New Immigrants: A pivotal matter for colonial America and aging America

King George III (1738-1820), England's longest ruling monarch, presided over the loss of the American Revolution and died deaf, blind, and insane.

President Trump rightly claims a duty to defend Americans, but his restrictive immigration policies leave the nation helpless against the destructive force of demographic trends. The colonists revolted against King George for similar threats to their future.

In 1776, King George was suffocating the colonies with his policies.

There was the matter of taxes, of course, which was an incendiary issue for the mercantile class. But for Thomas Jefferson and others with a longer view, the issue of immigration and naturalization was perhaps more important.

By restricting the flow of migrants and preventing them from becoming naturalized citizens, “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States,” reads the seventh of the 27 grievances against the king set out in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.

For Jefferson and his fellow signers–who did “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor”–the political and economic future of the confederation desperately depended on a growing population of foreign-born citizens willing to stake a claim in the dream of a sovereign republic.

In his 2018 state of the union address, President Trump defended his administration’s restrictive immigration policies saying it was his duty “to defend Americans–to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.”

But demographic trends clearly show we need new immigrants. We need them for the country’s economic safety and security, so today’s citizens can realize their dreams in their working years and their retirement.

Demographics is economic destiny. It is coolly rational, mathematical, and largely predictable with respect to rates of birth and death and population change by age group. Immigration, on the other hand, is a political matter.

The demographic destiny of the United States–and most industrialized nations–is largely characterized by an aging population.

The population bulge of Baby Boomers is rapidly exiting the U.S. labor market on the way to retirement, while there are too few young people entering the workforce to replace them.

This demographic imbalance–largely a product of longer lifespans and lower fertility rates–has been plainly visible over many decades, and it is expected to get worse.

In 1945, there were 12 people of retirement age for every 100 of working age. Seventy years later in 2015, there were 24 per 100. By 2035, there will be 36 per 100, according to projections by the Social Security Administration, which assumes net immigration, both legal and unauthorized, of 1,286,000 persons per year on average.

The imbalance strains the economic and fiscal health of the country. It also strains the sustainability of programs like Social Security and Medicare because their benefits are largely funded by taxes paid by current workers.

Immigration has helped to temper the adverse effects of an aging workforce on the U.S. economy, according to the National Academy of Sciences report, The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration.

Between 2015 and 2035, the number of adults in prime working age is expected to increase by 10 million to 183.2 million, according to projections of the Pew Research Center. This 20-year projected increase is little more than half the 19 million adults per decade on average who entered the workforce between 1965 and 2005, according to a C4AD analysis of SSA data.

Between 2015 and 2035, children born to first-generation immigrants will add modestly to the workforce, according to the Pew Center, while the children born to native citizens will decline.

“But perhaps the most important component of the growth in the working-age population over the next two decades will be the arrival of future immigrants,” according to the study.

Without these new arrivals, the total projected U.S. working-age population would shrink to 165.6 million, less than the 2015 level of 173.3 million.

With less labor comes less production, less demand, less economic growth, and less tax revenue. And a diminished capacity to repay the nation’s debts.

Increasing the country’s workforce is “the new economic challenge for America,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in December. Along with tax and regulatory reform, Ryan sees the need for more workers as the third ingredient needed to make the economy hum.

Ryan urged women to have more babies, but it is difficult to boost fertility rates. Even with higher fertility, it would be decades before there are meaningful changes in population trends.

Ryan acknowledged that technology and increased productivity were not enough. Like the president, he wants to impose work requirements on those receiving government aid.

He pointed specifically to Medicaid rolls. But the Kaiser Foundation reports there are fewer available workers on the rolls than the “tens of millions” that Ryan envisions.

When identifying policy solutions to “the new economic challenge for America,” Ryan is conspicuously silent about the benefits of immigration.

Immigration is essential to the solution, according to the National Academy of Sciences report. “The primary source of labor will be first and second generation immigrants. This basic fact will hold at all levels, from low-skilled service jobs to professionals with postgraduate degrees.”

Our immigration debate seems to ignore “this basic fact” about the importance of immigration to our future. Instead, the administration wants to cut legal immigration from 1.2 million in 2016 to about 500,000 people per year.

Our colonial leaders saw new immigrants as the way to make America great. They staked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on it.

To defend the nation against its demographic threats, aging America also needs new immigrants. Our colonial leaders had a realistic vision of their future, but our current leaders appear to be blinded by a fear-mongering ideology.

by Mike Brown, mbrown.c4ad@gmail.com

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