Stuff YOU Should Know

Jobless Rate on the Rise in Europe

The latest report from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, shows the jobless rate in the seventeen countries that make up the Eurozone has risen once again. In November, the unemployment rate was 11.7%, up from 10.4% one year ago. Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), said the region would not likely recover for several months at least. Not all of the individual countries in the Eurozone have the same unemployment rate. For example, the unemployment rate in Germany is 5.4% and Austria’s is 4.3%, while the rate in Spain is 25.8%. Economists are calling this situation a “two-speed Europe,” meaning a Europe divided in two, each going at a different pace.

Many of the governments of Eurozone countries have attempted to deal with the debt crisis through “austerity measures.” These measures have included cuts in government spending and lowering taxes on the wealthy (“job creators”) to encourage them to create jobs. Critics say these efforts have not worked well in the past. Others believe that stability can be achieved through more “growth measures,” such as banks lowering rates and making it easier for businesses to borrow money and create more jobs. Some economists believe that policies within the European Central Bank are impaired and should be improved through a banking union, which the ECB plans to address next year.

What Do You Think? Follow this story, using at least three different sources. What are the similarities facing Europe that the United States faced four years ago? Compare the solutions that are being offered by experts. What do you think sounds like the best idea?

Update in Syria

It has been more than 18 months since the start of the uprising in Syria by rebel forces against President Bashar al-Assad. That time has been marked by turmoil and war. For two days last month there was a “communications blackout” during which the Internet across Syria was down and cellular access was limited. This made it very difficult to determine what was going on in Damascus, the capital city where the fighting is taking place.

Both sides of the conflict blamed the other for the outages. According to a broadcast made by Syria’s Information Ministry, the government claims that it was terrorists who severely damaged communication equipment. The other side claims it was a deliberate action by the government in order to limit contact between the rebel forces and to restrict information to the outside world. Internet has since been restored in Damascus, but not everywhere.

Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have played an extraordinary role in recent political changes across the Middle East. For example, last year a Facebook campaign was credited for contributing to the pressure on Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down from power. Social media outlets have been used to spread messages and share ideas, both with fellow citizens as well as people around the world, about what is happening. Some studies now show that even when Internet service has been cut off an increase in activism is still possible.

Dig Deeper It has been reported that more than 40,000 people in Syria have been killed since the opposition began in March of 2011. Follow the story and see what kind of information is being reported through specifically social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

Fewer U.S. Babies

The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think-tank that provides data on trends shaping America, recently reported that the birth rate in the United States is at its lowest point since the 1920s. The birth rate is the number of births per 1000 women ages 15 to 44.

In 2011 the birth rate was 63.2. By contrast, that rate peaked to 122.7 in the middle of the Baby Boom era (1946-64). While births by U.S.-born women dropped by 6 percent, it is fewer births by immigrant women currently living in the United States that has caused the significant drop. Mexican women reported the biggest decrease, by 23 percent.

The Pew study suggests that the economic stress from the struggling economy seems to be the biggest reason for the decline. Concerns like loss of income, unemployment and foreclosure rates had a big impact on the decision to have children. It is no surprise, therefore, that the states still suffering the most from the recent recession (like California and Arizona, who also have a large Hispanic population) are seeing the lower birth rates.

What Do You Think? Is this good news or bad news? Do some research on both sides. Take a look at the impact of the Baby Boomers generation, both positive and negative, on American culture, as well as predictions on what the long-term effects of the current lower birth rate might be.

You Too Can Visit Middle-Earth (or parts of it!)

On December 14, millions of moviegoers will travel through the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain with Bilbo Baggins on his quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor in the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The New Zealand Tourism Board hopes that many of them are inspired to plan a trip to New Zealand, the filming location of the Hobbit, as well as the Lord of the Rings trilogy (both based on books by legendary writer JRR Tolkien).

The New Zealand Tourist Board is hoping that the popularity of these films will continue to transform the country into a popular travel destination. The setting of The Hobbit is fictional and is called “Middle-Earth;” but the lush and diverse landscape of New Zealand made it a perfect match for director Peter Jackson’s film adaptation. One hundred and fifty places throughout New Zealand are featured in the movie, including Queenstown and the volcanic region of Ruapehu.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was able to strike a deal with Warner Bros., (The Hobbit’s production company) that included about $80 million dollars in government subsidies and marketing. The production also employed close to three thousand New Zealand residents. The lush scenery is not the only draw to New Zealand. Weta Digital, a special-effects studio that provided work on the blockbuster Avatar is also located there.

What Do You Think? Are you planning to see The Hobbit? See the film and see if you can identify specific places by its landmarks or unique characteristics. If you had the opportunity, would you travel to New Zealand?