Avoiding demographic meltdown requires immigration, now more than ever. There is bad news for the U.S. birthrate. Peter Coy writes for Bloomberg that, due to the pandemic, 2021 births here could drop by as many as half a million. There is no guarantee that births would simply be delayed. There was no rebound in births, after all, following the 2007-2009 recession.
U.S. birthrate has been heading south
But there would have been a problem even without the pandemic. For a long time, the US had a comparatively high fertility rate among industrialized countries. This was a definite plus for our economy. The US still has a higher fertility rate than many comparable countries (an estimated 1.84 children per woman of childbearing age in 2020). Among those with consistently low birthrates are Japan (1.43), Italy (1.47), and Spain (1.51). The European Union countries overall are at 1.62.
Avoiding demographic meltdown is a challenge, though. Consider that the fertility rate required to maintain a stable population is 2.1 children per woman of childbearing age. France is almost there (2.06). But that country has long pursued expensive policies to incentivize child bearing.
Immigration helps keep us growing
True, the U.S. population continues to increase, recently at a rate of around 0.6% a year. A key component, of course, is immigration. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s 2018 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics the US generally attracts over 1 million lawful immigrants per year. For fiscal year 2018 the exact number was 1,096,611. This represented a drop of about 30,000, however, as compared to FY 2017, which in turn had seen a drop of more than 56,000 from the previous year. Legal immigration presumably continues to drop, in response to Trump Administration policies.
Avoiding demographic meltdown is crucial. Population growth and economic growth have been closely associated in Western countries for 200 years. And a larger demographic hole due to the pandemic combined with reduced immigration should be cause for worry. As the U.S. population ages, there will be fewer and fewer workers per Social Security recipient. No political leader in their right mind wants to choose between demanding more social insurance tax from a shrinking pool of workers and cutting the benefits to recipients. Immigration can help keep our country growing, and keep it a bit younger.