Boomers need immigrants and Immigration Reform

LA Times, Editorial Board

Scare tactics aside, the truth is that without enough immigrants, U.S. growth — and baby boomers’ retirement — will suffer.

The Senate Judiciary Committee took up comprehensive immigration reform late last week. And, as expected, opponents are already rushing to derail it, arguing that any bill that legalizes the vast majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States will cost billions of dollars and place an unfair burden on taxpayers.

Such arguments are merely scare tactics. There’s no doubt that granting citizenship to millions of immigrants 13 years from now, as the Senate bill would, will carry a cost, but how much is unclear. Without it, though, the U.S. will face serious problems. In fact, demographers such as Dowell Myers of USC’s Price School of Public Policy have repeatedly warned that the country is on the verge of an epic transition as baby boomers retire en masse and birthrates decline. A 2013 report by Myers suggests that in Southern California alone, “boomers are beginning to retire from the most productive period of their lives, creating enormous replacement needs in the workforce.” In other words, the U.S. needs immigrants to help cover the retirement costs of older Americans and to fuel economic growth.

Of course, anti-immigration advocates such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) are ignoring those findings, focusing instead on a report by the conservative Heritage Foundation that argues that legalization will cost more than $6 trillion in the coming decades. The report presumes that immigrants will rely on a lifetime of public benefits — such as public school, Social Security and, in many cases, welfare — and remain at the bottom of the economic ladder. Such assumptions are unfounded and conflict with the foundation’s own 2006 finding that “arguments that immigrants harm the American economy should be dismissed out of hand.”

On Friday, one of the new report’s coauthors came under fire, and has since resigned, for arguing in his 2009 dissertation that Latino immigrants had lower IQs than American whites, which he said should be considered when setting immigration policy.

Immigrants are drawn to the U.S. in search of work and a better life. That was true for previous waves of emigres, and it is true today. Yahoo, Google and EBay are just a few of the companies started by immigrants. A study released by Doug Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office, concluded that “labor force participation rates are higher among the foreign-born” and “the rates of entrepreneurship among immigrants are higher than among the native-born population.” As a result, he wrote, immigration reform would reduce the deficit by as much as $2.5 trillion.

There are plenty of reasons to support immigration reform. Economic growth is one of the most compelling.