like to thank the extraordinary cooperation we have with the Kingdom of Morocco,” Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez said on Saturday, after the deaths in Melilla, which he blamed on human trafficking gangs.
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Reporting by Belen Carreno, Joan Faus and Borja Suarez, additional reporting Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Emma Farge in Geneva, Ed McAllister in Dakar, Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat, editing by Aislinn Laing and Frank Jack Daniel
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The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.
Now, even their future is under surveillance.
The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.
They can warn the police if a victim of a fraud tries to travel to Beijing to petition the government for payment or a drug user makes too many calls to the same number. They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school.
automating systemic discrimination and political repression.
to quell ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang and enforce some of the world’s most severe coronavirus lockdowns. The space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.
“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” Mr. Xi said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.
ChinaFile, an online magazine published by the Asia Society, which has systematically gathered years of records on government websites. Another set, describing software bought by the authorities in the port city of Tianjin to stop petitioners from going to neighboring Beijing, was provided by IPVM, a surveillance industry publication.
China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment faxed to its headquarters in Beijing and six local departments across the country.
The new approach to surveillance is partly based on data-driven policing software from the United States and Europe, technology that rights groups say has encoded racism into decisions like which neighborhoods are most heavily policed and which prisoners get parole. China takes it to the extreme, tapping nationwide reservoirs of data that allow the police to operate with opacity and impunity.
Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.
Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.
It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.
Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.
A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.
Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.
The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.
The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”
Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.
When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.
Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.
While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”
These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.
The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.
In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.
With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.
Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.
In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.
The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.
The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.
At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”
Toward Techno Totalitarianism
Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.
As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”
When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.
The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.
Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.
Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.
“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.
Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control.They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.
The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.
One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.
Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.
“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”
Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”
“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”
Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.
WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY, June 6 (Reuters) – The White House on Monday excluded Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas this week, prompting Mexico’s president to make good on a threat to skip the event because all countries in the Western Hemisphere were not invited.
The boycott by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and some other leaders could diminish the relevance of the summit in Los Angeles, where the United States aims to address regional migration and economic challenges. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, hopes to repair Latin America relations damaged under his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, reassert U.S. influence and counter China’s inroads.
The decision to cut out Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua followed weeks of intense deliberations and was due to concerns about human rights and a lack of democracy in the three nations, a senior U.S. official said.
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U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Biden administration “understands” Mexico’s position, but “one of the key elements of this summit is democratic governance, and these countries are not exemplars, to put it mildly.”
Biden aides have been mindful of pressure from Republicans and some fellow Democrats against appearing soft on America’s three main leftist antagonists in Latin America. Miami’s large Cuban-American community, which favored Trump’s harsh policies toward Cuba and Venezuela, is seen as an important voting bloc in Florida in the November elections that will decide control of the U.S. Congress, which is now in the hands of the Democrats.
Lopez Obrador told reporters that his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, would attend the summit in his place. The Mexican president said he would meet with Biden in Washington next month, which the White House confirmed. read more
“There can’t be a Summit of the Americas if not all countries of the American continent are taking part,” Lopez Obrador said.
Lopez Obrador’s absence from the gathering, which Biden is due to open on Wednesday, raises questions about summit discussions focused on curbing migration at the U.S. southern border, a priority for Biden, and could be a diplomatic embarrassment for the United States.
A caravan of several thousand migrants, many from Venezuela, set off from southern Mexico early Monday aiming to reach the United States. read more
But a senior administration official insisted Lopez Obrador’s no-show would not hinder Biden’s rollout of a regional migration initiative. The White House expects at least 23 heads of state and government, which the official said would be in line with past summits.
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the Mexican president, saying his “decision to stand with dictators and despots” would hurt U.S.-Mexico relations.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro shakes hands with his Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel during the ALBA group meeting in Havana, Cuba, May 27, 2022. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist and Trump admirer who leads Latin America’s most populous country, will attend after initially flirting with staying away. read more
The exclusion of Venezuela and Nicaragua had been flagged in recent weeks. President Miguel Diaz-Canel of Communist-ruled Cuba said last month he would not go even if invited, accusing the United States of “brutal pressure” to make the summit non-inclusive.
On Monday, Cuba called the decision “discriminatory and unacceptable” and said the United States underestimated support in the region for the island nation.
The United States invited some Cuban civil society activists to attend, but several said on social media that Cuban state security had blocked them from travel to Los Angeles. read more
Having ruled out Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the Biden administration expects representatives for opposition leader Juan Guaido will attend, Price said. He declined to say whether their participation would be in person or virtually.
The senior administration official, asked whether Biden might have a call with Guaido during the summit, said there was a good chance of an “engagement,” but declined to elaborate.
Washington recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, having condemned Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham. But some countries in the region have stuck with Maduro.
Also barred from the summit is Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla who won a fourth consecutive term in November after jailing rivals.
Most leaders have signaled they will attend, but the pushback by leftist-led governments suggests many in Latin America are no longer willing to follow Washington’s lead as in past times.
Faced with low expectations for summit achievements, U.S. officials began previewing Biden’s coming initiatives. Those include an “Americas partnership” for pandemic recovery, which would entail investments and supply-chain strengthening, reform of the Inter-American Development Bank, and a $300 million commitment for regional food security.
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Reporting By Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Eric Beech and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Kylie Madry and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City, Jose Torres in Tapachula and Dave Sherwood in Havana; Writing by Ted Hesson; Editing by Grant McCool, Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler
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TAPACHULA, June 6 (Reuters) – Several thousand migrants, many from Venezuela, set off from southern Mexico early Monday aiming to reach the United States, timing their journey to coincide with the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles this week.
Migration activists said the group could be one of the region’s largest migrant caravans in recent years.
At least 6,000 people, according to Reuters witnesses, left the border city of Tapachula. Mexico’s National Institute for Migration did not provide an estimate of the group’s size and provided no additional comment on the caravan.
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Caravan organizer Luis Garcia Villagran said the group represented various nationalities of people fleeing hardship in their home countries, including many from Venezuela.
“These are countries collapsing from poverty and violence,” he said. “We strongly urge those who attend the summit … to look at what is happening, and what could happen even more often in Mexico, if something is not done soon.”
Migrants walk in a caravan to cross the country to reach the U.S. border, as regional leaders gather in Los Angeles to discuss migration and other issues, in Tapachula, Mexico June 6, 2022. REUTERS/Quetzalli Nicte-Ha
U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce a regional pact on migration later in the week.
The migrants, including many children, began their trip early under rainfall and fanned out across several lanes of highway, with some wearing plastic ponchos and holding umbrellas, Reuters images show.
Large caravans headed to the United States also traveled across Mexico in 2018 and 2019, mostly comprised of Central Americans, followed by smaller groups in recent years.
Record numbers of migrants last year attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
Colombian migrant Robinson Reyes, 35, said he hoped the group would attract the attention of leaders at the summit.
“We want a future for our children … we want to cross Mexico without any problems,” he said. “God willing, they can talk and resolve this.”
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Reporting by Jose Torres in Tapachula and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; editing by Grant McCool
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A LAPD helocopter flies near the LA Convention Center during the first day of the Ninth Americas Summit in Los Angeles, U.S., June 6, 2022. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
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WASHINGTON, June 6 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will announce this week at the Summit of the Americas an economic partnership for the Western hemisphere focusing on promoting economic recovery by building on existing trade agreements, U.S. administration officials said on Monday.
Dubbed the “Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity”, the plan will cover five areas including mobilizing investments, reinvigorating institutions, clean energy jobs, resilient supply chains and sustainable trade.
“The overall objective is to build our economies from the bottom up and middle out by building on the foundation established by our free trade agreements with the region to better address inequality and lack of economic opportunity,” a senior administration official told reporters in a call.
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The plan would aim to offer an alternative in a region where China has been expanding its sphere of influence. It was unclear, however, how many countries in economically troubled Latin America would buy into such an arrangement.
The United States is hosting the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, a gathering where Biden aims to address regional migration and economic challenges. On Monday, the White House said it was not inviting Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, prompting Mexico’s president to skip the event.
The summit is being convened in the United States for the first time since the first such gathering in Miami in 1994, as Biden seeks to reassert U.S. leadership and counter China’s growing clout. He is due to formally open the summit on Wednesday.
Biden will put forward “an ambitious reform” of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the official said, adding that the United States would also seek an equity stake at the bank’s private sector lending arm to support the deployment of private capital.
“Because the private sector has a central role to play,” the official said.
Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas think tank, told a Senate subcommittee last week that the Biden administration should push for a regional trade initiative similar to the one for the Indo-Pacific that Biden announced during his Asia tour in May.
But the idea of creating a hemisphere-wide trade bloc has never gotten off the ground, partly because of protectionism sentiment among U.S. labor unions and some lawmakers.
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Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Los Angeles; Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Eric Beech; Editing by Chris Reese and Stephen Coates
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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GONZALES, Calif. — It looks like a century-old picture of farming in California: a few dozen Mexican men on their knees, plucking radishes from the ground, tying them into bundles. But the crews on Sabor Farms’ radish patch, about a mile south of the Salinas River, represent the cutting edge of change, a revolution in how America pulls food from the land.
For starters, the young men on their knees are working alongside technology unseen even 10 years ago. Crouched behind what looks like a tractor retrofitted with a packing plant, they place bunches of radishes on a conveyor belt within arm’s reach, which carries them through a cold wash and delivers them to be packed into crates and delivered for distribution in a refrigerated truck.
The other change is more subtle, but no less revolutionary. None of the workers are in the United States illegally.
are not coming in the numbers they once did.
There are a variety of reasons: The aging of Mexico’s population slimmed the cohort of potential migrants. Mexico’s relative stability after the financial crises of the 1980s and 1990s reduced the pressures for them to leave, while the collapse of the housing bubble in the United States slashed demand for their work north of the border. Stricter border enforcement by the United States, notably during the Trump administration, has further dented the flow.
the economists Gordon Hanson and Craig McIntosh wrote.
As a consequence, the total population of unauthorized immigrants in the United States peaked in 2007 and has declined slightly since then. California felt it first. From 2010 to 2018, the unauthorized immigrant population in the state declined by some 10 percent, to 2.6 million. And the dwindling flow sharply reduced the supply of young workers to till fields and harvest crops on the cheap.
The state reports that from 2010 to 2020, the average number of workers on California farms declined to 150,000 from 170,000. The number of undocumented immigrant workers declined even faster. The Labor Department’s most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey reports that in 2017 and 2018, unauthorized immigrants accounted for only 36 percent of crop workers hired by California farms. That was down from 66 percent, according to the surveys performed 10 years earlier.
The immigrant work force has also aged. In 2017 and 2018, the average crop worker hired locally on a California farm was 43, according to the survey, eight years older than in the surveys performed from 2007 to 2009. The share of workers under the age of 25 dropped to 7 percent from a quarter.
hire the younger immigrants who kept on coming illegally across the border. (Employers must demand documents proving workers’ eligibility to work, but these are fairly easy to fake.)
That is no longer the case. There are some 35,000 workers on H-2A visas across California, 14 times as many as in 2007. During the harvest they crowd the low-end motels dotting California’s farm towns. A 1,200-bed housing facility exclusive to H-2A workers just opened in Salinas. In King City, some 50 miles south, a former tomato processing shed was retrofitted to house them.
“In the United States we have an aging and settled illegal work force,” said Philip Martin, an expert on farm labor and migration at the University of California, Davis. “The fresh blood are the H-2As.”
Immigrant guest workers are unlikely to fill the labor hole on America’s farms, though. For starters, they are costlier than the largely unauthorized workers they are replacing. The adverse effect wage rate in California this year is $17.51, well above the $15 minimum wage that farmers must pay workers hired locally.
So farmers are also looking elsewhere. “We are living on borrowed time,” saidDave Puglia, president and chief executive of Western Growers, the lobby group for farmers in the West. “I want half the produce harvest mechanized in 10 years. There’s no other solution.”
Produce that is hardy or doesn’t need to look pretty is largely harvested mechanically already, from processed tomatoes and wine grapes to mixed salad greens and tree nuts. Sabor Farms has been using machines to harvest salad mix for decades.
survey by the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology found that about two-thirds of growers of specialty crops like fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts have invested in automation over the last three years. Still, they expect that only about 20 percent of the lettuce, apple and broccoli harvest — and none of the strawberry harvest — will be automated by 2025.
Some crops are unlikely to survive. Acreage devoted to crops like bell peppers, broccoli and fresh tomatoes is declining. And foreign suppliers are picking up much of the slack. Fresh and frozen fruit and vegetable imports almost doubled over the last five years, to $31 billion in 2021.
Consider asparagus, a particularly labor-intensive crop. Only 4,000 acres of it were harvested across the state in 2020, down from 37,000 two decades earlier. The state minimum wage of $15, added to the new requirement to pay overtime after 40 hours a week, is squeezing it further after growers in the Mexican state of Sinaloa — where workers make some $330 a month — increased the asparagus acreage almost threefold over 15 years, to 47,000 acres in 2020.
H-2A workers won’t help fend off the cheaper Mexican asparagus. They are even more expensive than local workers, about half of whom are immigrants from earlier waves that gained legal status; about a third are undocumented. And capital is not rushing in to automate the crop.
“There are no unicorns there,” said Neill Callis, who manages the asparagus packing shed at the Turlock Fruit Company, which grows some 300 acres of asparagus in the San Joaquin Valley east of Salinas. “You can’t seduce a V.C. with the opportunity to solve a $2-per-carton problem for 50 million cartons,” he said.
While Turlock has automated where it can, introducing a German machine to sort, trim and bunch spears in the packing shed, the harvest is still done by hand — hunched workers walk up the rows stabbing at the spears with an 18-inch-long knife.
These days, Mr. Callis said, Turlock is hanging on to the asparagus crop mainly to ensure its labor supply. Providing jobs during the asparagus harvest from February to May helps the farm hang on to its regular workers — 240 in the field and about 180 in the shed it co-owns with another farm — for the critical summer harvest of 3,500 acres of melons.
Losing its source of cheap illegal immigrant workers will change California. Other employers heavily reliant on cheap labor — like builders, landscapers, restaurants and hotels — will have to adjust.
Paradoxically, the changes raking across California’s fields seem to threaten the undocumented local work force farmers once relied on. Ancelmo Zamudio from Chilapa, in Mexico’s state of Guerrero, and José Luis Hernández from Ejutla in Oaxaca crossed into the United States when they were barely in their teens, over 15 years ago. Now they live in Stockton, working mostly on the vineyards in Lodi and Napa.
They were building a life in the United States. They brought their wives with them; had children; hoped that they might be able to legalize their status somehow, perhaps through another shot at immigration reform like the one of 1986.
Things to them look decidedly cloudier. “We used to prune the leaves on the vine with our hands, but they brought in the robots last year,” Mr. Zamudio complained. “They said it was because there were no people.”
Mr. Hernández grumbles about H-2A workers, who earn more even if they have less experience, and don’t have to pay rent or support a family. He worries about rising rents — pushed higher by new arrivals from the Bay Area. The rule compelling farmers to pay overtime after 40 hours of work per week is costing him money, he complains, because farmers slashed overtime and cut his workweek from six days to five.
He worries about the future. “It scares me that they are coming with H-2As and also with robots,” he said. “That’s going to take us down.”