Will we have enough workers?, by Shannon O'Neil, Commentary, LA Times: As many in Congress, in the media and in homes across the country debate the best way to stem the flow of undocumented workers across the Rio Grande, they don't seem to be aware that this perceived problem is becoming increasingly irrelevant. In fact, the immigration concern of the future could well be how to entice Mexicans and other Latin Americans to cross into the U.S. in the numbers we need.
Mexico is undergoing a demographic transition. According to the Mexican census bureau, long gone are the days of families with six, seven or 10 kids. Instead, Mexican women now average 2.2 births — only slightly above the average 2.1 births that occur in the United States and that are considered the "replacement rate,"... Life expectancy in Mexico has increased to 75 years, compared to 77 in the United States. ... In short, Mexico is about to age dramatically.
In the last 10 years, nearly 5 million Mexicans have come to the U.S. ... The "pull" of plentiful U.S. jobs and higher salaries has been an important factor..., but so has the "push" of Mexico's fast-growing, economically-active population, combined with weak job creation.
This situation is about to change. Job growth is a key component of President Felipe Calderon's agenda in Mexico. But even without faster job creation there, migration pressure — the "push" — will ease. ...[T]he economically-active population — which grew by more than 1 million ... each year during the 1990s — now adds just 500,000 annually. Over the next 10 years that means about 5 million fewer new workers compared to the previous decade — a number that's roughly equal to the population of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the United States. This suggests that demography may accomplish what border enforcement has not. In the next decade, the tide of northbound Mexican labor will likely recede.
At the same time, the United States is on the brink of its own massive demographic change. The first baby boomers are becoming eligible for Social Security benefits... The next generation, Generation X, ... doesn't have the critical mass to fill their shoes, much less new job openings. The generation after that, Generation Y — now ranging in age from babies to college students — is larger, so it will partly alleviate the labor crunch. But Gen Y workers are also likely to ... be better educated than their elders, which will push them toward high-skill careers. Immigrants will still be needed if the U.S. economy is to continue growing.
The immigration policy debate needs to grapple with these future facts. ... Looking forward, the immigration system should balance the pressures of supply and demand... This would include an efficient guest-worker program that rises and falls with labor needs and also provides a potential path to citizenship. It includes a dignified and fair process through which undocumented workers who are here now could be legitimized...
This practical strategy ... positions the U.S. for continued growth. And it goes far beyond merely reacting to the immediate situation with ineffective and ultimately counter-productive barriers.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
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