USC Price School of Public Policy

Myers presents research demonstrating immigrants’ long-term value on US economy

April 21, 2017

Professor Dowell Myers

By Matthew Kredell

USC Price School of Public Policy Professor Dowell Myers recently presented the research he contributed to the National Academy of Sciences report, The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration — in which the crux of his work showed how immigrants have an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S. This stands in sharp contrast to the rhetoric currently being propagated that immigrants are costing the country billions of dollars.

“People are cherry picking numbers that are big and bad, but they don’t give the big picture — so I’m going to give you the big picture,” said Myers, who was the featured speaker at an Urban Growth Seminar in March.

Importance of immigrants

Immigrant flow to the U.S. peaked in 2000, and in California, the peak came even earlier, in 1990. Now, the annual flow is at a low point. The flow of immigrants that used to go to California has shifted to the southern U.S., with North Carolina and Georgia getting the most.

“Donald Trump is building a wall for 1990 when there was lots of immigration, not a wall for today,” Myers said. “There’s zero net flow of immigrants going across the border now. More people are going south [into Mexico] than coming north.”

Myers admits that there are high costs to the government when immigrants arrive, but attests that the benefits 20 to 30 years later outweigh those costs, especially when the children of immigrant parents become adults.

In 2007, Myers wrote a book titled Immigrants and Boomers that is even more relevant a decade later. He maintains that you can’t evaluate the value of immigrants without also looking at aging baby boomers.

This can be simply explained by the life cycle. Children cost governments money for their education, and seniors cost the government money with their social security and healthcare. In between, people ages 25 to 64 supply the taxes to pay for the others. The large baby boom generation is beginning to enter those entitlement years, and a “silver tsunami” is coming.

Immigrants tend to come in at a younger age, which is necessary to balance out the population getting older.

Urgent need to address the future

Between 2010 and 2030, Myers said the senior ratio is projected to go up in every state; in California, it will increase by 70 percent.

“The good news is the senior ratio goes up everywhere, which is better if you want to get support in Congress,” Myers said. “If it were split between red and blue states, it would be a problem. I don’t see a problem. I think it’s everywhere, and we should be able to deal with this if someone would just admit it. So far, every administration has just kicked the can down the road.”

Myers said that every president since Reagan has known that the aging population was an impending problem, but by the next presidential election, it will be an issue that must be dealt with.

“I don’t think anyone gets elected next time if they don’t respond to this ratio,” Myers said. “In this decade, immigrants are far more important to us than they have been before, and yet people are making decisions looking backward to the years before.”