13 October 2006 Volume 8 / Number 40
Dear Colleague: Population growth benefits America, whatever the flaws of our current immigration system.
300 Million and Immigration: Separating the Issues
America’s population will reach 300 million people on Tuesday morning. Those of us who see people as a resource will celebrate, especially since we recognize the need for more workers to support America’s baby boomers in their impending retirement. Yet even many who have a pro-people attitude and recognize our worsening worker-retiree ratio have problems with America’s current immigration levels. Sometimes, this spills over into hostility toward population growth per se. It’s past time to separate these two issues, and be glad our nation is not dying out like those of Europe.
The simple point: Population growth for America is good, while large numbers of unassimilated or unproductive immigrants are bad. Yet without some immigration, the United States’ population would continue aging indefinitely because her birthrate is so low. Even when accounting for the higher birthrate of immigrants, Americans’ Total Fertility Rate is only 2.0 children per woman during her lifetime, on average. That is slightly less than the 2.1 needed for replacement. Remove all the immigrants, and Americans’ birthrate drops to suicidal French levels.
It’s true that the USA has experienced a massive increase in her foreign-born population since 1965, when Congress liberalized immigration laws. Contrary to what you might think, most immigration into the United States is legal, accounting for about one million new residents a year. The Census Bureau estimates that ‘only’ 500,000 illegal immigrants settle in the United States annually’-although this may have gone up in the past few years as illegal immigration increases. Right now, about 35 million residents of the USA are foreign-born, a high 11.7% of the population.
According to the invaluable Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), ‘Since 1970, more than 30 million legal and illegal immigrants have settled in the U.S., representing more than one-third of all people ever to come to America’s shores. At the peak of the Great Wave of immigration in 1910, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. was less than half of what it is today, though the percentage of the population was slightly higher.’ Of course, native-born Americans had much higher fertility back then, making immigrant children easier to assimilate.
And now, says CIS, ‘The annual arrival of 1.5 million legal and illegal immigrants, coupled with 750,000 annual births to immigrant women, is the determinate factor’-or three-fourths’-of all U.S. population growth.’ Those who complain that Americans have too many children haven’t looked at the facts. Our birthrate is low and most of our population growth has come from increased longetivity’Americans have never lived longer’and immigration. As baby boomers’ children finish graduating from school, the proportion of school-age children who are offspring of immigrants will rise, providing the next pool of American taxpayers.
So America’s population growth problems’suburban sprawl, crowded roads and schools, environmental degradation’are due to immigrants? Not at all. Immigrants have worsened some of America’s problems, but none are due to population growth per se. The problems of suburban sprawl and the accompanying congestion have come because of local governments’ halt to planning properly for growth more than anything else, but also because of America’s divorce revolution doubling many households, the movement of people away from rural areas, and Americans’ desire for ever-larger homes (see Weekly Briefing ‘The Small Problem of Suburban Sprawl,’ Sep. 15, 2006). Yet, by 2050 at current rates of consumption, only 5.7% of America’s land will be built up (currently 4.7% is). Discovered natural resources and environmental quality have been increasing in the United States for decades, but that will be the subject of a future article.
America’s population growth, in and of itself, is a good thing. The anti-people population control lobby should keep in mind the simple reality that the United States cannot survive without people. And even at the current rate of population increase of about 0.9% a year, we face a population crunch over the next few decades. According to the House Budget Committee, our worker-to-retiree ratio was 5 to 1 in 1960. In 2002, it reached 3 to 1, a 40% drop. And by 2050, it is projected to be 2 to 1, a further 33% drop. That’s why Social Security and Medicare will go bankrupt (see Weekly Briefing ‘300 Million, Social Security, and Solvency,’ Sep. 28, 2006). America needs more young people and, unless Americans produce them themselves by having more children, some will have to be imported.
That does not mean the USA should continue importing immigrants indiscriminately. First of all, our 11 million (or more) illegal aliens are a major drain on the U.S. economy and live in an unlawful underworld. Next, according to CIS, immigrants are far more likely to have not completed high school than native-born Americans, 57% more likely to be poor, 2.5 times more likely to lack health insurance, and more likely to be on welfare. Mounting evidence proves the obvious, that high immigration levels depress the wages of Americans at the low end of the economic scale, particularly many blacks. The baby boomers with their penchants for big government and small families are already in danger of bankrupting us; we don’t need another population doing the same.
Most disturbingly perhaps, recent immigrants aren’t making America younger. ‘Without the 7.9 million post-2000 immigrants, the average age in America would be virtually unchanged at 36 years,’ says CIS. American immigration policy should change to favor those with special skills that will contribute most to our economy and healthy young people who will spend a lifetime assimilating and paying taxes here, since we are going to need those workers soon. It should disfavor the uneducated, the middle-aged and old without special skills, and those from Muslim and other countries whose populations hate America. And, of course, multiculturalism should be abolished and replaced with the old tried-and-true melting pot model if America is to avoid balkanization.
In other words, America’s immigration policy should be tweaked to benefit America, not undermine her. At the same time, those persecuted in foreign lands should still have a chance to make it to freedom here. Just wanting a higher-paying job isn’t enough.
As the populations of Europe and Japan shrink, we should celebrate America’s continuing healthy population growth. We will not wither away like most of the rest of the Western world.
Joseph A. D’Agostino is Vice President for Communications at the Population Research Institute.