Immigration: The Wrong Way to Address the Challenges of an Aging Society

by Mark Krikorian

Over on the homepage my colleague Steven Camarota writes about the findings of a new report he coauthored showing the terrible employment situation among native-born Americans. The key finding is that, in the last 14 years, nearly 17 million immigrants have settled in the country and yet there has been no net gain in employment for the native-born – the overall number of native-born Americans with jobs is actually slightly smaller today than in 2000 despite significant population growth. What modest job growth there has been has all — all – gone to immigrants. This certainly undermines the argument that immigration creates job opportunities for natives.

One thing Steve doesn’t mention in the homepage article is that immigration doesn’t solve the chief challenge of an aging population, namely that there will be fewer workers for each non-worker. Steve has made this point before here, here, and here. In the new report he points out that moving even a relatively modest portion of the enormous number of working-age (16 to 65) people who aren’t working into jobs is a far more effective way of improving the ratio of workers to non-workers than is new immigration. The report explains:

Because immigrants mostly arrive young and want to work, the argument is often made that immigration increases the ratio of workers to non-workers, helping to pay for government and improving economic growth. Of course, for this to be true immigrants have to actually work; simply being in the country or of working-age does not improve the share of the population that are workers. In the first quarter of 2014, 46.2 percent (144.3 million) of the nation’s total non-institutionalized population of 312.3 million worked. If we remove all of the 16.8 million post-2000 immigrants and their 3.8 million U.S.-born children, 46.3 percent of the population is working. This means that immigration in the last 14 years has actually slightly reduced the share of the population that is comprised of workers. One reason immigration over the last 14 years did not improve the share of the population that are workers is that only 55 percent of post-2000 immigrants actually had a job in 2014. This fact, coupled with the children they had after they arrived, who are all too young to work, means that immigration increases the number of workers and the number of non-workers in roughly equal proportions.

By comparison, every one million persons already in the country shifted from not working to working, increased the share of the population that is comprised of workers by 0.3 percentage points. Moving even one million people already here into jobs has a much larger impact than the last 14 years of immigration because it moves people out of one category (non-worker) to another category (worker) — thereby increasing the numerator but not the denominator. Immigrants, on the other hand, arrive at all ages, and, as with any human population, some work and some do not.

This is the takeaway:

If we are concerned about not having enough workers to grow the economy or to pay for government, then moving some of the tens of millions of working-age people already here who are not working into jobs is a much more effective way of improving the ratio of workers to non-workers than is immigration.


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