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Follow the Money: Immigration Reform

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Comprehensive Immigration Reform has passed the Senate hurdle and is still on the front burner. Now is the time to look at the issue through an economic lens; an approach that is meaningful to all. Here are some voices that have been raised recently that speak to the importance of immigrants to the U.S. economy.

In June, the Center for American Progress released a comprehensive study, The Contributions of Immigrants and Their Children to the American Workforce and Jobs of the Future. The Center for American Progress hosted a panel discussion on the topic and the panel included one of the authors of the study, demographer Dowell Myers, economist Robert Lynch and Center for American Progress Vice President Vanessa Cardenas.

The big news from the study concerns the vast numbers of Baby Boomers who will be retiring in the next two decades and the importance of immigrants and their children in replacing those workers. Specifically, Baby Boomers will account for 40.2 million retirements between 2010 and 2030. During this time period, immigrants and their children will account for 40.8 percent of the entrances to the workforce. The study also states that native-born third or later generations are steadily falling as a share of entrances to the workforce, dropping from 71.3 percent in the 1990s to 59.2 percent in the 2020s. As stated in the study, "It is clear that a very large portion of the workforce needs caused by Baby Boomer retirements is going to be met by immigrants and their children." Economist Robert Lynch stated that replacing skilled Baby Boomers has "major implications for English language skills and education and training."

Demographer and one of the study's authors, Dowell Myers, took the discussion to a very basic level about personal economics when he raised the question "Who is going to buy my house?" He asserts that most of the Boomers have a lot of money tied up in their homes and selling them to downsize will be important to their financial stability in retirement. Myers suggests that having more people making good money and therefore able to pay a good price for these Boomers' homes is hugely important to the economic well-being of a generation. This assertion implies the importance of educating the people who are coming up to fill the jobs of the future. Of course, English language literacy is key to the success of immigrants and their children and the important first step for investing in the value of education. Myers, the demographer, said that we can all agree and find consensus on aging. In ten years we will all be ten years older and closer to retirement, even with the trend towards working beyond the traditional retirement years. He suggests that we could find bipartisan consensus on aging, and that would lead to a logical look at the workforce of the future and more practical immigration reform.

Another voice for the economic contributions of immigrants is Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn. In his column "The Promise of Immigration," he refers to the United States as "history's most successful start-up" and describes immigration as "pure entrepreneurship. You leave behind everything familiar to start something new". He refers to the multiple studies that show that immigrants are more likely to start businesses than native born Americans. Specifically, he quotes for the Partnership for a New American Economy that

as of 2011, 42 percent of U.S. based companies on the Fortune 500 list, accounting for more than 10 million jobs worldwide, were started by U.S. immigrants or their children. Between 1990 and 2005, 25 percent of our highest growth companies were founded by foreign born entrepreneurs. That growth means more jobs and a more robust economy for us all.

Between the projections regarding the workforce of the future and the acknowledged contributions by immigrants to the economy in the past and present, it makes sense to educate immigrant families for the economic well-being of the country. Educating immigrant adults in English language skills will help their children, the "human capital", which is our greatest asset according to Vanessa Cardenas of the Center for American Progress. English language literacy will lead to financial literacy and a better grasp of what it takes to achieve the American dream, whether it is becoming part of a skilled workforce, buying houses or creating businesses.