Writing in The New York Times last Sunday, economist Austan Goolsbee warned that “sharp cuts in immigration threaten U.S. economy.” That’s true, he explained, for two reasons.
“The first reason is the simplest,” he wrote. “The growth rate of the economy comes from two parts; income growth per capita and population growth.”
But birthrates fall when countries get rich. The birthrate among women born in the U.S. has been dropping for decades. It now stands at 1.73 children per woman, substantially below the so-called replacement rate of 2.1.
That mirrors the experience of other advanced countries, including Japan, South Korea, China and all the nations of the European Union.
Countries that close the door to immigration age rapidly, and are buffeted by demographic time bombs. Aging populations require more government services, produce less, lessen innovation and new business formation and drag countries into dreary stasis.
That hasn’t happened in the U.S., which has avoided such a fate by admitting about a million immigrants annually. Thanks to Trump administration policies, immigration last year fell to about 200,000, and is projected to fall even further next year.
The Denver Post also ran a cheerful piece last Sunday headed “Generation Advantage: U.S.,” reporting on the annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics. Economists in attendance noted that the U.S. has many more Millennials coming into the workforce than any of its G-20 rivals, which should easily compensate for the coming gray tsunami, as we cranky geezers depart the workforce and seek social services.
Yet those encouraging forecasts are based on projections by the U.S. Census, which estimates an annual average of 1.4 million immigrants for the next 25 years. Indeed, Goolsbee estimates that if immigration stays at 200,000 rather than 1 million for the next 10 years, the GNP will be $1 trillion less.
Given that the current population of the U.S. is about 327 million, a million immigrants annually represents about one third of 1 percent of the population, though we like to call ourselves a nation of immigrants.
But Colorado Springs, like it or not, is the nation’s poster child for the benefits of immigrants from other states and countries. From a 1960 population of 75,000 we’ve grown to an estimated 480,000 today, thanks mainly to migration from California, the Midwest, the East Coast and dozens of foreign countries. We get energy, vitality and renewal from the newcomers, who build houses, hotels, office buildings and apartments, start breweries, bars, banks, restaurants and software companies, and buy houses, cars, appliances, backhoes and bulldozers.
And as I’ve frequently written, I mourn the vanished small town of my childhood. But had it remained small, insular and isolated, I’d be stuck in an impoverished little dump. Complain as I may, I love the action and passion of the big city we’ve become, the energy of downtown, the wondrous quirkiness of Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs, and the languorous splendor of The Broadmoor (what’s not to like about ambling around the lake and watching millionaires in their native habitat?).
We’ve gone through periods in Colorado when we railed against immigrants — especially ones from California and Texas. We’ve assumed that Colorado would be better if no one wanted to move here, that we’d then have uncrowded roads, unpeopled mountain campgrounds and untrammeled slopes. That’s a nice fantasy — and yeah, I remember when Aspen was a ragged little mountain town with a ski hill, a rope tow and a couple of dive bars.
Those days are long gone, but these days are pretty good. And if we like an economy with historically low unemployment, rising personal income and a strong cadre of young workers to pay taxes, keep Social Security solvent and strengthen Medicare, we can thank a 70-year-old guy who internally migrated from California to Washington, D.C., in 1980 to take a government job.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan made a decision to give amnesty to 2.7 million undocumented immigrants. That decision, widely condemned by anti-immigration zealots at the time, has propped up the U.S. birthrate and bolstered economic growth.
“We’re reaping the benefits of this,” said Morgan Stanley economist Ellen Zentner at the NABE meeting.
Yes we are, and yes we will — thanks, Ronnie! And President Donnie — maybe you need to reconsider your immigration policies.