Things have changed and the verities that have ruled our world since before any of us can remember do so no longer. In the course of just a few years, the immigration equation has changed because the demographic variable is very different. Birthrates are dropping all over the world and populations are aging. We have taken for granted that the U.S was a magnet for immigrants and our challenge was keeping out the excess. Our challenge now will be getting productive ones in.
Fertility rates (the number of children a woman can expected) have dropped in Mexico and Latin America and once the current demographic bulge is passed Mexico will have a lower growth rate than the U.S. does. The massive flow of immigration from south of the border is stopping and will never resume.
What about other sources? Who would ever have believed that China would have a labor shortage, but it is on the way. This year for the first time in history China’s working age population shrunk. This will now to be trend for a generation. The number of 15-24-year-olds will shrink drop very quickly, by 38m, or 21%, over the next decade.
Europe and Japan long since entered this demographic decline. Deaths in many places are exceeding births and populations in Japan, German & Russia, among others, are actually shrinking already. I recall the gloomy symmetry in a school in German that had been converted to an old folk’s home. One old lady explained that she had gone to school there as a child and would die there.
There are places in the world were populations are still growing, principally in Africa and the Middle East, but even here the rates of growth are falling fast. Of course there is a difference between dropping rates of growth and dropping population, but the one portends the other.
Let’s be clear. Total population will continue to grow worldwide, but at a slowing pace until it begins to decline in absolute numbers near the end of the century. What affects us in particular is the diminishing rate of growth and where it happens. The world is growing economically and there is a shortage of skilled and semi-skilled labor already. If/when our own country resumes its robust growth, we will be in competition with others for this shrinking pool of workers.
This is a paradigm shift. America has always had the choice. We could accept immigrants or keep them out but there was always a rising tide of huddled masses yearning to be free in America. Now we’ve got competition. We are no longer the only game in town.
There is no such thing as destiny, but the thing that comes closest to it is demography. The workforce of 2025 is already born. We cannot make more if we need them. All we can do is move the ones we have and they will have more options than before.