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ICYMI: Editorial in Goodlatte’s District: “We need more immigration, not less”

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Last week, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) lauded Republican Senators’ Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue’s (R-GA) introduction of the RAISE Act, which would slash legal immigration by more than 50% by eliminating multiple family reunification categories (parents, siblings, adult children), eliminating diversity visas and reducing the admission of refugees.

While Goodlatte touts his support for RAISE and continues to push for a crackdown on sanctuary cities and cuts to immigration, the Roanoke Times editorial board – in Goodlatte’s own district – this week emphasizes the vital need for immigrants, underscores the fact that America depends on immigrants, and outlines why the U.S. should have more immigrants, not less.

Find key excerpts of the piece below, or read it in its entirety here.

We should be increasing immigration, not limiting it. Yes, increasing. And it should be rural areas — such as many of those in Southwest and Southside Virginia that are losing population — clamoring the loudest for more immigration.

Here’s why: There are those — a study in the Yale Law and Policy Review being among them — who believed that one of the many contributing factors to the Great Depression in 1929 was that the United States had greatly curtailed immigration in 1924.

Fewer immigrants reduced the demand for consumer goods in urban areas, the study concluded, slowing the economies there at exactly the wrong time. Increased immigration wouldn’t have prevented the Depression, the study concluded, but reduced immigration made it deeper and longer than it otherwise would have been. Limiting the number of legal immigrants — the “legal” being a key distinction — simply limits consumer spending when we actually should be trying to increase consumer spending to drive the economy.

Put another way: There are two ways for businesses to make more money. They can persuade customers to spend more. Or they can find more customers. Immigration creates more customers. Businesses struggling to survive in counties that are losing population could certainly stand more customers — since 1980, Buchanan County has lost 42 percent of its population, which is another way of saying consumer-oriented businesses there have lost nearly half their customers.

That’s all history, though. The stronger argument for increased immigration comes in the form of future history — meaning, demography, as in demography is destiny.

Last year, the Federal Reserve issued a little-noticed but highly-instructive report that looked at why the nation’s economy is growing so slowly. In a 74-page report chocked full of equations, three of the reserve’s economists agree on this cause for the slow growth: Demographics.

“Essentially all” of the slowdown in economic growth over the past few decades can be traced to the makeup of the American population, the report said. Baby boomers are aging — and living longer. Meanwhile, they had fewer children than previous generations. Seniors simply don’t drive the economy as much as young adults. They’re not starting families; they’re not buying houses for the first time. If baby boomers had reproduced at the same rate as their parents, there’d be a lot more Generation Xers and Millennials spending money — and driving economic growth. But they didn’t. The report concluded the current slow-growth economy is “the new normal” and that economic growth is destined to remain slow for decades. This report implies it doesn’t really matter much which party’s economic policies are enacted, because no amount of Democratic stimulus spending or Republican tax-cutting will alter the demographic fundamentals that are retarding economic growth.

Put another way: We need more young people. However, a U.S. birth rate that has fallen below the replacement level isn’t producing them. There are only two ways to grow population — either have more babies, or encourage immigration. That’s why the business-oriented Bloomberg News warned earlier this year the combination of those two trends — a declining birth rate and reduced immigration — were bad news for the economy. Its provocative headline: “Make America Mate Again.” The catch is, the birth rates we’d need to rebalance an aging population simply aren’t realistic.

A few weeks ago, demographer Hamilton Lombard at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia crunched some numbers on the state’s coal counties, which are hemorrhaging young adults. Even if everyone stopped moving out (which isn’t going to happen), the populations will still decline, because deaths outnumber births: “To replace every death with a birth, the birth rate would have to nearly double,” from a rate of two births per mother to four, he concluded. “That would be equivalent of the 1950s baby boom and would need to be sustained for much longer than the baby boom lasted.”

Here’s another, more national, way to visualize the demographic problem: In 1960, there were 5.1 workers paying into Social Security for each beneficiary. Today, that figure is down to 2.9 workers. By 2035, it’s expected to be down to 1.9 workers for each beneficiary. That’s where the Social Security crisis comes from. To preserve the system, we either need to tax workers more (they won’t be happy), raise the age at which people become eligible for benefits (they won’t be happy) . . . or figure out how to get more people paying into the system. That’s why former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — in a speech at Bluefield College three years ago — advocated in favor of immigration as a way to “rebuild the demographic pyramid.”

Bush had a very specific idea in mind: He wanted to focus on immigrants with marketable skills as a way to create a new generation of entrepreneurs who could drive the economy. That, by the way, is exactly what another country facing a similar demographic imbalance has done. That country is Canada.

Canada’s pro-immigration policies — supported by both liberal and conservative governments as a matter of economic policy — give a preference to immigrants with college degrees or other marketable skills (something Trump’s policies would do) Critically, though Canada wants more immigrants, not fewer (the opposite of Trump’s policy). Al arger and more skilled population helps drive the economy by making the community more attractive to employers. That seems pretty basic: It’s why a company looking to expand probably is going to pick Arlington over Roanoke and Roanoke over Grundy.

In Canada, some of the biggest complaints about immigration have come from rural areas — who gripe that they’re not getting enough immigrants to help turn around their economies. And that’s why Virginia’s rural counties ought to be doing the same.