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Disagree, don’t ignore

From a Facebook post by Duff McKee, a former 4th district judge in Idaho.

A court decision of significance will invariably disappoint some and delight others. Usually, the more delighted the winner is, the more upset the loser becomes. It is not uncommon for losers to blame the judge.

The marriage equality decision by our highest court demonstrates the phenomena. The teapots and extreme evangelicals are noisily rising up to complain, as expected. One theme of their rumble is that it’s all the courts’ fault; the courts have gone off on excursions of their own, changing laws at will, ignoring the will of people, tearing up valid legislation, etc. The noise is, by and large, hyperbolic, extreme, and historically wrong, but we have come to expect this from the more radical divisions within our society. It’s within the penumbra of tolerable free speech.

But there is also a line of critical remarks about the courts swirling around the marriage equality decision that is different from the normal rumble of losers’ gripes.

These are the comments to the effect that one should just ignore judicial decisions that one disagrees with, or that those in power are not obligated to follow a decision that they choose not to, or that states remain able to enact their own laws contrary to rulings of the high court. These remarks are not just disturbing, they are appalling – because these remarks are coming from men who are currently seeking to become President of the United States. It makes one shudder.

The inspired magnificence of our Constitution is in the balance it imposes upon the government. Integral to this balance is the existence of an independent judiciary with the right and the duty to examine the acts of government to ensure the actions are within the boundaries of the Constitution, properly express the will of the majority, and do not trample upon the rights of the minority. While we believe the will of the majority should, and does, overwhelmingly guide our affairs in almost every facet of our lives, we believe with equal fervor that the government should not trample upon the rights of the minority.

The guardian of all these concerns throughout history has been, and is, judicial review by an independent judiciary. This is the essence that has been part of our heritage since the very earliest days of our government. Marbury v Madison, decided in 1803, was not a startling new proposition, but was merely the first case of judicial review to reach the high court.

To complain that the high court in the marriage equality decision has just recently usurped unto itself the power to interfere, and that this somehow takes away from the inherent authority of the Congress or of the several states, is to display a fundamental lack of understanding of how our government works, but it is a just complaint. To even suggest that it would be appropriate for those in power to simply ignore such a decision of the high court is not only dangerously stupid, it is plain treachery.

A contamination history

A guest opinion from Tami Thatcher, who has written frequently in recent years about the Idaho National Laboratory and related nuclear industry issues. She said that she "was a nuclear safety analyst at INL for several years. . ..and then “graduated” in 2005. It’s a long story. Since 2005, I have provided contractor work for the INL, Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, and Environmental Defense Institute of tiny Troy Idaho where many of my articles are posted."

I have been trying to piece together the history of radionuclide and chemical contamination of drinking water at the Idaho National Laboratory. US Geological Survey reports and data fill in much of the history of what was monitored since 1949.

State regulation of drinking water laws began to permeate INL in the late 1980s. INL contractors now perform the INL drinking water monitoring.

I visited the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to see the data. What I discovered was that IDEQ does not collect or post online the radionuclide data for INL drinking water, only the chemical data.

In 1995, the IDEQ granted the DOE’s request to no longer provide radionuclide drinking water results.

Few people know that the radionuclide results for INL drinking water are not available at IDEQ or the site annual environmental monitoring reports.

The DOE’s own lax limits were 100 times more permissive than current federal drinking water limits. DOE and USGS reports that did disclose highlights of the contamination often emphasized that more permissive federal limits would soon be enacted. But they weren’t.

IDEQ ceased oversight of radionuclides in INL drinking water at a time when radionuclide levels remained at or near the federal limit. A legal loophole for non-community wells means the radionuclide contaminants are not regulated by the state.

A comprehensive review of chronically contaminated historical INL drinking water does not exist. The contamination has yet to be acknowledged in National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) energy worker compensation dose reconstruction or epidemiology studies. The energy worker compensation law enacted in 2000 has paid out about $200 million in INL claims, but NIOSH does not disclose when or which facilities exposed the workers.

Brain tumors, leukemia and lymphatic cancers were found to be elevated in INL workers regardless of their recorded dose and whether or not they were radiation workers.

In the past, workers at INL’s Central Facilities Area were drinking up to five times the federal drinking water limit for tritium, 70 percent of the limit for iodine-129, and a host of other contaminants for decades. Drinking water wells at other INL facilities were also contaminated.

The full extent of Snake River Plain aquifer contamination from reactor operation, fuel tests, nuclear fuel reprocessing and waste burial remains obscured behind overly simplistic presentations that promote the idea that as long as current contamination levels don’t exceed federal limits, there’s no reason for concern.

There are serious radioactive omissions when it comes to describing current and historical drinking water contaminants at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Piecing together the full picture of all historical INL drinking water contaminants would require filling in those not monitored but later discovered to have been present.

Former workers (and their children) may wonder what they were exposed to. When weighing the benefits of future operations at INL, the public needs access to the full story of INL’s past and current contaminated drinking water.


The Oregon State Public Interest Research Group on Tuesday sent out an email warning about the spread of superbugs - mutations resistant to most existing poisons or other efforts against them. From it:

We know the danger is real.

Raising livestock and poultry on routine antibiotics is helping grow and spread the superbugs -- antibiotic-resistant bacteria -- that could soon kill more people than cancer. [1]

Yet far too often, we don't know or can't trust whether the meat we buy has been raised with or without antibiotics. It's time to stop the overuse of antibiotics and the next big step is to put a label on it.

We have a right to know whether our food threatens our health. Join our call on the USDA to label meat raised with routine antibiotics.

There's no question that overusing antibiotics poses a danger to our health. We've known this for decades. Yet, for decades, the industry has fed huge amounts of antibiotics to factory farm animals -- even when the animals were healthy.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria already infect more than a million Americans each year, and more than 23,000 die. Now, according to a recent study, resistant bacteria are projected to kill 10 million people per year by 2050.

We deserve to know whether the food we buy is contributing to the rise in drug-resistant superbugs.

I'm not alone in wanting labels. A Consumer Reports poll found that 83% of Americans want such a label to inform whether beef, pork, turkey, chicken or other meats in a grocery store come from animals routinely given antibiotics.

The good news is that consumers are demanding change. Thanks to you, we helped organize consumers to convince McDonald's to end the routine use of antibiotics in the chicken they sell.

More good news: The USDA is considering a simple requirement that meat carry labels telling consumers whether it was raised on antibiotics.

But with big food companies pushing back, the USDA isn't about to hand us a victory on a silver platter. We have to demand it. Add your name to our call for action. It's time to stop the overuse of antibiotics, and the next big step is to put a label on it.

Charter school fix

Another take on charter schools (see also a Washington state report last week), this time by Levi B Cavener, a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org.

60 years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the High Court ruled unanimously that U.S. public schools must be desegregated, that separate school systems for blacks and whites are inherently unequal and a violation of the “equal protection clause” of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

It’s now more than a half century later. Here, we have Idaho.
On April 29, 2015, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission released their first ever Annual Report. A damning self-indictment, it paints a painfully grim picture for minority student enrollment in Idaho’s public charter schools. The Commission’s comprehensive report was unequivocal in its findings: Idaho charter schools are consistently and disproportionately unreflective of their surrounding communities' demographics.

A few takeaways from the report: 55% of Idaho charters under enroll Special Education students; 77% of charters under enroll Free and Reduced Lunch students; 87% under enroll Limited English Proficiency students; and 90% under enroll non-white students. What does this mean? It means Idaho has reversed course and is heading back to 1955, back to the Civil Rights era, and back to schools that are both separate and unequal. It means, apparently, “white flight”?

Beyond a moral and legal argument to ensure equity in public charter schools, here's why every property owner in Idaho should care about the Commission’s recent findings: When public charter schools fail to share an equitable burden for providing expensive minority student services -- such as special education and English Language Learner instruction - local public schools end up enrolling a disproportionate number of these students. Local public schools are then forced to levy property owners to pay for expensive minority instruction and support.

While some may point to the current imbalance as merely a byproduct of so called “school choice,” the Commission’s findings should, at minimum, create pause to ensure that charter facilities are actually “a choice” for minority student populations. Remember, Jim Crow laws and segregated schools were also a product of active policy “choices” by lawmakers.

Remember, the bargain that charters made with Idaho is enhanced instructional freedom in order to experiment with new pedagogy and curriculum. However, that bargain also requires charters to provide equitable access and appropriate minority service instruction as required by civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network (the lobbying arm of Idaho's charters), recently wrote an op-ed declaring that the solution to this inequity problem is...wait for build more charters! Said Mr. Ryan, “The best way to help charter schools serve more diverse populations is to help them grow.” Throw more money at the problem. Where have we heard this before?

Idaho Ed News reported that Idaho Charter Commission Chairman Alan Reed said of the report's findings, “Before approving new charters, we ask petitioners, ‘What are your strategies for reaching special and underserved populations?’”

Chairman Reed’s question should be modified: Before approving any new charters we need to fix the imbalance that exists today. After all, shouldn't minority students be entitled to the same freedom and legal opportunity “to choose” charters as any other kiddo?

It's time for a moratorium on any new charters until we address this chronic imbalance. It’s time we fully recognize that regular public schools are shouldering the heavy burden of educating special education, minority and low income student populations. And it’s past time that funding for Idaho charter schools be withheld until they can demonstrate they are following the law.

The charter school regs

A guest post from Liv Finne of the conservative Washington Policy Center, on new rules about charter schools by Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

They say that if you want to make an announcement that won’t be noticed, post the notice on an obscure website and schedule the hearing the day after a holiday weekend. That’s just what Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn did when he issued his plan to impose 119 pages of administrative rules on public charter schools and the families that support them.

Superintendent Dorn targets families at nine new charter schools set to open this fall in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Highline, and Kent. The Dorn Rules will hurt these families and those that will eventually attend up to 31 other charter schools in the future.

Washington’s voter-passed charter school law is so popular with parents that space limitations have forced the new schools to place hundreds of students on waiting lists. Young teachers in particular are flocking to take exciting new jobs at charter schools because of the freedom they provide educators to design and implement lessons that help many hard-to-teach students succeed.

Superintendent Dorn wants his charter school restrictions approved by this Friday, May 29th, which is light-speed in the world of government. It is interesting that the education bureaucracy will take years to implement a reform bill passed by the legislature, but blocking families from charter schools takes only weeks.

The Dorn Rules would cut funding to charter schools (WAC 392-121-299) compared to what is provided under the charter school law (RCW 28A.710.220(2)), impose hiring quotas, (WAC 392-127-004 and 006), reject their budgets (WAC 392-123-0795 and 080 and 095), restrict how they serve special education children, transitional bilingual children, and other categorical program funds (WAC 392-122-910), and limit the types of bonuses they provide their teachers (WAC 392-140-973 and 974).

Superintendent Dorn is well known for his opposition to letting families access charter schools. In 2012 he fought passage of the state’s break-through charter school law, lending his name to the “No on Initiative 1240” campaign.

As a top defender of the traditional public school monopoly, Superintendent Dorn seems to view charter school parents as a threat. He certainly represents the status quo, and he now appears to be working to weaken the growing popularity of these new public schools in Washington.

The Dorn Rules also represent a significant power grab by a state regulatory agency. Superintendent Dorn says his supervisory role over public schools should give him the power to impose cuts and restrictions on charter schools and the families they serve. This is not true, however. As state superintendent his power is limited. He is supposed to fairly deliver state and federal funds to school districts and to charter schools according to the law, and to report on how well Washington children are learning. The Dorn Rules go far beyond what the law allows, and deny basic educational rights to children who attend charter schools.

An accurate reading of the statute shows Superintendent Dorn is misusing his regulatory power to prevent parents from choosing an authentic charter public school for their children. The obvious purpose of the Dorn Rules is to force innovative charter schools to conform to the traditional and restricted public school model, which are exactly the kind of school from which so many Washington families are trying to escape.

Low-income senior costs

This is from a report by the Oregon Health Care Association, about a Portland State University study which shows needs of Oregon seniors have risen while Medicaid reimbursement rates decreased in community-based care settings.

The number of Oregon seniors who depend on Medicaid has risen considerably since 2008, but the Legislature’s funding of reimbursement rates for services has declined in the same time period, according to a new report by Portland State University’s Institute on Aging.

The report – “Oregon Community-Based Care: Resident and Community Characteristics” – offers a unique look at Oregon’s long-term care landscape, and includes data from 243 community-based care (residential care and assisted living communities) providers across the state. Findings indicate the proportion of Oregon seniors who depend on Medicaid to afford care has risen by ten percent since 2008, but Medicaid reimbursement rates have decreased by three percent when adjusted for inflation.

“The findings from this study fill an important gap in our understanding of Oregon’s senior population, staff and caregivers, and community-based care settings as a whole,” said Paula Carder, PhD, Associate Professor, Portland State University Institute on Aging. “The demand for community-based care is expected to increase as our population ages, and we hope this report will be used to inform policy decisions that ultimately improve the lives of aging Oregonians.”

The report indicated that nearly half (47%) of all residents in community-based care settings have some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. This staggering figure represents a five percent increase from 2008 in the number of seniors with dementia living in community-based care settings, and points to higher overall acuity rates and service needs among Oregon seniors. According to a 2010 report by the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Oregonians with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to double by 2025.

In March, the Oregon Health Care Association released data that shows more than 31,000 low-income seniors in Oregon depend on Medicaid reimbursements to afford care each month, but Medicaid rates have not kept pace with rising costs. In state after state, studies demonstrate that investments in long term care for low-income seniors ultimately improve health outcomes by allowing providers to offer better quality care. A 2011 study showed that states that increased Medicaid reimbursements the most improved quality outcomes for low-income seniors in long term care settings.

Commissioned by the Department of Human Services (DHS), the report was a collaboration between DHS, Portland State University Institute on Aging, the Oregon Health Care Association, SEIU, and LeadingAge Oregon.

Wind turbines and birds

A guest opinion, by Michael Parr, Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer, of the American Bird Conservancy.

When the Department of Energy released a report last week championing the construction of larger, more-powerful wind turbines, the wind industry unsurprisingly greeted the news with enthusiasm.

By extending the “hub-height” of turbines up to 360 feet, the chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association said, wind energy could expand to all 50 states.

Less ardent was the association’s response to well-documented concerns over the half-million birds that die each year from collisions with existing turbines: Some migrating birds, a spokesman said, fly too high to be harmed by rotor blades.

Indeed. Some birds do fly very high in the sky. But far more travel at the very altitudes that would put them at greatest risk of colliding with these taller turbines. The risk is especially high during spring and fall, when migrating birds take to the skies in billions, many traveling vast distances between their wintering and breeding grounds.

A new report this month from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls into question the wind industry’s assertion that birds fly well above wind turbines’ rotor blades. Using radar, researchers examined fall migration at two locations in Michigan. They found that the greatest density of birds and bats migrating at night occurred from 300 to 500 feet above ground. That’s almost directly at hub-height for the new generation of giant turbines.

Birds and bats “don’t have fixed lanes up there in the sky,” says Jeff Gosse, regional energy coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bloomington, Minn., and the report’s principal investigator. For instance, during poor weather, birds tend to fly lower. “As conditions change, they will change their altitude, also. As the report indicates, many birds and bats are flying within the current rotor swept zone.”

Before we rush to build thousands of turbines taller than many skyscrapers, with blade tips that often spin in excess of 100 miles per hour, we should pause to examine what we already know about turbines’ impacts on wildlife. Concerns about birds — and bats, which turbines also kill in large numbers — have not gone unnoticed. (The Department of Energy report euphemistically acknowledges the need to address “additional interactions with wildlife.”)

Yet we already know what these “interactions” are. While existing wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds annually, the projections are even more sobering: scientists have estimated that as the number of turbines increases, they could kill more than a million birds each year by 2030.

Meanwhile, a new analysis released last week by American Bird Conservancy based on federal data found that more than 30,000 turbines have been installed in areas critical to the survival of federally protected birds — with an additional 50,000 turbines planned for construction in similar areas.

But there are steps we can take. Building wind turbines away from heavily traveled bird migration routes such as the Atlantic coastline or in the Great Lakes region would help to lessen the fatal collisions. So would temporary shutdowns of turbines during peak migration periods in the spring and fall.

Keeping turbines away from core habitat where imperiled birds breed is also important. Another new study shows that Greater Prairie-Chickens — rare birds that gather each year for mating displays — are more likely to abandon these courtship grounds when they are close to wind turbines.

These are all realistic goals. The Federal Aviation Administration, for instance, already uses a database to make sure wind farms aren’t built in places where they would interfere with aircraft. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is well-equipped to do for birds and other wildlife what the FAA does for planes. The agency’s biologists know where birds occur, how they migrate, and which areas harbor protected species such as the California Condor and Whooping Crane.

Developing renewable energy sources is important. But right now, our policies treat birds and other wildlife as collateral damage in that quest. As the wind industry prepares to take turbines to new heights, the death toll for birds will only intensify.

Science tells us our current approach to wind development is killing hundreds of thousands of birds each year. The good news is that we also have the tools to do better.

Oregon tax facts

From a report on who pays what in Oregon taxes, prepared by the Oregon Center for Public Policy. The numbers in brackets refer to sources, which can be found where the full report is posted online.

Who pays more, low- or high-income households? The income group in Oregon that pays the highest share of their income to state and local taxes: Lowest income households.[1] The income group in Oregon that pays the lowest share of their income to state and local taxes: The wealthiest 1 percent of households.[2]

Have taxes increased as a share of Oregonians’ income? Oregon state and local general revenue as a share of income in 1991: 15.8 percent.[3] Oregon state and local general revenue as a share of income in 2012: 15.0 percent.[4]

How much do working poor Oregonians pay in income taxes? 2013 federal poverty threshold for a family of four with two children: $23,624.[5] State income tax paid in Oregon by a family of four living at the poverty line in 2013: $230.[6] Of the 42 states with income taxes, the number that taxed the income of a family of four living at the poverty line in 2013: 16.[7] Oregon’s rank in taxing the income of a family of four living at the poverty line in 2013: 5th highest.[8]

What share of income goes to the top 1 percent? Share of income going to Oregon’s top 1 percent in 2013: 14.0 percent.[9] Share of income going to Oregon’s bottom 40 percent in 2013: 7.7 percent.[10]

What share of capital gains income goes to the top 1 percent? Share of income from capital gains going to Oregon’s top 1 percent in 2013: 53.0 percent.[11] Share of capital gains going to Oregon’s top 5 percent in 2013: 73.6 percent.[12] Share of income from capital gains going to Oregon’s bottom 95 percent in 2013: 27.5 percent.[13]

How do lottery and income tax revenues compare? Anticipated state revenue from personal income taxes in 2015-17: $15.75 billion.[14] Anticipated state revenue from the Oregon Lottery in 2015-17: $1.13 billion.[15] Anticipated state revenue from corporate income taxes in 2015-17: $1.08 billion.[16]

Do corporations pay a fair share of income taxes? Share of Oregon income taxes paid by corporations in 1973-75: 18.5 percent.[17] Share of Oregon income taxes corporations are projected to pay in 2015-17: 6.4 percent.[18]

Additional state revenue available in 2015-17 for schools, health and human services and public safety if corporations paid the same share of the state’s income taxes as they paid in 1973-75: $2.5 billion.[19] Amount of additional money Oregon schools needed in 2013-15 to provide all children a quality education: $2.2 billion.[20]

Do some profitable corporations pay nothing in income taxes? Number of profitable corporations doing business in Oregon that paid the corporate minimum tax in tax year 2012: 3,294.[21] Number of corporations with Oregon profits that used tax credits to reduce their 2012 tax liability below the corporate minimum tax: 218.[22] Number of corporations with Oregon profits that paid nothing in Oregon corporate income taxes for tax year 2012: 169.[23] Number of corporations with over $1 million in Oregon profits that paid nothing in Oregon corporate income taxes for tax year 2012: at least 49.[24] The names of corporations that paid nothing in corporate income taxes that support the public structures that create a strong business climate: The legislature has yet to make this public.

Who itemizes deductions and who uses the standard deduction? Share of Oregonians who itemized their deductions in 2013: 47.0 percent.[25] Share of Oregonians who used the standard deduction in 2013: 53.0 percent.[26] Share of Oregonians earning $100,000 or less in 2013 who itemized: 39.7 percent.[27] Share of Oregonians earning $100,000 or less in 2013 who used the standard deduction: 60.3 percent.[28] Share of Oregon’s wealthiest 1 percent who itemized in 2013: 95.5 percent.[29]

Share of the mortgage interest deduction benefits going to the highest-earning 20 percent of Oregonians in 2011: 61 percent.[31]

Who benefits from the Oregon EITC? Projected 2015-17 cost of the Oregon Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): $105 million.[32] Share of Oregon taxpayers benefiting from the Oregon EITC in 2013: About 16 percent.[33] Share of Oregon EITC going to working families in 2013: 100 percent.[34]

Gaming the system?

A statement from Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

Corporations have gamed our tax system and it is costing the rest of us billions.

The Center’s analysis of today's state revenue forecast shows that if the legislature stopped the corporate gaming of our tax system and made corporations pay the same share of income taxes that they paid in the 1970s, we would have about $2.5 billion in additional revenue in the upcoming budget period to help the poor and middle class get ahead.

There would be enough money to pay for the costly mistakes by the 2013 "grand bargain" special session — the illegal PERS changes and the special tax treatment for wealthy business owners.

There would also be enough money to cover the loss of revenue due to the spendthrift kicker, a $473 million tax cut that primarily benefits the rich.

Today’s revenue forecast underscores the need to end corporate tax gaming that’s projected to about $2.5 billion in the next budget period.

Religious landscape shifts again

From the just-released (May 12) report by the Pew Research Center on religion and American life.

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

The United States remains home to more Christians than any other country, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith. But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans finds that the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base.

The drop in the Christian share of the population has been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Each of those groups has shrunk by approximately three percentage points since 2007. The evangelical Protestant share of the U.S. population also has dipped, but at a slower rate, falling by about one percentage point since 2007.

These are among the key findings of the Pew Research Center’s second U.S. Religious Landscape Study, a follow-up to its first comprehensive study of religion in America, conducted in 2007.

Because the U.S. census does not ask Americans about their religion, there are no official government statistics on the religious composition of the U.S. public. Some Christian denominations and other religious bodies keep their own rolls, but they use widely differing criteria for membership, and sometimes do not remove members who have fallen away. Surveys of the general public frequently include a few questions about religious affiliation, but they typically do not interview enough people, or ask sufficiently detailed questions, to be able to describe the country’s full religious landscape. The Religious Landscape Studies were designed to fill the gap.

Among other findings in the new study:

Christians probably have lost ground not only in their relative share of the U.S. population but also in absolute numbers. In 2007, there were 227 million adults in the United States, and a little more than 78% of them – or roughly 178 million – identified as Christians. Between 2007 and 2014, the overall size of the U.S. adult population grew by about 18 million people, to nearly 245 million. But the share of adults who identify as Christians fell to just under 71%, or approximately 173 million Americans, a net decline of about 5 million.

American Christians – like the U.S. population as a whole – are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Non-Hispanic whites now account for smaller shares of evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics than they did seven years earlier, while Hispanics have grown as a share of all three religious groups. Racial and ethnic minorities now make up 41% of Catholics (up from 35% in 2007), 24% of evangelical Protestants (up from 19%) and 14% of mainline Protestants (up from 9%).

Religious intermarriage appears to be on the rise. Among Americans who have gotten married since 2010, nearly four-in-ten (39%) report that they are in religiously mixed marriages, compared with 19% among those who got married before 1960.

While many U.S. religious groups are aging, the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time. As a rising cohort of highly unaffiliated Millennials reaches adulthood, the median age of unaffiliated adults has dropped to 36, down from 38 in 2007 and far lower than the general (adult) population’s median age of 46. By contrast, the median age of mainline Protestant adults in the new survey is 52 (up from 50 in 2007), and the median age of Catholic adults is 49 (up from 45 seven years earlier).

Switching religion is a common occurrence in the United States. If all Protestants were treated as a single religious group, then fully 34% of American adults currently have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised. This is up six points since 2007, when 28% of adults identified with a religion different from their childhood faith. If switching among the three Protestant traditions (e.g., from mainline Protestantism to evangelicalism, or from evangelicalism to a historically black Protestant denomination) is added to the total, then the share of Americans who currently have a different religion than they did in childhood rises to 42%.

Christianity – and especially Catholicism – has been losing more adherents through religious switching than it has been gaining. More than 85% of American adults were raised Christian, but nearly a quarter of those who were raised Christian no longer identify with Christianity. Former Christians represent 19.2% of U.S. adults overall. Both the mainline and historically black Protestant traditions have lost more members than they have gained through religious switching, but within Christianity the greatest net losses, by far, have been experienced by Catholics. Nearly one-third of American adults (31.7%) say they were raised Catholic. Among that group, fully 41% no longer identify with Catholicism. This means that 12.9% of American adults are former Catholics, while just 2% of U.S. adults have converted to Catholicism from another religious tradition. No other religious group in the survey has such a lopsided ratio of losses to gains.

The evangelical Protestant tradition is the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching. Roughly 10% of U.S. adults now identify with evangelical Protestantism after having been raised in another tradition, which more than offsets the roughly 8% of adults who were raised as evangelicals but left for another religious tradition or who no longer identify with any organized faith.

The Christian share of the population is declining and the religiously unaffiliated share is growing in all four major geographic regions of the country. Religious “nones” now constitute 19% of the adult population in the South (up from 13% in 2007), 22% of the population in the Midwest (up from 16%), 25% of the population in the Northeast (up from 16%) and 28% of the population in the West (up from 21%). In the West, the religiously unaffiliated are more numerous than Catholics (23%), evangelicals (22%) and every other religious group.

Whites continue to be more likely than both blacks and Hispanics to identify as religiously unaffiliated. Among whites, 24% say they have no religion, compared with 20% of Hispanics and 18% of blacks. But the religiously unaffiliated have grown (and Christians have declined) as a share of the population within all three of these racial and ethnic groups.

This is the first report on findings from the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, the centerpiece of which is a nationally representative telephone survey of 35,071 adults interviewed on both cellphones and landlines from June 4-Sept. 30, 2014. Findings based on the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 0.6 percentage points.