Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Demography enters the immigration debate

by Shannon K. O'Neil
April 19, 2007

The importance of demography for U.S. immigration is finally getting its due. Recent Congressional testimony by Dowell Myers highlights the effects of baby boomer retirement on the U.S. labor market, and the importance of legal migration given these shifts. A recent study by Mitra Toosi at the Bureau of Labor Statistics develops projections for the U.S. labor market in more detail. She adds the interesting fact that not only will baby boomers retire, but women’s participation rates in the workforce have stabilized (at near 60%). That means that unlike in the past, there isn’t a large untapped “surplus” of native Americans to meet growing labor demands.

These calculations contradict many of the responders to my recent op-ed, who question that U.S. demographic shifts will increase our future demand (and need) for immigrants. Often these comments come from self-identified baby boomers that say they don’t plan on retiring at 65.

That may be true. But I doubt the vast majority of them plan to be working at 80. If in fact the baby boomers overwhelmingly decide to postpone retirement, it will only delay, not put an end to, these future labor needs.

The overall trend, as these studies show, is a shrinking workforce and growing dependent population. While immigration can’t solve all of the challenges of this demographic shift, it will be a necessary part of our future if the U.S. economy is to continue to grow, and if many of the amenities we now enjoy in the United States are to remain available.

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  • Posted by Mariana

    Hi Shannon,

    I met you when you were visiting ITAM, I worked with Poiré and Gabe Aguilera. I am now in grad school and also interested in immigration, it’s good to see I am not the only one.



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