Toys R Us, which once was America’s largest toy store, has gone out of business for a number of reasons. Competition from online retailers and massive company debt certainly played a large part. However, the company’s last annual report also attributed its financial troubles to a declining customer base. The company noted that most of its end customers were children and that declining birth rates “could have a material adverse effect on our operating results.” That rings true.
America’s birth rate is declining and our population is aging. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the U.S. birth rate declined from 30 live births per 1,000 residents in 1909 to 12.2 in 2016, which was the lowest rate on record. On the other hand, the Census Bureau projects that by 2035 “older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.”
Our aging population bodes ill for the Medicare and Social Security programs. The trustees of those programs estimate that Medicare will run out of money in 2029 and Social Security will become insolvent in 2034. The Labor Department says there were five workers for every Social Security recipient in 1960, but there will only be two workers for each recipient in 2035.
So, what can we do to avert disaster with these essential programs? Everyone knows it is necessary to make adjustments to funding mechanisms to shore up both programs and perhaps Congress will get the courage to do that one of these days. But, there is one thing we can do in the near term to make the situation better or keep it from getting worse. Namely, we can and should maintain our proud place in the world as a nation of immigrants.
The United States admits around one million immigrants into the country each year. In fiscal year 2016 the number was slightly less than 1.2 million. The President has indicated a desire to cut that number in half. Congressman Raul Labrador has signed onto legislation that would cut it by over a fourth. Reducing the admissions would be a big mistake. Immigration brings a much-needed injection of younger people into this country.
Those who come here now as immigrants share much with our immigrant ancestors--an entrepreneurial spirit, a desire to educate their children, and a dedication to the American dream. They start businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. These are people who add to the fabric of America, people like Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani, and Sanjay Mehrotra, the CEO of Micron. They bring fresh blood, ambition and innovation to our country. We need these folks to move our country forward.
We need, also, to keep those undocumented workers who contribute to the country by being the backbone of our agricultural, construction, and hospitality industries. Comprehensive immigration reform should be passed to give them legal status. For instance, Idaho’s dairy industry, which produces about $10 billion in annual direct sales, relies primarily on immigrant laborers, the majority of whom are undocumented. Other industries have come to heavily rely on those without documentation. Workers who are raising children, living peacefully, and contributing to society should not have to worry about having their families ripped apart. And, the Social Security Administration estimates that undocumented immigrants pay 13 times more into the Social Security trust than they receive from it.
Immigrants starting coming to North America about 17,000 years ago, they have made this country great and they will help to keep it great if we don’t turn them away.