From the Publisher: Workforce and Immigration

The immigration debate has far-reaching impact, from affordable healthcare to a shrinking workforce.

The immigration debate has warped into a sort of culture war that promises to bulwark against change, damn the consequences. Science fiction tropes have emerged as popular “fact,” as the ramifications of a nation without immigrants are swept under a flying carpet to doomsday.

As of 2015, there were a million immigrants in Georgia contributing billions to the economy and comprising nearly 40 percent of the labor force in farming, fishing and foresting, according to the American Immigration Council. Immigrants also comprised 25 percent of our computer and math science employees; with nearly 100,000 in manufacturing and more than 90,000 in construction.

One in 10 of us are immigrants here in Georgia, and we, as a state, are not in crisis but are in fact quite healthy. But we must consider the broader economic consequences of a “send them back” strategy.

Simply put, the immigration conversation offers no alternative to an impossible future for our children. It is already a gloomy forecast, as without affordable healthcare provisions, quality care will become out of reach for most (and especially young) Americans. Take immigrants out of the picture, you also remove the $7 billion they paid in state and federal taxes in 2014, much of which helps fund Medicare and Social Security. Then what?

Existing policy, which would not only force-stop immigration but could also ensnare legal, established immigrants, would strike a blow to both Medicare and Social Security. In addition, a rise in ancillary costs associated with the social costs of healthcare and immigration dysfunction could put basic services like housing, education and transportation out of reach to most Americans. If the U.S. continues its current trend of a retiree population growing faster than working-age taxpayers, there will not be enough working taxpayers to fund Social Security and Medicare. Are you willing to forego your own retirement or that of your children?

Halting immigration aggravates this problem, which dates back to 2010, when the ratio of retiree age to working-age population began climbing after having held steady for nearly 30 years. According to The Wall Street Journal, the ratio grew from 21 percent to 25 percent in just seven years and is expected to grow to 35 retirees per 100 people of working age in 2030 and 42 to 100 by 2060. It’s an international pattern that is more acute in countries that have typically discouraged immigration like Japan, where the ratio is over 40 percent.

In Europe, the problem has been pronounced. In the next 15 years, half of all German workers will become pensioners, shrinking that country’s labor pool from 45 million to 29 million. German research has shown that to prevent a chronic labor shortage, Germany needs to welcome half a million immigrants annually for the next 35 years.

Germany was taking in roughly the number of immigrants it needed to fill necessary jobs for several years prior to 2015, when an influx of 1 million people – mostly Syrian refugees fleeing the war – overwhelmed Europeans with culture shock. Germany admitted its usual 500,000, but the fact that so many were from the same country made assimilation more challenging. It isn’t difficult to see how tensions boiled over in 2015, but it has been blown way out of proportion – and exploited by politicians — ever since.

In the U.S., a similar outsized proportion of immigrants from Central and South America have hardened the attitudes of some against immigration, though plenty of areas from the Midwest to New York to Dalton, Ga., have benefited from more people from all over the world moving to town and rebuilding communities that had lost population to larger cities.

Meanwhile Japan is working to change its reputation to become more accommodating to immigrants, while Canada and most of the countries in the Pacific Rim, are becoming more adept at attracting immigrants to help solve similar problems. (Canada’s retirees are projected to reach 40 percent by 2026.)

The hardened attitude of some toward immigration is more typical of the old world and will be its downfall, and ours as well, if we follow suit. A country of immigrants should be the best at immigration policy. We can do this.

Categories: From the Publisher, Opinions