Does immigration reform equal entitlement reform?

As has been the case throughout most of our nation’s history, the public debate on immigration is fueled by emotion a helluva lot more than it is by logic. But former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich cuts through the heat to suggest how our immigration policy can have a significant impact on our efforts to assure long term solvency for Social Security and Medicare:

Forty years ago there were five workers for every retiree. Now there are three. Within a couple of decades, there will be only two workers per retiree. There’s no way just two workers will be able or willing to pay enough payroll taxes to keep benefits flowing to every retiree.

This is where immigration comes in. Most immigrants are young because the impoverished countries they come from are demographically the opposite of rich countries. Rather than aging populations, their populations are bursting with young people.

Yes, I know: There aren’t enough jobs right now even for Americans who want and need them. But once the American economy recovers, there will be. Take a long-term view and most new immigrants to the U.S. will be working for many decades.

Get it? One logical way to deal with the crisis of funding Social Security and Medicare is to have more workers per retiree, and the simplest way to do that is to allow more immigrants into the United States.

Immigration reform and entitlement reform have a lot to do with one another.

But then, why be logical about such things when there’s so much to gain politically by blaming brown people for our economic woes.


  1. 1

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:


    Contact Bruce Webb (I believe he even lives in Everett). He blogs a lot at Angry Bear on Social Security. The Social Security Trustees put out their projections annually with three scenarios. They take into account some immigration to some degree or another. Bruce has his fingertips on the numbers, and he’s damnned good at it.

    Worker productivity also plays a role here, and when you’re looking out 40+ years, the impact is huge. For example, that’s why our farm labor force is so small. The idea that two workers can support one retiree is not that far fetched.

    There are a lot of scary numbers out there about the so-called crisis of Social Security. They are mostly false. Minor changes to the system will fund the system forever.

    The real problem is exploding health care costs. See Jamie Galbraith and Dean Baker for cogent analysis. You might also read up on MMT (modern monetary theory) to get your head straight on fiscal spending and the debt terrorists. Many “progressives” (cf Congressman Adam Smith) don’t have a clue about the wrongheadedness of outfits like the Concord Coalition and damage that will result from taking the advise of deficit hawks.

  2. 2

    Brittanicus spews:

    Yes! Your correct Mr. Reich? But only the cream at the top of the bottle. We can absorb the scientists, engineers and the highest skilled. They will not need a public handout in the future. We don’t need and certainly don’t want the destitute, desperate who will be living off the US taxpayer, as soon as they reach American soil. We have millions of poor, uneducated Americans, who should not have to compete for jobs with illegal foreign nationals.

  3. 3

    rhp6033 spews:

    One of the more perplexing situations is the two-faced standard of the GOP regarding immigration reform. On the one hand you have the GOP railing to their base about immigrates, legal or otherwise, alleging that they are a security risk, they are a drain on social services, they don’t pay taxes, they take away our jobs, and they endanger our (presumably “British-origin”) culture.

    On the other hand, the GOP did nothing substantial for most of the past decade when they had control of both houses of Congress, the the Presidency, and had appointed a convincing majority of the Supreme Court justices. Sure, there were lots of words, and contracts for fences to be built (which nobody seriously believed would work). But compared with the outpouring of words over the “seriousness” of the issue, the gap between words and action is rather noticable.

    The status-quo (supported by GOP in-action) is that we have a small number of legal immigrants due to quotas and tight work-visa restrictions, but a much larger number of illegal immigrants. These illegal immigrants form a seperate under-class in society. They can be deported for a variety of reasons (or no reason at all), which makes for the rare immigration raids (for media consumption), but makes most social service unavailable to them (exept emergency-room hospital care). They are generally beyond the protection of the law and can be abused by a variety of people who know the crimes aren’t going to be reported.

    So why do the republicans favor this status quo?

    (1) Illegal immigration promotes low wages and union-busting.

    (2) Illegal immigrants often pay withholding taxes and social security from their pay, but can’t claim tax refunds or receive benefits. This is a hidden tax on illegal immigrants, which keeps the budget deficit lower than it should have been, allowing the GOP to disguise the real impact of their tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

  4. 4

    Vince with Slap-Chop spews:

    @3..neither party has done anything for over 20 years to fix the problem.

  5. 5

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    @3, yup. Nothing gives an employer a boner like having employees who will work for dirt, work their ass off, do as they’re told, and say nothing when abused, injured, or fired. But the mantra of the populist right is “legal” immigration. Stopping illegal immigration is like stopping illegal drugs. It’s not going to happen until the (at present quite substantial) incentives disappear.

    I’ve also heard that NAFTA, by pushing our low cost but highly subsidized agricultural products on Mexico, is also a large factor in this movement of populations as these products have replaced home grown mexican corn & wheat. So the next time you see some spittle flecked Teabagger screaming about the brown hordes, tell them to blame those ‘real americans’, our patriotic farmers in the west and midwest.

  6. 6

    Michael spews:


    I’ve also heard that NAFTA, by pushing our low cost but highly subsidized agricultural products on Mexico, is also a large factor in this movement of populations


    We not only destroyed their local markets, a lot of the land that used to grow food for domestic consumption now grows food for export.

  7. 7

    Puddybud has fun skewering Libtardos spews:

    So why are more immigrants the answer vs. American families are having more children? Putin is giving big money for Russian women to have more babies. Let’s have more Octomoms. Or maybe more Jon and Kate Gosselins.

    Wait a minute… forget that. Why would Puddy want to see more arschlochs and dumb cinder blocks and DUMB BUNNY spawn?

  8. 8

    Michael spews:


    We not only destroyed their local markets, a lot of the land that used to grow food for domestic consumption now grows food for export.

    And a lot of land in the USA that used to grow food for domestic consumption now grows vacant homes and cracked asphalt.

  9. 10

    Michael spews:


    Urban sprawl is yet another thing that’s bought to us, at least in part, by our continued use of cheap, illegal, labor. I find it ironic that people who come to El Norte because there’s no farm work available back home get jobs building houses that destroy farmland up here.

    The real point is that everything is connected to everything else and just reforming immigration wont fix a heck of a lot.

  10. 11

    Vince with Slap-Chop spews:

    @10…it may not be the magic bullet cure for everything, but it sure would be a nice start…

  11. 12


    Michael @ 6

    Few things upset me as much as the conversion of farm land to sprawl.

    Do we really need more McMansions? Built at the expense of food production. In sensitive habitat. Often in flood plains.

    Vince @ 8

    Don’t get out much, huh?

  12. 13

    Vince with Slap-Chop spews:

    @12…sure jason – I can see it now – tens of thousands of acres of eastern washington farmland is all paved over and built up with houses and malls…LMFAO..

  13. 14

    amberdru spews:
    Kill your mother earth
    Help Us Stop Unsustainable U.S. Population Growth

    The United States is experiencing a population boom. We’ve grown by 100 million people in just the thirty six years since the first Earth Day. As illustrated in the attached Census Bureau chart, this population boom could worsen — or be stopped — depending on which population polices our Congress and our society adopt. We must adopt a national population policy on reproduction and immigration that is consistent with the Census Bureau’s ‘lowest series’ shown in the accompanying table.

    Our 1990’s growth of 33 million exceeded that of any other census decade in our nation’s history. Population growth of thirty three million in ten years is equivalent to adding a state the size of California —

    including all its houses, apartments, factories, office buildings, shopping centers, schools, streets, freeways automobiles and airports,
    its consumption of power, water, food and consumer goods and forests,
    and its entire waste stream of refuse, air and water pollution,
    — to an already crowded and stressed U.S. environment. Once would be bad enough, but this California size shoehorning will occur over and over, decade after decade after decade, until we adopt a national population policy on reproduction and immigration that is consistent with the Census Bureau’s ‘lowest series’ shown in the accompanying table.

    Some economic interests with a short-term outlook welcome population growth. Environmentalists do not because we understand its true environmental, quality of life and economic costs. We’ve already lost 95% of our old growth forests and 50% of our wetlands. We have grown well beyond the energy supply within our borders. Water supplies are declining.

    Accordingly, environmental organizations have called for stabilizing U.S. population for over 30 years. Some have advocated “…eventual decline in U.S. population since it has already reached levels that are not environmentally sustainable.”

    But, although its not politically correct in many circles, we realize that both our rate of reproduction and rate of immigration cause population growth and must be addressed.

    Reproduction: After a period of slow growth during the years of the Great Depression and World War II, U.S. population started booming due to a expansion in the fertility rate to about three and a half births per woman. The environmental movement of the day called for reduction in fertility and as a result of many factors, the rate had fallen off to below replacement level of 1.7 births per woman by the time of the first Earth Day in 1970. Our current fertility rate of 2.1 is at replacement level, but is still 50% higher than the 1.4 rate of the developed nations of Europe and Japan. The U.S. Congress does not seek voluntary reduction in fertility. To the contrary, it supports incentives for larger family size.

    Immigration: For almost 200 years (1776 through 1965) immigration averaged about 250,000 per year. If we had simply continued at that rate we would now be in equilibrium with the approximately 250,000 people who emigrate from the U.S. per decade.

    But Congress enacted legislation in 1965 and subsequent years that has more than quadrupled the rate of immigration. Legal immigration is currently set at about 1 million per year with illegal immigration estimated in the range of a half million per year. *

    Intentionally or not, Congress created the current population boom. It replaced the “baby boom” of the fifties with an “immigration boom.” The progress of the American people towards a stable and sustainable population and the sacrifices we made in voluntarily adopting replacement level reproduction have been undone by our government.

    * Despite conclusions such as those made by the chairperson of President Clinton’s Population and Consumption Task Force that “…reducing current immigration levels is a necessary part of working toward sustainability in the United States” – Congress is more prone to expansion rather than contraction. A little publicized provision of the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” legislation proposed by Senators Kennedy and McCain in 2007 would have doubled legal immigration to two million per year.

  14. 15

    Michael spews:


    The worst sprawl areas around the country, like Atlanta and Las Vegas, also tend to have the highest mortgage default rates.

  15. 17

    Politically Incorrect spews:

    Robert Reich said:

    “One logical way to deal with the crisis of funding Social Security and Medicare is to have more workers per retiree, and the simplest way to do that is to allow more immigrants into the United States.”

    Uh-huh. Right! Doesn’t he realize that theses new immigrant workers will accrue SS and Medicare benefits, too? At some point, the Ponzi scheme has to collapse. Unrestrained immigration may lead to the destruction of these entitlements due to the fact that eventually the bills come due.

    Robert Reich is dead wrong on this one.

  16. 18

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    So let me get this straight. If there are only a few young who can work and many old who can’t, it’s the young who suffer? I should think a scarce resource, “youth”, would command a higher price in the labor market. That’s basic supply and demand (If there was only one able bodied worker in the world, and everybody else was old and creaky, who’s going to command the higher wage?).

    Then there is mortality. All those oldsters will die off, leaving their assets to the fewer young. They make out like bandits again.

    Somebody please explain to me how this constitutes a crisis.

  17. 19

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    @17: Please enlighten us as to how a program, like Social Security, that always has funds coming in can go “broke”. Even if, 75 years from now, benefits were cut 20% from those currently scheduled, those future beneficiaries would still be better off, in real terms, than current beneficiaries.

    Those who call SocSec a “ponzi scheme” are either ignorant, or deliberately lying.

  18. 20

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    @16, Vegas was originally the site of ‘verdant meadows’ and plenty of water. Look it up.

  19. 21

    Michael spews:

    Just pointing out another lovely side effect of sprawl: higher mortgage default rates.

    Please do try and keep up with the conversation.

  20. 25

    Vince with Slap-Chop spews:

    @21…you could say the same about all the downtown Condos…plenty of mortgage defaults there too

    and I think its YOU who needs to keep up…

    thanks for playing..

  21. 26

    Chris Stefan spews:

    Social Security is backed by the credit of the US government. You can go squawk “ponzi scheme” all you want but it is hardly the same thing. For one thing few ponzi schemes lack the ability to tax the worlds largest economy.

    Oh and for those who bitch about the federal debt realize that all of Western Europe and Japan actually have a higher Debt to GDP ratio. Canada is one of the only large developed countries with a lower debt to GDP ratio.

  22. 27

    Vince with Slap-Chop spews:

    @26…and who is financing the debt? Surely it is our international “friends”, right?

    Still cant figure out why we cant get a decent trade deal with China…figure it out….

    I dont know about you, but I dont exactly trust the communist chinese or the arab head-choppers when it comes to financing our debt…

  23. 28


    Canada is one of the only large developed countries with a lower debt to GDP ratio.

    What??? That country with that socialist health care system???

    Has lower debt to GDP than the good old USA???

    How can that be?

  24. 29

    Chris Stefan spews:

    I will agree anyone with a 2 year or more degree from an internationally accredited program should be given a green card with a minimum of fuss and hassle.

    I’d go a step further and also allow anyone from an economically developed country in as well, though only with a bi-lateral agreement to give Americans the same privilege.

    I’d be inclined to do so for every country but the politics of it would be next to impossible. Especially since by most measures Mexico is on the verge of making the jump from an upper-middle income country to a high-income country (or from “developing” to “developed” if you prefer).

    However I think you mis-characterize lower-skilled immigrants. For the most part the ones I’ve met have all been incredibly hard-working and not inclined to take hand-outs. They most certainly don’t “live off the US taxpayer”. In fact you have to prove citizenship or permanent resident status to receive most forms of government aid.

  25. 30

    Michael spews:

    @21…you could say the same about all the downtown Condos…plenty of mortgage defaults there too

    No you can’t say the same thing. Urban housing has held its value better than suburban and ex-urban. I’m speaking nationally here, I’m sure there are local examples that run counter to the trend.

  26. 31

    Politically Incorrect spews:


    I don’t know if SS will go broke or not, but it is a Ponzi scheme in that it takes money from one pocket and puts it in another, which gets sent to beneficiaries. SS will be unsustainable forever unless taxes are raised dramatically and benefits cuts dramatically. Sure, the govt will figure out a way to make it work, largely because they won’t want to be publicly eviscerated by a crowd of people who put into the program for decades and decades and want their promised bennies. Somebody is gonna eventually get the short end of the stick on this deal.