Our Immigrant Future: Love It Or Lose It

With the immigration reform debate heating up, now is a good time to review the latest data on our immigrant future.  These data come from a terrific, detailed report by the Pew Research Center that didn’t get the nearly the attention it deserved when it was issued this February.

Start with the percent of the US population that are first and second generation immigrants.  Today there are 76 million immigrants in our country accounting for about 25 percent of the population.  Pew projections indicates that by the year 2050 there will be 162 million immigrants, accounting for 37 percent of the population, the highest in modern history.

And that’s not all.  One aspect of this growth that is of tremendous significance is its effect on our future workforce. According to the Pew projections, almost all (93 percent) of the growth in the working-age (18-64) population between now and 2050 will be accounted for by immigrants.  That is a figure that all policy-makers should have committed to memory as they grapple with how to handle immigration reform and related issues.

Growth in our country’s immigrant stock will be heavily driven by Latinos and Asians, which has important implications for our politics.  The Pew report finds that Latinos and Asians both lean heavily toward the Democratic Party and that there is no diminution of this lean toward the Democrats among more assimilated second generation immigrants.   In fact, among Latinos, to the extent there is a difference, it is that second generation immigrants are more Democratic (71 Democratic/19 Republican compared to 63 percent Democratic/16 percent Republican among first generation immigrants).

Of course, just how big these implications are politically will depend on many factors, one of which is immigration reform, which should increase the numbers of eligible Latino and Asian voters.  But it’s worth stressing that immigration reform is by far not the GOP’s biggest problem with these groups.  Far more significant, as Nate Silver’s recent simulations of the political effects of population growth and immigration reform demonstrate, is whether the GOP will continue to run such huge deficits among Latinos and Asians.  If they do, they are facing a looming disaster from population growth, with or without immigration reform.  But if they can succeed in reducing those deficits substantially, they can remain competitive even with both population growth and immigration reform in effect.

That’s something for today’s GOP to ponder as they face the rising sentiment for immigration reform and the possibility they could further alienate Latinos and Asians with their intransigence.  America’s immigrant future: love it or lose it.