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Immigrants and Boomers Need Each Other

02/07/07
In his new book, SPPD professor Dowell Myers says a majority of the state’s voters white seniors and baby boomers are undermining their futures by opposing immigrants.
By Darren Schenck
“The idea that immigrants who move to the U.S. never change ... is something I call the ‘Peter Pan fallacy’,” Myers said.

Photo/Bill Youngblood
The golden years of America’s 78 million baby boomers will shine only as brightly as do the fortunes of the country’s changing immigrant population.

That’s according to Immigrants and Boomers, a new book by USC demographer Dowell Myers. In the book, Myers draws on detailed census data particularly in California, a bellwether for the nation to predict the economic and social impact of immigrants on the nation.

“Immigrants and boomers need each other,” said Myers, a planning professor in the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development. “These are two populations whose destinies are going to converge in less than 20 years. We already know a lot about the boomers’ coming retirement impacts, but we still underestimate the immigrants and how they can help.”

According to Myers, the current voting patterns of white senior citizens and boomers who together constitute a minority of California’s population but a majority of the state’s voters show little support for providing social services for immigrants.

But these citizens are voting against their own interests, Myers said. Better education for young people leads to better jobs with higher incomes and thus more tax dollars to support such programs as Social Security and Medicare.

Myers has concluded that voters who are reluctant to support social services for immigrants have reasons including the perception that the foreign-born have a negative impact on the culture that are based on widespread assumptions about recently arrived immigrants as opposed to those who are longer settled.

The benefits of longer settlement have become apparent in California, as they will become in parts of the nation where immigrants have only recently arrived, Myers said.

“In terms of adopting the English language, saving money and buying homes, immigrants have been far more successful than the public assumes,” Myers said. “The idea that immigrants who move to the U.S. never change that they remain frozen in time in terms of language, education and culture, no matter how long they live here is something I call the ‘Peter Pan fallacy’.”

Between 1980 and 2015, the cost of programs for the elderly will increase from 31 percent of the federal budget to 48 percent, Myers said. Meanwhile, the ratio of seniors to working-age residents, including immigrants, will grow from 250 seniors per 1,000 working-age residents in 2010 to 411 per 1,000 in 2030.

“In other words, there will be far fewer taxpayers supporting a ballooning retirement population,” Myers said. “If you don’t want to drastically cut Social Security and other benefits, you need to make sure that you have well-educated citizens and residents who can perform highly skilled, and high-paying, jobs.

“The growing economy requires ever more workers in the higher-skilled categories, and without them we lose those jobs and stifle that growth,” Myers said.

Such a scenario also could have a drastic impact on the real estate market, as seniors looking to sell homes will face a dearth of working-age residents who can afford them.

“Current voters are not only undermining immigrants’ futures, they are undermining their own,” Myers said.

But he remains hopeful about the future.

“My book is a story of hope, and it’s directed to the average citizen,” he said. “We can help ensure a great future for all of us and our children. But people have to have accurate information before they act.”