U.S. Baby Boom Has Saved It
From an Old-Age Crisis."
For now. On its current course, the U.S. population of 310 million will continue to grow relative to that of the rest of the developed world, primarily because its birth rate, while barely at replacement level, is still higher than that of almost any other industrialized country. In purely geopolitical terms, this suggests American influence over Europe, Japan, South Korea, and other allies could grow. Yet the United States has no reason to be smug about its comparatively favorable demographics. As its allies age and even shrink in population, the United States could be forced to assume even more of the burden of policing the world's trouble spots. Like a person in middle age, the United States now has to worry not only about its own aging, but also about how to provide for other family members who are becoming too old to fend for themselves.
And age America will. The main reason for its comparative youthfulness so far has been immigration, both legal and illegal. But according to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of illegal immigrants thought to be entering the United States has plunged to just 300,000 people annually -- down from 850,000 in the early 2000s. More than a million immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America have returned home in the last two years. These falling numbers are largely driven by the soaring U.S. unemployment rate, which has at least temporarily reduced the economic rewards of moving to El Norte, but they could herald a permanent shift.
Demographics explain why. Birth rates are falling dramatically across Latin America, especially in Mexico, suggesting a tidal shift in migration patterns. Consider what happened with Puerto Rico, where birth rates have also plunged: Immigration to the mainland United States has all but stopped despite an open border and the lure of a considerably higher standard of living on the continent. In the not-so-distant future, the United States may well find itself competing for immigrants rather than building walls to keep them out.