Friday, February 08, 2008

Immigrants and Boomers

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.



chris said...

I just wish they would secure the border FIRST. Then they could decide what to do with the illegals already here. But I wish they would be honest and not insult our intelligence by saying they will require learning english, paying several thousand dollars in fines, blah, blah, blay. Everyone knows that will not happen.

Larry James said...

While I agree that border security is an issue that is important, I also know that national security must not be reduced to discussions about a fence or just border issues. As Myers' book makes abundantly clear, investing in children, families, laborers now will insure a stronger nation for my grandchildren. Why do we insist on taking such a short-term point of view? It will be our downfall. I urge all to read Myers' work--it is beyond convincing.

chris said...

National security is important but it isn't what I was talking about. The problem will never be solved without closing the border. If you grant amnesty to twelve million people without border security, what are you going to do with the additional ones who pour in every day? It's like a boat with a leak. would you try to dip the water out without repairing the hole? Our schools and hospitals are OVERRUN with illegals. We cannot invest in the entire country of Mexico. We have more than we can do to invest in our own country. It's one reason wages are so low for many people, employers can get plenty of illegals to work for almost nothing. His work is not convincing to me. We are supposed to be a nation of laws and the people have spoken loudly that they want the border closed. There can be more than enough LEGAL innigrants for us to invest in.

Larry James said...

chris, have you read Myers' work? It is very convincing. He also talks about the falling birth rate in Mexico. From a strictly secular point of view--and I know this will send you over the edge--the US and Mexico and Canada need to unite in terms of economic interests to compete with the rest of the world. We are taking a very short-sighted approach to this "problem" or opportunity, depending on your worldview!

chris said...

I read a few things on the net but not his book.

You are right, I am not for dissolving the USA and creating a North American Union with wide open borders. If this is what President Bush has in mind, I hope he fails. From what I have read this is indeed what he wants to do. That would be grounds for revolt in my opinion.

Eric Livingston said...

Myers' does present a wise view, but he still comes at the problem from the angle of our own self-interest. That is, he says, educating immigrants is in our best interest because then they can buy our houses and be a labor force in our country. Perhaps that is sound fiscal thinking. But as Christians (rather than western seekers of wealth and security), what if we could truly follow Jesus in putting the interests of others before our own selfish ambition? What if we educated them at a cost to ourselves, because we know that God loves his entire creation and has taught us to be especially concerned with the poor? Wouldn't that be something? Radical, I know.

My wife goes to my sons' elementary school once a week to spend some time reading with a student who spoke Spanish before English. She is a child, who two years ago didn't know any English. Now she is a first grader who is just slightly behind grade level in her English and reading abilities. Because she's bright, in a few years she'll be caught up academically and have the keys to her future. My wife doesn't spend this time as an investment to improve our economy as a whole, which then improves our economic security. My wife invests time in this young girl's life because she has opened her heart to her and loves her, just as the Master taught.

Larry James said...

Eric, of course, you are exactly correct. Isn't it interesting and very sad that on a site that invites people of faith to discuss issues related to poverty and justice, we have to make "sound fiscal" arguments that do play to our self-interest to turn Christian readers to at least think about options that move us closer to just solutions. I believe this phenomenon shows just how out of touch with the values of Jesus millions of church people have become. Keep speaking the radical faith into this space!

Justin said...

Once again, the issue here is that governments do not, and are not supposed to, act as Christians. We are not a Christian nation. Our nation is one of the kingdoms of this world. If you want to make an argument for a north american union, or open borders, or anything else, making your case based on your faith is not valid, just as it is not valid to discriminate against gays because you think the bible is against it.

If the case should be made for open borders, it MUST be made through the understanding of national self interest. While we argue for justice, I don't know how just it is to force others, especially non christians, to accept your biblical worldview through their policy.

I imagine that if our economy were in a better place, and we weren't losing the middle class because of the devaluation of our currency, as well as the real or perceived understanding that undocumented workers are taking advantage of our welfare programs, of which the burden will be increasingly placed on the rich with the coming administration change, people wouldn't really care. I'd like to see immigration made much easier, but let it be done legally. As of now, the conditions in which people enter the United States from other countries is unacceptable. The folks that live on the other side of my duplex are undocumented from Honduras and Guatemala, and their stories are tragic. And when we make things even harder for people to get it, it creates a black market that treats human beings like animals or freight.

We've got to do something about this situation, but I think that, while there probably is some racism involved, many on the other side of the argument have legitimate concerns that we need to heed.

ericnlivingston said...

Justin, you're right that governments don't and shouldn't necessarily act as Christians. And I agree that our nation is not a Christian nation. But, since I'm a Christian and since my government happens to be a government "of the people for the people", then naturally I seek to infuse my own values (which I learn from Jesus) into the political process. Should I suspend my faith values in the arena of politics? Should I propose and support policies that I know will improve my life at the cost of others? If I disregard my personal values as I make political decisions I'm undermining the representative nature of our system.

Larry James said...

eric, in my view, you are right on. The myth of a "valueless" society is one of the distortions we deal with here very often.

Justin said...

If that's how you choose to participate, that is fine. I don't think, however, that if you believe that, you have the right to complain when Christians support war, because many believe defense of freedom to be a christian value, or discriminating against gays, outlawing divorce, etc etc etc.

Just as long as its understood that promoting redistributionist social policies because you believe that Jesus would do so, is exactly the same as the moral majority imposing their values on others.

I like to think that I'm not forcing my morality on anyone, and I don't mind anyone questioning me on that. Maybe it is my moral understanding that the government should only exist to protect individual rights granted by the constitution (which says those rights are granted by God) and nothing else, but I feel like its just the way this government was supposed to function. I think its important that we think about what ramifications giving the government as much power as many here suggest brings with it.

Anonymous said...

No one here is complaining about those things Justin.

"Just as long as its understood that promoting redistributionist social policies because you believe that Jesus would do so, is exactly the same as the moral majority imposing their values on others."

Yes, that is understood. However, it is also understood that the U.S. constitution guarantees the general welfare of all it's people, and that all people should be guaranteed certain FREEDOMS that prevent them from oppression, whether it be religious oppression or ECONOMIC oppression.

Just so it's understood that all of us have fully developed political views too, and you don't have a monopoly on political thought that should be imposed on other people.

I think we're understanding a lot here...

Eric Livingston said...

While many Christians may believe defense of freedom to be a christian value, or discriminating against gays, outlawing divorce, etc. to be Biblical principles, I think if they properly engage the scriptures, those specific items go against the grain of the character of God. The moral majority tends to pick out a few select moral issues to preach about, rather than capturing the grander themes of the Bible (things like God's justice, Kingdom of God among the marginalized, loving one another, etc.)

Specific to our brand of government, I think it's wonderful that we expect having the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but when we pursue happiness by standing on the shoulders of others, something is fundamentally wrong. As Christians, we should recognize limitations to our nationally allocated rights.