Saturday, June 23, 2018

When it comes to immigration, America needs to jettison old myths and accept new realities.

On March 25, 1964, on the floor of the U. S. Senate, Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas gave a speech titled “Old Myths and New Realities” in which he explored those forces “shaping and driving the development of US foreign policy in the post-war world.”

Fulbright began his speech with this observation.

Mr. President, there is an inevitable divergence, attributable to the imperfections of the human mind, between the world as it is and the world as men perceive it. As long as our perceptions are reasonably close to objective reality, it is possible for us to act upon our problems in a rational and appropriate manner. But when our perceptions fail to keep pace with events, when we refuse to believe something because it displeases or frightens us, or because it is simply startlingly unfamiliar, then the gap between fact and perception becomes a chasm, and action becomes irrelevant and irrational. There has always—and inevitably— been some divergence between the realities of foreign policy and our ideas about it. This divergence has in certain respects been growing, rather than narrowing; and we are handicapped, accordingly, by policies based on old myths, rather than current realities. This divergence is, in my opinion, dangerous and unnecessary—dangerous, because it can reduce foreign policy to a fraudulent game of imagery and appearances; unnecessary, because it can be overcome by the determination of men in high office to dispel prevailing misconceptions by the candid dissemination of unpleasant, but inescapable, facts.

Fulbright’s observation applies well to our current conceptualizations about and actions on immigration. To see what I mean, in the forgoing text substitute “immigration policy” for “foreign policy” (which I highlighted for you).

Dispelling Old Myths

Writing in the Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham reports that There’s no immigration crisis, and these charts prove it.

The humanitarian crisis involving immigrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border has, among other things, laid bare a number of falsehoods driving much of the Trump administration’s immigration agenda.

The administration has said that the country is in danger of being “overwhelmed” by “massive increases in illegal crossings” that will bring “horrible crime,” “unbelievably great taxpayer expense” and the loss of American jobs.

None of those claims are true.

… we’ve compiled some of Wonkblog’s coverage highlighting the latest data and research shedding light on erroneous beliefs about immigration in the United States.

I’ll list the myths and rebuttals. You’ll have to go to Ingraham’s report to get the charts and details.

Myth No. 1: Undocumented immigrants are flooding into the United States
In fiscal 2017, apprehensions of immigrants entering illegally at the Southwest border (a proxy for the total number of individuals crossing the border illegally) hit their lowest level in 46 years.

Myth No. 2: Undocumented immigrants bring crime
The reality is just the opposite: A large body of social-science literature has demonstrated that immigrants, legal or otherwise, commit crime at lower rates than native-born Americans.

Myth No. 3: Immigrants take our jobs and lower our wages
… The best information comes from a massive summary of the literature published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) in 2017. “Most studies find little effect of immigration on the employment of natives,” that report concluded. In other words, no, immigrants are not taking your jobs.

Myth No. 4: Immigrants are a drain on the economy
In fact, research by the Cato Institute has found that poor noncitizens are considerably less likely than poor native-born Americans to use public assistance programs. [Moreover, the report’s bottom line, based on its analysis of hundreds of economic studies: “Immigration is integral to the nation’s economic growth. The inflow of labor supply has helped the United States avoid the problems facing other economies that have stagnated as a result of unfavorable demographics, particularly the effects of an aging workforce and reduced consumption by older residents. In addition, the infusion of human capital by high-skilled immigrants has boosted the nation’s capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship and technological change.”

Here’s what we can say in conclusion. Current rates of illegal immigration remain extremely low by historic standards. Legal and undocumented immigrants are significantly less likely to commit most crimes than native-born citizens, making them a net benefit to public safety. The research shows that immigrants are not taking jobs away from U.S. natives, and their impact on wages appears to be small to nonexistent, particularly across the long term.

Immigration appears to be crucial to economic growth, particularly as native-born fertility rates decline. More immigration leads to a stronger economy, particularly on the long-term horizon.

What’s striking about these findings is they suggest an urgent need for a policy of greater immigration and more open borders at a time when the Trump administration is pursuing exactly the opposite. The true immigration crisis, as it turns out, may be that we’re not letting enough immigrants in.

Embracing New Realities

Ingraham’s last point is striking given the current Trump and Republican biases and bigotry. John Cassidy at The New Yorker elaborates and explains Why the United States Needs More Immigrants.

The fact is that America is becoming a white minority country and there is nothing that will stop that - short of getting white folks to breed like bunnies.

As controversy continued to rage on Thursday about the Trump Administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the southern border, the Census Bureau published new data that show why the United States will need more immigrants, not fewer, in the coming decades.

Demographers and economists have been warning that the aging baby-boomer population presents a serious challenge to the nation’s finances, as the ratio of seniors to working-age adults—the age-dependency ratio—rises. The reason is straightforward: Social Security and Medicare are largely financed on a pay-as-you-go basis, which means that some of the taxes paid by current workers are transferred to current retirees. If the dependency ratio rises, the financial burden on the working-age population also increases.

A front-page piece in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal pointed out that this problem was contained for a long time because the age-dependency ratio remained relatively steady. In 1980, there were nineteen Americans age sixty-five or older for every hundred Americans between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four. The dependency ratio was nineteen per cent. By 2010, it crept up to twenty-one per cent, an increase of just two percentage points in thirty years.

But the end of 2010 marked an important threshold. In 2011, the first members of the baby-boom generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) turned sixty-five. By 2017, the age-dependency ratio had risen to twenty-five per cent—an increase of four percentage points in just seven years. In the coming decades, it is expected to rise even more sharply. By 2030, “the ratio would climb to 35 retiree-age Americans for every 100 of working age . . . and 42 by 2060,” the Journal story said, citing projections released earlier this year.

The easiest way to grasp the seriousness of what is happening is to look at the fertility rate, which is the average number of babies born to mothers between the ages of fifteen and forty-four. Merely to replace the existing population, the fertility rate needs to be about 2.1 per cent. During the baby-boomer years, it reached 3.7 per cent. In 2017, it was just 1.76 per cent. If this trend persists, as it seems likely to do, it portends a declining population and a sharply rising dependency ratio.

From a public-finance perspective, there are several possible ways to tackle the looming challenge. One is to reduce the level of retirement benefits significantly—but that would be very unpopular and difficult to achieve politically. A second option is to increase the proportion of people who are working, among both working-age people and senior citizens. That, too, would be a mighty challenge, because the trend is going in the opposite direction. …

The final option is to welcome more immigrants, particularly younger immigrants, so that, in the coming decades, they and their descendants will find work and contribute to the tax base. Almost all economists agree that immigration raises G.D.P. and stimulates business development by increasing the supply of workers and entrepreneurs. …

In the long run, welcoming immigrants is a good investment for the United States. The entire history of the country demonstrates this fact. But the current President wants to go in the opposite direction. Along with introducing draconian measures to curb the influx of undocumented migrants, he wants to slash legal immigration. At the moment, the United States grants permanent-resident status to about a million people a year, and many of these folks go on to become U.S. citizens. Trump wants to cut this number in half, roughly speaking.

His policy isn’t driven by economics, of course. As he more or less admitted earlier this year, with his derisive comments about immigrants from “shithole countries,” it is driven by racism and a desire to resist the emergence of a nonwhite majority in the United States—a transformation that is inevitable and necessary.

What’s largely driving this transformation is the aging of the white population and a concomitant fall in white birth rates. In twenty-six states, according to a recent study from the Applied Population Lab at the University of Wisconsin, deaths in the white population now outnumber births. In other words, the number of white people in America is declining. The new Census Bureau figures suggest that this is also true on the national level. In 2016 and 2017, the number of white, non-Hispanic Americans fell by forty-one thousand, according to the Journal report.

… the underlying picture is clear: with the native white population aging rapidly, the U.S. economy and fiscal system are in dire need of other groups to pick up the slack. …

This shortage of young people is far from just an American phenomenon. (In many European countries, the age-dependency ratio is rising even faster.) This doesn’t justify a policy of open borders. But it does mean that the United States needs a President who is willing to face the real challenges facing the country, and recognize the benefits of large-scale immigration.

Like most public policy challenges, we don’t have to act yesterday, but there is a window of time during which we can take effective action to cushion the negative effects of a declining birth rate. To do it, we need to create an intelligent, informed immigration policy. And to do that we need to temper public perceptions of immigrants, the Old Myths, with facts about how our demographics will affect our economy and fiscal system, the New Realities.

Our lawmakers, administrators, and executives would be well advised to read Fulbright’s speech.

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