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Immigrants and Boomers

Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America

Dowell Myers
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Immigrants and Boomers
    Book Description:

    "This story of hope for both immigrants and native-born Americans is a well-researched, insightful, and illuminating study that provides compelling evidence to support a policy of homegrown human investment as a new priority. A timely, valuable addition to demographic and immigration studies. Highly recommended." -Choice

    Virtually unnoticed in the contentious national debate over immigration is the significant demographic change about to occur as the first wave of the Baby Boom generation retires, slowly draining the workforce and straining the federal budget to the breaking point. In this forward-looking new book, noted demographer Dowell Myers proposes a new way of thinking about the influx of immigrants and the impending retirement of the Baby Boomers. Myers argues that each of these two powerful demographic shifts may hold the keys to resolving the problems presented by the other.

    Immigrants and Boomerslooks to California as a bellwether state-where whites are no longer a majority of the population and represent just a third of residents under age twenty-to afford us a glimpse into the future impact of immigration on the rest of the nation. Myers opens with an examination of the roots of voter resistance to providing social services for immigrants. Drawing on detailed census data, Myers demonstrates that long-established immigrants have been far more successful than the public believes. Among the Latinos who make up the bulk of California's immigrant population, those who have lived in California for over a decade show high levels of social mobility and use of English, and 50 percent of Latino immigrants become homeowners after twenty years. The impressive progress made by immigrant families suggests they have the potential to pick up the slack from aging boomers over the next two decades. The mass retirement of the boomers will leave critical shortages in the educated workforce, while shrinking ranks of middle-class tax payers and driving up entitlement expenditures. In addition, as retirees sell off their housing assets, the prospect of a generational collapse in housing prices looms. Myers suggests that it is in the boomers' best interest to invest in the education and integration of immigrants and their children today in order to bolster the ranks of workers, taxpayers, and homeowners America they will depend on ten and twenty years from now.

    In this compelling, optimistic book, Myers calls for a new social contract between the older and younger generations, based on their mutual interests and the moral responsibility of each generation to provide for children and the elderly. Combining a rich scholarly perspective with keen insight into contemporary political dilemmas,Immigrants and Boomerscreates a new framework for understanding the demographic challenges facing America and forging a national consensus to address them.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-418-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Population Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Dowell Myers
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    THE DEBATE over immigration has generated much more political heat than light. That should not be surprising, given the sensitive issues and deep commitments at play. Even though a few advocates are very sure of their clear-cut positions, most Americans are in a quandary over immigration because they see it as a complex and conflicting subject. On the one hand, most citizens revere the nation’s immigrant roots—after all, most of us are descendants of immigrants. Yet, on the other hand, most citizens also value social order and think that access to our nation should not be granted without limit....


    • Chapter 2 Knowing and Making the Future
      (pp. 19-35)

      THE FUTURE is not predictable, but we know it anyway. People act with reference to the future that they envision, however impressionistic or shortsighted their knowledge may be. In times of great stability, a straightforward vision may suffice; in times of calamity and upheaval, the only knowledge that may be relevant is how to survive one day at a time. Our current era lies between these extremes, and thus we face a particular challenge of knowing what changes lie ahead and how best to proceed.

      Rapid changes in immigration, race, and aging are all combining with a changing global economy...

    • Chapter 3 Demographic Transition in California and the United States
      (pp. 36-63)

      WHEN DID IT become most clear to Americans that the nation was undergoing dramatic demographic change? Was it the day early in 2001 when theWashington Postdeclared that, for the first time in centuries, the African American population was no longer the nation’s largest minority group? Blacks, thePostreported, had been outnumbered by the Hispanic population, which had reached 12.5 percent of the total U.S. population.¹ Latinos had been projected to grow more numerous, but the speed with which they surpassed blacks in population surprised demographers. In the large states of Texas and California, Latinos now make up...

    • Chapter 4 A Dismal Future? The Out look in the Early Transition Period
      (pp. 64-84)

      IN THIS CHAPTER, we review the background to the rather discouraged outlook on demographic change that arose after 1970. The demographic transition is hardly just a dry set of scientific facts. Race, immigration, and aging are social issues with deep meaning for most people, often invoking highly emotional responses. The demographic transition also has economic consequences for the workforce, the number of home buyers and taxpayers, and the relative burdens shared by the generations. Those economic concerns matter greatly to the average citizen, as well as to the leaders of government and business. Combine these with the social issues of...

    • Chapter 5 California Turnaround: A Renewed Basis for Optimism
      (pp. 85-101)

      CALIFORNIANS’ DISMAL outlook on the future reached its peak in the early 1990s. Decades of economic disappointment and demographic fears came to a head in a short period, capped by the remarkable barrage of calamities in the state. In hindsight, we can see that this pessimism reflected what was only a temporary episode. The early 1990s served, in fact, as the divide between one era and the next. Rather than foretelling a continuously ebbing quality of life, as many Californians feared, the early 1990s marked the low point for Golden State residents, a unique time when the pessimistic view had...

    • Chapter 6 Immigrant Upward Mobility: Support for a More Hopeful Future
      (pp. 102-120)

      RISING ACHIEVEMENT that accompanies a growing length of U.S. residence for immigrants is a major feature of the demographic transition, and it promises significant long-term benefits. An appreciation of this positive force has been slow in coming, perhaps because the key evidence is not known, but also because commonly held old knowledge may bias current perception. Fundamental misconceptions date from the 1970s and 1980s, the period of early transition when so many new immigrants began to arrive in the United States. That old knowledge is often coupled with an unspoken assumption, widely held among residents who are non-immigrants, that the...


    • Chapter 7 The Political Lag During the Demographic Transition
      (pp. 123-150)

      WHEN THE Census Bureau declared in 1999 that California was no longer a majority-white state, many assumed that an important balance had been tipped. In fact, in terms of political power, little has changed in subsequent years. The white share of the population has slowly declined and in some sectors even dwindled. White non-Hispanic children have fallen to only 32 percent of the public school enrollment in California. Yet, where it counts—among the voters—non-Hispanic whites still hold a dominant majority, in some recent elections as high as 71 percent. Despite the demographic forces of change, political power sharing...

    • Chapter 8 An Evolving Social Contract with Many Strands
      (pp. 151-176)

      THE 2004 PRESIDENTIAL election revealed a nation deeply divided on political grounds. The supposed “blue” and “red” states in actuality may have been mostly a sea of purple, varying only a couple of percentage points in favor of one party or the other. But within those states there were surely stark differences of opinion. And now immigration has exploded onto the national stage as a newly divisive issue. The preceding chapter disclosed that the outlooks of conservatives and liberals on this issue are sharply opposed. Immigration is different from other contested issues, however, in that, paradoxically, it could create the...

    • Chapter 9 Rediscovering the Intergenerational Social Contract for the Twenty-First Century
      (pp. 177-196)

      TO SOME OBSERVERS, it would appear that the social contract in America is hopelessly shattered. The current equation for despair is deep cultural divisions combined with political disillusionment and multiplied by economic insecurity. In this view, it is surely every man, woman, and child for himself or herself. Yet is that ever true? Adults and children are certainly interconnected, from one generation to the next. None of the previously discussed strands of the social contract have emphasized this fact. In all the debates over helping the poor versus helping the middle class to achieve the good life, many people have...


    • Chapter 10 Growing the New Skilled Workforce and Middle-Class Taxpayer Base
      (pp. 199-224)

      DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE and the economy appear headed on a collision course in California and the United States unless the powerful demographic currents can be turned to advantage. The crux of the problem is that forecasts of employment growth indicate rising demand for more highly educated workers, but demographic trends are working in the opposite direction: the average educational attainment of the workforce is being reduced. Only by elevating the educational level of the newest generation entering the workforce can the collision between demographic change and the economy be avoided. The rising new generation could pose a hazard for California’s future...

    • Chapter 11 Sharing the American Dream: The Linked Interests of Older Home Sellers and Younger Home Buyers
      (pp. 225-246)

      OWNERSHIP OF one’s home is so widely valued in this country that it is often termed the American Dream. Property ownership signifies attainment of a middle-class standard of living, and for immigrants it has a special meaning of landed settlement. Indeed, attainment of homeownership represents proof of the opportunities in America to get ahead by hard work, and thus homeownership is the most tangible symbol of a major strand in the social contract, as discussed in chapter 8.¹ Attainment of homeownership is not only a principal indicator of economic and social well-being but also the primary measure of housing achievement...


    • Chapter 12 Conclusion: Steps Toward Building a More Hopeful Future
      (pp. 249-260)

      THE FUTURE of America remains to be decided. The outlook of despair inherited from the early transition period has now been joined by an alternative—an outlook of hope that builds on more recent immigrant trends and on a mutual self-interest that promises to help solve urgent problems of nativeborn citizens. The citizen-voters who are thinking men and women now have a new choice of futures that they can adopt in belief and action. In this concluding chapter, I review the choices and the respective policy implications.

      The demographic transition in which we are engaged is full of stress and...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 261-266)
    Dowell Myers

    As I sat on the hundred-year-old hard bench at Ellis Island and waited to testify before the House subcommittee on immigration in March 2007, I marveled at how rapidly the nation’s outlook had been changing in recent years with regard to immigration and our immigrant residents. The fact that the new Congress had called a meeting at the nation’s most historic place for welcoming immigrants, rather than at the border to be defended against feared invaders, struck me as a strong indicator that this Congress was less openly hostile to immigrants. These legislators seemed ready at last to approach the...

  11. Appendix A: Supplementary Analysis of the Economic Turnaround
    (pp. 267-272)
  12. Appendix B: Supplementary Analysis of Voters’ Opinions
    (pp. 273-284)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 285-330)
  14. References
    (pp. 331-348)
  15. Index
    (pp. 349-362)