5 Economic Reasons We Need Immigration Reform Now

Immigrants will help more than we realize.

January 31, 2013, 10:58 AM

Jan 31, 2013— -- Finally, there appears to be some serious traction on the conversation about immigration reform in this country. This week a bi-partisan "Gang of 8" presented an immigration plan, which outlined a path to citizenship and President Barack Obama delivered an eloquent and fiery speech at an immigration rally in Las Vegas.

Sure, there's a good chance we'll sit through weeks, and maybe months, of debate about the issue, but that doesn't mean there aren't some very good reasons to move that process along. Here are five.

1. Immigrants Start Companies and Create Jobs

President Obama said it himself on Tuesday, "In recent years, one in four high-tech startups in America were founded by immigrants. One in four new small business owners were immigrants." According to the Kauffman Foundation these immigrant-founded companies produced $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers in 2005.

2. Immigrants Are Innovators

The Kauffman Foundation also points out that in 2006 foreigners residing in the U.S. were named as inventors or co-inventors of one-quarter of all patent applications filed from the U.S.

3. Immigrants Work for the American Dream

A 2011 Brookings Institution analysis of immigrant skills and employment in the U.S. found that low-skilled immigrants in the country had a higher level of employment and a lower rate of household poverty than native low-skilled populations, despite the fact that employed immigrants earned $5,000 less than employed natives.

Immigrants have taken the risk to leave home and are focused on finding work and building a better life for their families. A study by demographers at the University of Southern California estimates that by 2030, nearly 70 percent of Latinos who came to the U.S. during the 1990s are expected to own a home.

4. The Demand for Immigrants Will Rise

We may not realize it yet in the U.S. but the competition is on to attract young, talented immigrant workers. As the "developed world" grows older we will need younger, mobile workers to spur economic growth and help pay for the benefits of the post-war baby boom generation.

A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek by Charles Kenney reminds us that some countries, including the U.K., Australia, and Canada, have already taken measures to ease the visa process for foreign students and innovators. Kenney argues that "given the first-mover advantage (countries that open their doors to migrants from a particular country subsequently attract more migrants from that country), reform is an urgent priority."

5. Immigrants Can Help Boost Sagging Fertility Rates and Spur Economic Growth

As populations get older, they are less productive and more costly to take care of. A young workforce is key to maintaining productivity and economist growth.

An aging population and sagging fertility used to be a problem faced only by Europe and Japan but since the financial crisis U.S. fertility has dropped below the replacement rate of around 2.1 children born per woman.

Immigrants can help raise fertility rates not just by having more children but also lowering the cost of child care. A Hebrew University (Jerusalem) study found that an important reason for historically large families in the U.S. was cheap child care, much of it provided by undocumented workers.

Kenney, of the Bloomberg Businessweek, points out that "If low-skilled migration stops, the fertility rate could remain permanently depressed, in which case the long-term "crisis" in entitlement programs, from Medicare to Social Security, that rely on a good ratio of workers to retirees will become an urgent problem."

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