Here’s an Idea That Could Save America’s Economy: More Americans – Jordan Weissmann – The Atlantic
The United States already welcomes more than a million immigrants each year. The idea that rolling out the welcome mat for 55,000 more would actually exacerbate unemployment here is laughable on its face, especially considering that many of these grads specialize in fields suffering a skills shortage and will pump more spending into their local economies.
But what’s most worrisome about the GOP’s line of thinking isn’t the wretched reasoning or what it portends for the STEM bill, which may well not make it past the Democratic controlled Senate. Rather, it’s the possibility that this is a preview of what the GOP’s negotiating stance will be when it comes time to talk about comprehensive immigration reform next year, as Capitol Hill looks likely to do. Even if we give undocumented immigrants who are currently in the country a path to citizenship, it will be a horrible missed opportunity if we fail to raise the overall ceiling for legal immigration. This could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revamp our system in a way that ensures we have enough young workers flowing into the country years from now to support our graying population.
And without question, that will be one of our most pressing challenges in the decades to come. Yesterday, the Pew Research Center reported that America’s birthrate fell 8 percent last year to its lowest level since 1920, when the country started keeping accurate records of the data. Although the drop-off can largely be blamed on the recession — when the economy turns sour, families very reasonably tend to hold off on having kids — it was both a brusque reminder of the demographic trouble the United States may one day face, and why we won’t be able to fix it if we keep legal immigration at the same level it is now.
As Pew explained, immigrant women today give birth about 50 percent more often than native women. The reason the U.S. fertility rate dropped as much as it did during the recession was that those immigrant families, whose finances don’t offer a lot of cushion from the economy, had drastically fewer babies than in years past. The birthrate among U.S. born Americans fell just 6 percent from 2007 to 2010. Among the foreign-born, by comparison, it fell 14 percent. Among Mexican-born females, the dropoff was an astounding 23 percent.
In short, we’ve been relying on working class immigrants to have lots of children to keep our country young(ish). Over the past few economically disastrous years that fact came back to bite us in our birth rates. When the economy recovers, hospital nurseries should fill back up too, especially as couples that held off on getting pregnant for financial reasons decide to make up for lost time. But over the long term, there’s a chance we’ll never return to the fertility levels of even the recent past. After all, birth rates among immigrants had been on a downward slope for most the two decades before the crash. Thank the double edged sword of family planning: great for individual families, terrible for our long-term economic plans.