BOHANON & CUROTT: Our nation’s economic future depends on immigrants

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Economic Analysis by Cecil Bohanon & Nick CurottThe phenomenon of Central Americans banding together and moving en masse through Mexico to the U.S. border appears to be spontaneous. We find no credible evidence that this is some conspiracy concocted by the powers of darkness. Rather, it is the byproduct of an unfortunate fact: Travelers with few means are routinely victimized by local gangsters south of the border. Local governments are too weak or too corrupt to assure traveler safety. Joining an existing crowd provides protection and support to those seeking greener pastures north of the Rio Grande.

Our late friend and colleague Bill Styring used to say, “Demographics trumps all.” That is, a public policy can go awry because population trends make it impossible. We do well to remember this when considering the caravan of migrants from Central America.

Why? Consider a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau: “The year 2030 marks a demographic turning point for the United States. Beginning that year, all baby boomers will be older than 65. … Later that decade, by 2035, we project that older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. The year 2030 marks another demographic first for the United States. Beginning that year, because of population aging, immigration is projected to overtake natural increase (the excess of births over deaths) as the primary driver of population growth for the country.”

This has important consequences. An aging population implies rising health care costs, both public and private. It’s also the major reason cherished entitlements like Social Security are at risk. Older folks typically require the services of others: everything from mowing the lawn to fixing the roof. These service providers are normally younger folks, and immigrants are disproportionately younger folks. Given our rate of natural population growth, such services will be unaffordable unless we have relatively liberal immigration policies. Cutting back on immigration is folly; the United States can use all the new workers and taxpayers it can get.

Of course, citizens have every reason to be concerned about a mob of thousands of people from any source. And, no, we are not calling for amnesty or abolishing the Immigration & Customs Enforcement. Yet, as our very-much-alive friend and colleague Steve Horwitz has noted: “Socialism needed walls and barbed wire to keep people in. Nationalism wants walls and barbed wire to keep people out.”

We hope America will rise above both “ism’s” and the barbed wire. Our future depends on it.•

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Bohanon and Curott are professors of economics at Ball State University. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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