The anti-immigrant vitriol from the troika of President Trump and advisers Stephen K. Bannon and Stephen Miller is increasingly at odds with America’s economic well-being. Pew Research explains:
For most of the past half-century, adults in the U.S. Baby Boom generation – those born after World War II and before 1965 – have been the main driver of the nation’s expanding workforce. But as this large generation heads into retirement, the increase in the potential labor force will slow markedly, and immigrants will play the primary role in the future growth of the working-age population (though they will remain a minority of it).
The number of adults in the prime working ages of 25 to 64 – 173.2 million in 2015 – will rise to 183.2 million in 2035, according to Pew Research Center projections. That total growth of 10 million over two decades will be lower than the total in any single decade since the Baby Boomers began pouring into the workforce in the 1960s. The growth rate of working-age adults will also be markedly reduced.
Why is this a problem? With fewer workers, consumers and entrepreneurs, the economy will shrink, and we’ll be poorer. This is, of course, contrary to the hokum from anti-immigrant groups that bringing in more immigrants somehow makes us poorer. (They ignore that immigrants are producers, buyers and otherwise contributors to the economy.) Moreover, someone has to be working to pay the entitlement benefits for all those baby boomers. (From the Pew report: “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. The number of working-age immigrants is projected to increase from 33.9 million in 2015 to 38.5 million by 2035, with new immigrant arrivals accounting for all of that gain. . . .Without these new arrivals, the number of immigrants of working age would decline by 17.6 million by 2035, as would the total projected U.S. working-age population, which would fall to 165.6 million.”)
New data from the U.S. Census, the Department of Homeland Security and other sources compiled by the Migration Policy Institute provide a fascinating dive into the nature of immigration and the composition of the immigrant population. We have a lot of immigrants — “more than 43.3 million, or 13.5 percent, of the total U.S. population of 321.4 million in 2015,” although the rate of increase in 2014 and 2015 slowed from prior years. In absolute terms, that is more people, but as a percentage of the U.S. population it is lower than peak years at the beginning of the 20th century. The countries of origin have shifted (as the anti-Mexican, xenophobic rhetoric of the alt-right and other Trump supporters is quick to point out). (“The predominance of Latin American and Asian immigration in the late 20th and early 21st centuries starkly contrasts with the trend in 1960 when immigrants largely originated from Europe.”)
Nearly half of all immigrants are citizens (48 percent, or nearly 21 million people), the MPI reports. More than 1 million in 2015 became green-card holders.
One reason immigrants don’t “steal jobs” has to do with the age differential. Most immigrants in 2015 were between 20 and 54, while the largest segment of the native-born population, baby boomers, were between 51 and 69. As a result, “Immigrants tend to be in the labor force at rates higher than the U.S. population, as most who enter the United States are of working age.”
In recent years the percentage of college-educated immigrants has increased. “In 2015, 29 percent (11.1 million) of the 37.7 million immigrants ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 31 percent of native-born adults,” according to the data. “Notably, the share of college-educated immigrants was much higher—48 percent—among those who entered the country between 2011 and 2015.” Contrary to the stereotype of immigrants, “of the 25.7 million employed foreign-born workers ages 16 and older in 2015, the largest share, or 31 percent, worked in management, professional, and related occupations.”
Refugees and asylum seekers make up a tiny percentage of the immigrant population (about 85,000 in fiscal 2016, which Trump has taken down to 50,000). Among refugees, men are employed at higher rates than native-born American men (two-thirds compared to 60 percent), and women are employed at the same rate (51 percent) as native-born women. Of the 784,000 refugees and asylum seekers admitted since Sept. 11, 2001, a grand total of three were arrested on suspicion of planning terrorist plots (two of those outside the country). Syrian refugees in particular have a higher percentage of college graduates than native-born Americans and slightly higher household income. Trump has frozen the numbers of these and all other refugees and asylum seekers for 120 days.
Then there are the illegal immigrants. From the MPI: “An estimated 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants resided in the United States as of January 2012 compared to 11.5 million in January 2011, according to the most recent estimates issued by the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. These results suggest little to no change in the unauthorized immigrant population from 2011 to 2012.” Yes, the number of illegal immigrants has been steady in large part because the Obama administration deported so many. (“The number of apprehensions has been decreasing in recent years due to the drop in illegal immigration and shifts in U.S. immigration enforcement priorities during the Obama administration. There were 462,388 apprehensions in 2015 and 530,250 in 2016 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) . . . . By comparison, 662,483 apprehensions occurred in 2013 and 679,996 in 2014.”) Most illegal immigrants live in discrete areas of the country. “More than half (54 percent) resided in four states: California (27 percent), Texas (13 percent), New York (8 percent), and Florida (6 percent). The vast majority (81 percent) of unauthorized immigrants resided in 171 counties with 10,000 or more unauthorized immigrants each, of which the top five—Los Angeles County, CA; Harris County, TX; Cook County, IL; Orange County, CA; and Queens County, NY—accounted for 21 percent of all unauthorized immigrants.”
For those who’d like to see millions deported, they should consider that about “5.1 million children under age 18 lived with an unauthorized immigrant parent during the 2009-13 period, representing 7 percent of the U.S. child population. About 79 percent (4.1 million) of these children were U.S. citizens, another 19 percent (959,000) were themselves unauthorized, and 2 percent (113,000) were legally present, including LPRs and those with temporary visas.” When you talk about breaking up families, consider the 5.1 million kids who will lose a parent, in some cases the only custodial parent.
For data junkies, this is plenty of interesting information. It confirms what pro-immigration advocates have been saying for years: Immigrants are necessary, increasingly so, to supply workers for an aging population. These are not a bunch of criminals, terrorists or drug dealers, but productive members of American society, nearly half of whom are citizens. Refugees are among the most wealthy and educated, and due to intense vetting (between 18 and 24 months) are the least “risky” immigrants. Without them we would face a contracting working-age population (like Japan) and thereby a stagnating economy and even bigger entitlement problem than we already do.