A new Gallup survey and expansive report finds that worldwide, people are generally more likely to want immigration levels in their countries to either stay the same or increase.
That is, in every region except Europe.
Yes, we know comprehensive immigration reform appears unlikely in the United States thanks to resistance on the political right. But here's the thing: Europeans -- particularly Southern Europeans and those who live in Britain -- were more likely than people in any other region of the world to say that immigration to their countries should be decreased. And here's the kicker: They expressed those opinions before the current surge in Syrian refugees began.
New Gallup numbers show 52 percent of Europeans would like immigration levels decreased, while 8 percent would like them increased. In the United States, the split is a much-closer 40/25.
But before we go any further, it's really critical to note that in the United States immigrants are responsible for most of the country's net population growth (deaths minus births) over the past two decades. In fact, the demographers at the Pew Research Center say that's a pattern Americans can expect to continue through 2065. That's true even though immigrant birth rates are expected to decline just as they have done in the past.
Meanwhile, in Europe -- and particularly Southern European countries such as Italy and many Western European ones -- even with existing immigration levels, birth rates have dropped. The population's total size sits on the edge of receding. In much of Europe, deaths are right on the verge of surpassing births. That's what demographers call net population loss.
The situation is so bad that Italy's health minister told the Guardian in February that Italy is a "dying country." And in the most publicly appropriate terms possible, the minister said Italians need to, well, do something about this. She suggested a "culture change," but we know what she really means.
Here is why: Were there fewer immigrants in Italy and several other countries, the situation would be even more dire for the country's economy and or labor force, health care spending, and tax-payer financed programs to care for the poor, the elderly and young-working parents and their kids.
In post-World War II Europe, the need to replenish the region's population and the difficulty of having more children while trying to rebuild one's life and country prompted countries such as France to institute some intriguing policies. In fact, if you ever want a reason to contemplate moving to France, this may well push you over the edge.
Even today, the French state sends a team of helpers to your home in the weeks after a child is born to do the laundry, cook meals, tidy up and help mom recover from a birth. Parents and their children are also guaranteed space in a tight-knit pre-K community where the arrangements are long-term and teachers are trained to regard themselves as one of the adults helping to develop a child.
So why, if these countries need to grow their populations, is there such resistance to immigration -- and even the desire to roll it back?
In fact, many Europeans who would rather see immigrants stay away have some things in common with Americans who feel the same. Here is what researchers found about countries:
- Adults who live in countries with the highest unemployment rates are the most negative toward immigration to their countries.
- Nearly half of adults in countries with unemployment rates higher than 15 percent believe immigration should decrease.
- Residents of high-income economies -- generally advanced, developed countries -- overall are much more likely to say immigrants take jobs citizens do not want (58 percent) than say they take jobs that citizens want (18 percent). In all other economies, residents are more likely to say immigrants take the jobs that citizens want.
- In all top 10 migrant destination countries – which are also all high-income economies – many more respondents say that immigrants take jobs that residents do not want than say they take jobs that residents want.
And here is what researchers found about the people within countries most likely want to decrease immigration levels:
- Adults with a college degree are more likely than those with lower levels of education to want to see immigration kept at its present level or increased.
- Those younger than age 44 are likely to have an opinion about immigration, and they are more likely to favor increasing immigration levels.
- Compared with others in the workforce, those who are not working but actively looking for employment are more likely to want immigration decreased (40 percent of the unemployed versus 33 percent of those not unemployed).
What does all of that mean?
First, we'll start by stating plainly that educational attainment -- whether or not one has a college degree -- is not necessarily a measure of intelligence. It is, more often than not, a reflection of opportunity, access and exposure. But those with secondary-education credentials do have a wider, better-paying range of jobs for which they will likely be hired than those who do not. Hence, they are less likely to feel that they are economically imperiled.
(Although, even this has to be tempered. In the United States, the share of recent adult immigrants with college degrees tops the share of adults born in the United States with bachelor's degrees or more).
The same is true for countries. In richer nations, people are just less likely to feel economically threatened by immigrants. They have more options. The economy creates more jobs.
To drive home that last point, just look at Northern Europe, where economies are stronger and unemployment lower than Southern Europe. It's much more welcoming to immigrants.
Of course, the Brits stand as the only exception. But, the United Kingdom is a country in which one major national paper suggested for years before and after World War II that some suspicion of foreigners amounted to a patriotic duty. And whatever pride remains about the country's history of empire, conquest and colonialism probably does not help either.
That's the United Kingdom's own unique view. And those of us watching the 2016 election know full well that, in the United States, we have our own.
This is all worth keeping in mind as Europe confronts a major refugee crisis. If you thought the United States is mired in the politics of the immigration issue, imagine trying to reform immigration policy in Europe, right now.