Yesterday, at our monthly Urban Engagement Book Club, we unpacked Dowell Myers' book, Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America (Russell Sage Foundation, 2007).
Dowell Myers is professor of urban planning and demography in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development, at the University of Southern California. He directs the school’s Population Dynamics Research Group, whose recent projects have been funded by the National Institute of Health, the Haynes Foundation, Fannie Mae Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.
Of particular note, Dr. Myers leads the ongoing USC California Demographic Futures research project. Myers has focused on the upward mobility of immigrants to the US and Southern California, trajectories into homeownership, changing transportation behavior, education and labor force trends, and projections for the future of the California population.
Well-known as a specialist in demographic trends and their relation to all areas of policy and planning, Dr. Myers has been a longstanding advisor to the United States Census Bureau and is the author of the most widely referenced text on census analysis. Myers earned his Ph.D. in urban planning from MIT and he also studied demography and sociology at Harvard University.
Professor Myers makes it very clear that when it comes to the heated national immigration debate currently underway, he "felt compelled to rush to the middle, planting my flag in the place of commonality where it seemed many neglected interests overlapped (p. xiii)."
Myers' thesis is practical and demographically undeniable. Basically, he says that America needs immigrants, the ones who are here now. And, America needs to keep them here and educate their children so that a new "intergenerational social contract" can be formed.
As the Baby Boomers age (there are two kinds of Americans: those who are old and those who are growing old), an obvious question is who will take care of them and who will be educated enough to enjoy the kinds of jobs that will allow the next generation to buy the houses of the Boomers?
Myers is wise. Hear him:
"The key step in breaking the current impasse is to see ourselves in a longer time perspective. . . . The great tragedy is that many of us fail to recognize how dependent we are on the rising new majority who will supply the workers, the taxpayers, and the home buyers. When we vote to undercut this group, how much are we undercutting our own future? (pages 8, 11)"
"Important to older homeowners is protecting the value of their homes as assets either to draw upon for retirement income support or to sell outright. It is in the interest of homeowners that future home buyers be well educated and have sufficient income to make the price bids desired by home sellers. . . . (p. 14)"
"The elderly will sell many more homes than they buy, and when the giant baby boom generation passes age seventy, a growing rush of sellers will be seeking to cash in their housing investments, whether to move to more comfortable retirement quarters or to draw on their equity for long-term care or retirement support. Should there be a surplus of sellers over buyers in high-priced brackets because the younger generation is not sufficiently educated to hold jobs that would enable them to buy homes in these brackets, downward pressure on prices will erode much of the equity stored in the home values of the elderly. This generational housing bubble could prove far deeper and more long-lasting than the simple downturn following the housing price boom of 2002 to 2005. Thus, the buyer and seller relationship will link the fortunes of different generations, and that linkage will echo a different relationship formed earlier when the older generation supported investment in the education of their future home buyers (p. 253)."
On real benefit of funding the education of immirgrant children, Myers is clear: "There are strong grounds for emphasizing a homegrown strategy. There is long-standing and near universal support in the United States for expanding the size of the middle class. A corollary of that goal is reducing poverty and the growing economic polarization that has been widening the gap between the fortunes of higher- and lower-income groups in the United States. A larger middle class would benefit both consumers and businesses and broaden the ranks of the voters and taxpayers at the heart of our democratic society… Over the long haul it is far preferable to educate the children already living in America to become our skilled workers of tomorrow (p. 255)."
"Citizens must rely on a shared understanding of a believable and desirable future that can be created. To be effective, this shared vision of the future must address the particular needs and fears of different groups, yet at the same time it must focus on the common purpose and emphasize mutual self-interest. In essence, the shared future is a compromise that citizens can choose to accept or not, but as they assess the alternative visions of the future competing for dominance, they inevitably will make their choice. The dominant alternative today, or course, is the vision of a future of despair (p. 257)."
In my view, and Myers seems to confirm it, opponents of comprehensive immigration reform, like that suggested by President Bush that provides a way for the 12 million+ unauthorized immigrants to remain in the United States, simply aren't considering several extremely practical factors. They surely are not taking a long range view of our alternatives as a people.
We always seem to discover hope when we work together to include everyone. Dispair flourishes when we seek only to exclude.