As the American population ages, progressives point to a potential savior to rescue the country from the looming demographic time bomb that threatens Social Security and Medicare — immigrants.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, amid the immigration reform debate in 2013, made the case in a video on his website.
“You’ve got a major transformation of the states … [California is] hardly recognizable as part of the United States.”
“If present trends continue, there will be only two workers for every retiree by the year 2030. No economy can survive on a ratio of two workers per retiree,” he said. “But because new immigrants are on average younger than native-born Americans, they’ll help bring that ratio back down. They’re needed so we can continue to have a vibrant economy.”
Census data highlighted in a lengthy report released Monday by the Center for Immigration Studies confirm that new immigrants — those who have come since 2010 — are, indeed, younger. But the figures dispute the argument that immigration will save old-age entitlement programs. The median age of America’s foreign-born population actually is higher than the median age of Americans — 43 vs. 35.
The median age of new arrivals is just 28. But Steven Camarota, director of research at the Washington-based think tank that prepared the report, said that group is too small — 5.2 million, or about 1.6 percent of the overall U.S. population — to have a meaningful impact on the overall age profile. He said that removing those 5.2 million people from the data would not budge the overall national median age of 37.
“It doesn’t appear to make the population much younger,” he said. “It doesn’t make that much difference.”
Camarota said immigrants tend to arrive fairly young but they age with the rest of the population, blunting the age impact. The share of immigrants who are older than 65 — 13 percent — is the exact same figure for natives.
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The same goes for fertility. Advocates argue that since immigrants have bigger families, they will produce more workers to prop up Social Security as the baby boomers retire. But the census data show that each foreign-born woman has an average of 2.2 children, not significantly more than the 1.78 child-per-woman rate for natives.
The 17.3 million immigrants who came since 2000 and their 3.9 million American-born children reduced the overall median age by just one year, from 38 to 37.
“It can add a lot of kids to the population, but it doesn’t change the overall population that much because immigrant fertility isn’t that different in the United States,” Camarota said.
‘Huge and Getting Bigger All the Time’
Immigrants have had an enormous impact in other ways, though. According to the most recent census estimates, the number of foreigners living in the United States — both legally and illegally — is the highest it has ever been at 42.4 million. The number has been rising fast since 1970, the 20th century low point. By 2014, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population hit 13.3 percent, the most since 1910, when it was 14.7 percent.
Immigrants plus their U.S.-born children have accounted for 87 percent of the population growth since 2000.
[lz_table title=”Immigrants vs. Americans” source=”Center for Immigration Studies”],Immigrants,Natives
Median earnings,$37 182,$46 172
Share under 18,6%,35%
Share over 65,13%,13%
|Household welfare use
* Earned Income Tax Credit
√Additional Child Tax Credit
“The numbers are huge and getting bigger all the time,” Camarota said.
Although immigration slowed following the economic collapse in 2008, it is still chugging at a brisk clip. From 2010 to 2014, legal and illegal immigrants plus their children have added 8.3 million new residents.
“It’s really our reason for existence,” said Chris Chmielenski, director and content and advocacy for NumbersUSA, who favors reducing immigration.
Chmielenski noted that when the immigrant share of the population peaked in 1910, it was in the middle of a 50-year “great wave” of immigration.
“In the last 25 years, we’ve brought in more people than the entire great wave, which was 50 years,” he said.
Joseph Guzzardi, a spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization, said the policies of federal, state, and many local governments have invited a flood of the new residents who evaded U.S. immigration law.
“California is really under siege from this illegal immigration issue,” he said.
California has both the most immigrants and the largest share of the population that is foreign-born. Among public school students, 45.9 percent speak a language other than English at home. That also is the highest percentage in the country
“That leads to a lot of English not being spoken in the home,” Guzzardi said. “You’ve got a major transformation of the states … [California is] hardly recognizable as part of the United States. That’s definitely true Bakersfield [and] south.”
Robert Rector, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said there is another simple reason why immigrants are a poor bet to prevent America’s entitlement crisis — they cost more in government services than they pay in taxes. Numerous studies have confirmed this, including mostly recently a book-length study by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The census data contained in the Center for Immigration Studies report show that immigrants, on average, are poorer and less-educated than natives. A little more than half of all working-age immigrants have no more than a high school diploma, compared to 35 percent of working-age Americans.
Low education levels, coupled with poor English skills, result in low incomes. Among immigrants and their American-born children, 45.2 percent have household incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line, compared with 30.8 percent of natives. Among Americans, 18 percent earn in the bottom 20 percent, compared with 29.5 percent of immigrants. Almost one in three U.S. children living in the United States have immigrant fathers.
Not surprisingly, the lower-than-average incomes make them eligible for government-assistance programs — 42.4 percent of immigrant households use at least one welfare program, compared with 26.9 percent of native households.
It is not just the government programs based on income level, Rector said. He said immigrants, on average, do not pay enough in taxes to contribute their share of national defense, roads, schools, and other common goods.
“You have to be a net contributor to all of government, not just one little fund,” he said.
Rector said the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides cash to the working poor, refunds what little many immigrants pay into public coffers.
“They don’t save Social Security, even if they’re young, if they don’t have college education, because they don’t put much into it,” he said.