Note: Here is Part 9.
Immigrants have higher fertility than the native American population, and the latter does not reach its replacement rate of around 2.2. It may be as low as 1.80 now. (See “Fertility Rate,” in Max Roser, Our World in Data,2017.) Incidentally, it seems that immigrants everywhere have higher fertility than both their population of origin and their population of destination. An influx of foreigners is an instantaneous way to make up for the shortfall in native born reproduction. It’s also an amazingly cheap solution if they are the right kind of immigrants. Most immigrants arrive in the US all brought up, at no cost to America, and ready and eager to reproduce. The children of immigrants also tend to have more offspring than the children of the native born. So, the replenishment effects of immigration last more than one generation.
These self-evident truths are not often the object of public discourse, perhaps because they involve a sort of devil’s compact. From the ill-defined yet deeply felt standpoint of identity, immigrants do not constitute perfect replacements for the demographically missing native-born, they are only rough approximations. It should be obvious though we don’t say it aloud that some countries of origin provide better approximations than others. Collectively faced with decisions about immigration, the native-born objectively have a choice between being imperfectly replaced in the coming generations, possibly even with much distortion, on the one hand, or eventual physical extinction, on the other. I mean, the way of the Japanese, and, largely, of the Italians today. That’s although the Japanese seem to have just taken a step in another direction, acting to transform their temp. workers programs with limited duration contracts into admission for some chosen foreigners with no time limitation. I take this administrative change to become soon a covert invitation to settle and reproduce in spite of palpably widespread Japanese repugnance to live with the culturally alien. (See: “Japan Plans to Lure Skilled Foreign Labor” by Peter Landers, in Wall Street Journal, October 13-14 2018: A9.) Later I will explore the difficult issue of collective identities that is obviously related to the matter of demographic self-replacement.
Immigration is a quick way to stoke up population growth, which is itself positively associated with economic growth. I will also examine this relationship below, in another segment.
Immigration has another important, more important, demographic consequence. Most immigrants at any time are youngish adults of working age. In 2016, according to Homeland Security (see above), 68% of persons admitted to the US were older than 19 and younger than 60. For that year, and contrary to a long-standing fact of international migrations, more than half were female (54%). Female immigrants were predominantly of working age, but this overlaps a good deal with child-bearing age. Women of child-bearing age are both contributors to the economy and, indirectly through reproduction, important drains on it. This fact complicates the calculation of immigration’s effect on the overall national economy.
Contrary to some stereotypes, adult immigrants mostly arrive ready to work (as I never tire to repeat). The easy evidence is this: in times of economic hardship for the US, the period right after 2008, for example, net immigration from Mexico dries up quickly. If, as a category, Mexican immigrants came seeking to be on welfare, one would observe no such drying up. But the US suffers a shortage of young workers to satisfy its social entitlements obligations. Together with other developed countries, the US has placed itself in a demographic Ponzi scheme situation with respect to government-funded retirement benefits (including Medicare). In this scheme, current workers finance the benefits of those who have retired. But the ratio of the ones to the others is progressively becoming worse, both because of the low general fertility of the native-born and because of unplanned rises in longevity among the retired. (See the good summary article by Yuval Levin and James C. Capretta, “A Failure of Responsibility” in the Weekly Standard of October 1 2018, 24-04). There are several endogenous solutions to this problem. Perhaps, the most obvious solution would consist in raising the age of retirement for an increasingly healthy elderly population. I have yet to see the Devil’s Compact expressed clearly: Retire later or accept more immigrants. New immigrants can easily fill up the additional years of work at the end of life the native-born and the permanent immigrants are reluctant to give.
It’s possible that large improvements in productivity per worker will make the Ponzi issue obsolete. However, this last solution would require productivity gains such as have never been seen by anyone currently alive. It’s a long shot. In the meantime, immigration provides another nearly instantaneous solution. Adult, selected immigrants can be allowed in tomorrow and begin contributing to the dwindling Social Security fund the day after tomorrow. Again, this quick fix is also inexpensive because the immigrants’ society of origin bore the cost of raising them to working age. Of course I refer to legal immigrants who are not prevented from contributing fiscally by fear of discovery.
I am mindful of the fact that the age and sex structure of the relevant immigration may also place a burden on some social services broadly defined. These would include police, courts, jails, and prisons, primarily, according to cost; and, secondarily, roads, public utilities, hospitals, maternity wards, and schools, nearly all locally funded services. So, in this scenario, benefits to the broader American society take place to the detriment of local entities. The fact that the social costs associated with the presence of immigrants tend to be supported locally poses a sharp political problem. I will revisit this issue because I suspect it’s at the heart of much of the shrillness about immigration. Note that this particular problem would continue to exist even if everyone were convinced that immigrants in general carry their economic weight in American society. However, a strong argument is often made that the current composition of un-selective, unsorted immigration is such that immigrants, considered as a whole, are unlikely ever to support themselves. I examine this important allegation below from different angles.