In the recent Republican debate, the candidates spent quite a bit of time talking about illegal immigration. There was a great deal of support for a wall and increased unmanned and manned patrols. As we know, Donald Trump favors deporting all illegal immigrants in the country today, though he hasn’t mentioned how he’ll accomplish that feat. I have a number of friends who are legal immigrants, and given how hard they had to work to become citizens, I certainly can’t condone illegal immigration. However, we make it very difficult to immigrate to the U.S., and we would be better off with more immigrants. Europe and Japan would be as well.
The reason we would be better off with more immigration is that we are getting old. The median age of the U.S. population is almost 37, the European Union population, over 42 and the Japanese population, over 46. The percent of the population over the age of 55 in the US is nearly 26%, in the European Union, nearly 35% and in Japan, 39%. In Demographic Changes, Financial Markets and the Economy, a paper written in 2012 by Robert D. Arnott and Denis B. Chaves, using 60 years of data from 200 countries, the researchers found a strong link between the age of a population and economic growth. The larger the percentage of the population that is over the age of 55, the lower is the average economic growth rate of the population, all other things being equal.
There are logical reasons for this. Older people consume fewer goods and services. As we age, we’re less likely to buy a new home and furnish it. We’re more likely to downsize. We buy fewer cars, clothes, and vacations and spend more on health care. Younger people and families do buy houses, furniture, cars, clothes and vacations. In fact, Arnott and Chaves found that the best propensity for economic growth for a population occurs as the percentage of the population between the ages of 20 and 45 increases. In the U.S., Europe and Japan, about one third of the population is between the ages of 20 and 45.
One of the reasons the US population is younger than Europe’s or Japan’s is immigration. Without it, we would be aging nearly as fast. More than half of foreign born citizens in the U.S. are between the ages of 18 and 44, while only about one third of the native born population is between these ages.
Only 140,000 of the 900,000 immigrants to the U.S. are granted permanent residency each year, and the process is long and tortured. Without a family sponsor, an immigrant must have an employer sponsor. For an employer to hire a foreign born worker permanently, they must get a labor certificate indicating there are no available U.S. Citizens for the position. This can take two or more years. It can take another four to fifteen years and thousands of dollars for the worker to get permanent residency, and residency is still a long way from citizenship. In the mean time, these people have no security. They cannot change jobs, and if they lose their position or are laid off, they face being returned to their native country, with all they have invested in the process lost. Frankly, its no wonder that so many people attempt to stay in the U.S. illegally.
We should be welcoming immigrants with open arms, and not for moral reasons. From a purely selfish standpoint, immigration is good for the economy. These young families buy things, contribute to our productivity and, best of all, pay taxes, including social security taxes. Instead of spending our time and money on keeping people out, we should be looking for ways to make immigration easier and more economical.
Population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Eurostat and The Statistics Bureau of Japan