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Why Trump voters need the immigrants they want to turn away

The irony in President Donald Trump's hostility to immigration, expressed again in reports of his vulgar comments abo...

Posted: Jan 17, 2018 8:51 AM
Updated: Jan 17, 2018 8:51 AM

The irony in President Donald Trump's hostility to immigration, expressed again in reports of his vulgar comments about Africa and Haiti last week, is that in appealing to the racial and cultural resentments of his political base he is directly threatening their economic interests.

The equation is unmistakable: as America ages, the older and blue-collar whites at the core of Trump's electoral coalition in 2016 need more working-age immigrants to pay the taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare.

The US workforce would be getting smaller without immigrants

The country's social safety net relies on new workers to fund benefits for retirees

Without robust immigration, each American worker will need to support substantially more retirees in the future than workers do today. And that will greatly increase the pressure for either unsustainable tax increases or biting benefit reductions in the federal retirement programs that the older and blue-collar whites central to Trump's support rely upon so heavily.

Trump's hostility to immigration ignores one of the central dynamics of 21st century American life: an increasingly non-white workforce will pay the taxes that support Social Security and Medicare for a rapidly growing and preponderantly white senior population.

"As every baby boomer retires over the next 15 years, we are going to need many more of these (diverse) young people to take their place," says William Frey, a demographer at the center-left Brookings Institution.

Because the US largely shut off immigration between 1924 and 1965, today's senior population is preponderantly white. Frey has calculated that three-fourths of all Americans 55 and older are white. Those older whites were the cornerstone of Trump's coalition in the 2016 election: whites over 45 gave Trump over three-fifths of their votes, and provided a majority of all the votes he received, according to exit polls.

Frey and other demographers project the white share of the senior population will decline very slowly over the coming decades-even as the total number of seniors explodes. The Social Security Trustees have forecast that the number of seniors receiving Social Security and Medicare will grow from about 48 million today to 86 million by 2050. That's an increase of nearly 40 million.

Though many Americans incorrectly think of the programs as a kind of massive 401(k) where their earlier taxes pay for their own later benefits, Social Security and Medicare are funded by what amounts to a generational compact. Each generation of workers, through their payroll taxes, funds the benefits for retirees at the same time. As the number of seniors increases, that means the US needs to increase the number of workers if it is to keep a sustainable balance between those receiving benefits from the programs and those paying the taxes that support them.

Because of the underlying child bearing and aging trends among native-born Americans, that won't be possible without immigration.

Frey has calculated that from 2000 through 2016 the absolute number of whites younger than 15 -- and not just the share -- declined in 45 of the 50 states. (The only states that increased their population of whites under 15 over that period were Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Carolina and Idaho.) Over those years, the total number of whites younger than 15 fell by nearly 6 million, Frey found, while the number of Hispanic, Asian and mixed race kids increased by about seven million. (The number of young African-Americans slightly declined too.)

Like other demographers, Frey projects that the 2020 Census will find that non-white kids represent a majority of all Americans younger than 18; kids of color are already a majority of all K-12 public school students.

What these numbers make clear is that, whatever Trump does to restrict immigration, there is no cavalry of white kids coming to fill the jobs that the mostly white baby boom is vacating.

Non-white young people-reinforced by future immigrants-will drive almost all of the workforce's future growth, according to widely respected projections by the non-partisan Pew Research Center.

In a detailed forecast last year, Pew examined the trajectory of the prime working-age population -- that is, ages 25 to 64 -- over the next two decades. Strikingly, it found that over that period the number of prime working-age adults whose parents were both born in the US will actually decline by over eight million. But Pew projects that loss will be offset by increases in the number of both prime-working age adults who are either the children of immigrants (13.5 million), or future immigrants themselves (17.6 million).

Looking further ahead, Pew has calculated that under current levels of immigration, the workforce will increase by about 30 million people through 2065-virtually equal to the increase in the senior population over coming decades. Almost all of that workforce growth will come from immigrants and their children, which Pew projects to account for fully 88% of the nation's total population increase over that period.

A growing workforce would ease the fiscal pressure that the expanding senior population will impose on Social Security and Medicare. But Trump's efforts to reduce legal immigration would consign the U.S. to virtually no growth in the workforce, Pew projects. Trump has endorsed legislation from Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, two attendees at last Thursday's explosive White House meeting, that would cut the total level of legal immigration in half. Pew projects that under that level of future legal immigration, the size of the workforce will remain virtually stagnant over the next half century.

If the workforce remains essentially unchanged while the senior population grows by 40 million, each worker will be required to fund 80% more seniors than they do now. That demographic imbalance represents a political tourniquet that will inexorably increase pressure for cuts in Social Security and Medicare -- a prospect that polls show is anathema to the older and working-class whites Trump relies on.

"We shouldn't be shutting the door on this (immigration)," Frey says. "Trump ... is really putting us in a very difficult situation demographically and also economically in the future."

Yet Trump, like many congressional Republicans and conservative commentators, almost always portrays immigrants as economic, cultural and security threats. From the outset, Trump's coalition has been centered on the voters -- primarily older, blue-collar, evangelical and rural whites -- most uneasy about the growing number of immigrants and demographic change more broadly.

Voters who supported deporting all undocumented immigrants represented a minority in almost all the Republican primaries in 2016 -- yet provided a majority of Trump's votes in almost all of those contests.

Pew Research polls last year found that the strongest predictors of warm feelings toward Trump were agreement with the ideas that the growing number of immigrants "threatens traditional American customs and values," that Islam is inherently more violent than other religions and that growing diversity overall was bad for the country.

In the general election against Hillary Clinton, Trump won 26 of the 30 states with the smallest share of foreign-born residents and lost 16 of the 20 with the most. And in a national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last September, Trump voters from 2016 were nearly five times as likely as Clinton voters to say immigration weakens, rather than strengthens, the nation.

Trump portrays his drive to slash legal immigration as standing up for the economic interests of the American-born working-class. But the National Academy of Sciences, in an exhaustive study, found "little evidence" that immigration had affected employment levels for native-born workers, and a "very small" impact on the wages of lower-skilled Americans that was confined largely to native-born adults who had not finished high school and recent immigrants themselves, two relatively small groups.

Even Trump's call for prioritizing economically based immigration over family reunification obscures the central implication of his proposal -- which is to severely reduce the total number of legal immigrants. By contrast, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that stalled in the House after if passed the Senate with bipartisan support in 2013 tilted the overall balance more toward high-skills immigrants and limited some forms of family reunification without cutting total legal immigration, as Trump, Cotton and Perdue are demanding.

In his repeated appeals to nativist sentiments, and his multiplying efforts to reduce immigration and remove immigrants (such as those from El Salvador), Trump may indeed be reflecting the racial and cultural anxieties of many of his voters. But the principal economic impact of slashing immigration as deeply as Trump is seeking would be to destabilize the federal retirement programs that are indispensable to those same voters. With his systematic offensive against immigration, Trump is feeding the prejudices of some of his supporters -- while threatening their ability to keep food on the table when they retire.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 295295

Reported Deaths: 6724
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
Lauderdale6833226
Lowndes6022137
Lamar588080
Lafayette5733113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4609123
Oktibbeha441393
Panola430394
Pearl River4167130
Warren4129114
Pontotoc408869
Marshall403192
Monroe3989126
Union395374
Neshoba3807168
Lincoln3541102
Hancock347374
Leflore3375118
Sunflower318386
Tate302474
Pike300195
Scott293870
Alcorn291861
Itawamba289975
Yazoo289262
Tippah278765
Copiah277857
Coahoma277568
Simpson274878
Prentiss269758
Wayne253841
Marion252678
Leake252471
Covington248879
Grenada247377
Adams234377
George231745
Newton229652
Winston221675
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201151
Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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