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Population Trends Counter Anti-Immigrant Policies


Commentary: I recently played the role of proud father as I watched my son receive a double bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and criminology from the University of New Mexico. At the biochemistry graduation ceremony, the class was relatively small, which allowed the master of ceremonies (MC) to talk a little bit about each student’s academic achievement, focus, and research. Hearing each student’s accomplishments during his/her undergraduate studies, I was blown away by the intelligence of these young adults – most were under 25 years of age - and how driven they were to pursue their dreams. The MC described how one student studied the effects of arsenic on cell growth. Another student submitted a paper in a symposium on mitochondrial DNA. Still another did work with enzymes. Students in the class were headed for medical school, research institutes, and/or post-graduate work in pursue of advanced degrees.

I left the ceremony with two impressions in my mind. First, I felt like I had an IQ of 50 compared to the brilliance displayed by these young people. Second, a warm feeling came over me when I thought of the future of our country in the hands of such talented, driven, young people as those I had just witnessed receiving their degrees. Several days later, I started wondering if there were enough of these native-born world conquerors to keep the U.S. competitive in the future.

Our U.S. population continues to age, and the birth rate continues to fall. According to a National Center for Health Statistics report, a total of 3,788,235 babies were born in the U.S. in 2018 – the lowest total in 32 years. This translates to 11.58 births for every 1,000 people. The total fertility rate (number of births per woman) of the nation is also decreasing, continuing to remain under its replacement level of 2.1 per 1,000 – a trend that has been present for the past decade. Apparently, millennials are waiting to have children later in life, and when they do have children, they are having fewer of them, which is a major contributor to the low national birth rate. Thus, the U.S. population continues to age without sufficient numbers of young people coming on line to reverse this trend. 

This is ironic. Every presidential administration and session of Congress pushes for an increase in the Gross Domestic Product of the nation in order to expand our economy, make Americans wealthier, and to secure the American way of life in the future. Yet in order to expand the economy, we need Americans at every level, skilled and unskilled, as productive elements of society. A case could be made for more automation in many industries, as workers become more and more scarce. However, automated processes still need human beings to manage, repair, and modernize them.

At a time in which the U.S.is facing a slowdown in population growth and tremendous pressure to compete against nations and foreign trade blocs, we have adopted an anti-immigration stance, both for skilled and unskilled immigrants. On April 8, President Donald Trump stated that “Our country is full,” which might have referred to the strains of asylum seekers and immigrants on the U.S. immigration system, or a feeling that the U.S. just doesn’t want more immigrants.

As the U.S. population ages, who is going to take care of our elderly? Where are the paycheck contributions going to come from that help prop up our social security system and allow for older Americans to retire? Who is going to do the laborious work that most American youth no longer want to do? Who is going to be hungry enough to advance in life to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to go from having nothing to living the American dream?  I imagine a lot of Americans will, but will this be enough?

Trump is currently pushing for an immigration overhaul that will shift the awarding of visas to skilled workers, as opposed to awarding visas to immigrants who currently have family members in the U.S. The U.S. does need skilled workers and I have always said that one our biggest accomplishments has been the ability to attract – I often say “steal” – the best talent from around the world to work in our country and to become U.S. citizens. Do the names Albert Einstein, Andrew Carnegie, Enrico Fermi, Henry Kissinger, and Pierre Omidyar ring a bell? However, the famous immigrants to this country are more than outnumbered by the more modest immigrants who come here to become entrepreneurs and start a business, become public servants, soldiers, laborers, and caretakers.

We certainly want the most talented people who come from the former category. However, we also want more people from the latter category to help fill the holes in our labor force and to keep our economy running. We need to view these people as potential U.S. citizens, provided that they are non-criminal, have ambition, and want to work hard to improve their lives. Their ability to achieve the American dream will allow our ability to continue the American dream.

Jerry Pacheco is Executive Director of the International Business Accelerator, a non-profit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network, and the President/CEO of the Border Industrial Association.  He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or jerry@nmiba.com