From the demographics, the U.S. fertility rate has been below replacement level for most of the years since 1972. We made up for that through immigration.
Now we see news reports and editorial opinion columns every week arguing for more immigrants to the U.S. to address the nation’s labor shortage and that the “Baby boom” is already about half out of the work force (see chart below to understand the impact).
A popular meme is that immigrants are a disproportionate share of tech founders and co-founders and the source of invention. This comes about because our immigration system has favored very high skilled immigrants. Thus we are comparing a select and highly educated cohort of immigrants to the average American – two completely different cohorts:
Immigrants ended up supplying a disproportionate share of leading Americans across all sectors. A study done in 1935 of people born since 1790, in other words since the founding of the republic, found that immigrants were 25% more likely to make it into the Dictionary of American Biography than those who had been born here.
And why should we be surprised? If you want to find people with “get up and go,” look for people who got up and went.
Which leads to the last sentence, above – the importance of international skills. And this is also true for many professional positions. Today, if you lack global skills in U.S. big business and BigTech, your career will plateau early, and promotional opportunities will be limited. All of these are global businesses, and all seek workers with international skills.
“Educated”, “High Skilled” Immigrants
The focus will be on importing highly educated and highly skilled immigrants, which means these will be the ones who earn positions of influence and rise up the ranks. Unless Americans can step up.
The problem for Americans is that we have to (usually) pay all of our own education costs while many immigrants will come from countries where college and graduate school are tuition free. This makes it hard for Americans to compete.
Second, by definition, someone that comes from abroad is International. The U.S. pipeline for developing international skills is far too limited. Wealthier individuals may come from families with broad travel experience. A small percentage will pursue high school foreign exchange programs, and another group will pursue study abroad or work internships abroad, or even graduate school abroad.
At the bottom line, due to demographics, the U.S. really needs to important immigrants. But … this will be a difficult political issue because U.S. citizens have to pay their own way for comparable education and have less international experience. Thus, the best jobs may go to immigrants who are professionally qualified. This will not be popular among U.S. citizens. Economists who ignore this (most economists have tenured job guarantees that the general population does not have).
Note – the focus on “highly skilled” is politically palatable but may be misplaced. As someone I know points out, his parents immigrated to the U.S. as unskilled workers. But they – and their offspring – pursued university education (including graduate school) and went on to professional careers.
The “bulge” that peaked 1958-1961 is now in their ’60s. The leading edge, from 1945 up to the peak, is already mostly retired. Literally, half the baby boom has or is about to retire, and the other half will be retiring over the next ten years.
Now, this chart is not entirely accurate – the U.S. did begin to import far more people starting in the 1970s. Thus, this chart is not a perfect reflection of the overall population age distribution.