A Key Fact the Current Illegal Immigration Debate Overlooks

Lost amidst the hubbub about Arizona's recent legislation to crack down on illegal immigration, is the simple fact that most baby boomers, approximately one-third of America's labor force, will reach the retirement age of 65 during the next two decades.

Leave aside, for a moment, the arguments about the legitimacy of being a legal citizen and human rights. Our country isn't producing enough new workers to replace those who retire: according to the US Census Bureau there are about 77 million baby boomers and only 46 million people in generation X and generation Y.

Where will the new workers come from? It's immigration, or else a miraculous breakthrough in robotics engineering.

In 2008, the first of the baby boomers hit the age of 62, which is significant because it's the age that the average worker retires. Although baby boomers will likely work longer than predicted because of extended life expectancies and over-extended retirement plans, health conditions and the effects of old age will prevent many from working full-time into their 70s and force others to retire much earlier.

By 2020, if not sooner, we'll be competing with countries in Western Europe, Japan, and elsewhere in the world to attract immigrants. If we're unsuccessful, much could change for the worse for our economies and in our lives:

  • Of course, annual increases in social security, Medicaid, Medicare, and insurance payouts are already steep, and they will steepen even more sharply in the coming years.
  • Home values may once again decline because many Baby Boomers will need to sell or downsize to cover their retirement expenses.
  • For the same reason, savings rates are also likely to shrink because Baby Boomers will be cashing out their stocks and IRAs and won't be earning enough new income to continue their current rate of savings.
  • Accordingly, interest rates would need to rise to encourage more savings. This could trigger a return of runaway inflation.
  • Taxes are also likely to rise to pay for the needs of an aging population. This could also trigger more inflation.
  • Employers will need to pay higher salaries as they compete for a dwindling supply of workers, especially for services that cater to seniors, like health care. The added inflationary pressure will likely cause the price of goods and services to rise.

Sound farfetched?

Not at all, according to forecasts from leading political scientists and economists, such as those printed in recent books from George Friedman and Jacques Attali, and from national and state demographers, such as Minnesota State Demographer Tom Gillaspy. In fact, the above scenario might be an understatement. Some observers expect a return to the stagflation that crippled the economy in the late 70s and early 80s, but for a more extended period of time.

One effective response that political scientists, economists, and demographers all agree on is to attract more, more, and more immigrant labor.

Immigrants can provide the specialized skills we need to replace retiring engineers and researchers, executives and managers. They can fill vacant positions for doctors, nurses, and aides in health care facilities and nursing homes. They can also provide the manual labor needed to harvest the fields and operate factories.

Like it or not, within the next 10 years we'll not only be begging immigrants, legal and possibly illegal, to stay, we'll be begging them to live here and help us keep the country's economy afloat.

If we keep passing laws like Arizona's, what kind message will this send?

Could it add up to a record of hostility that causes workers we need from India, from Eastern Europe, from Latin America, and from elsewhere to ignore the call to help us prop up our economy when it begins to sag beneath the sheer number of retiring Baby Boomers a few years from now?

(You can learn more about philanthropic communications consultant Paul Bachleitner at his website www.bachwriter.com.)

Today a Black Leader becomes THE leader

A few weeks ago I had the honor of participating in a conversation with other African American leaders in the Twin Cities about what the Obama wins means for Black leadership. All of the participants had been hired by nonprofits in the last year or so and in Minnesota, there are so few African Americans leading nonprofit organizations that it really was a newsworthy occasion.

It was a reflective conversation on the societal impact of Martin Luther King's dream being fulfilled and what it means for us to be able to look our children in the eye and tell them that if they work hard anything is possible (and really mean it). While I enjoyed the conversation, I yearn for the day when 5 African American nonprofit leaders being hired in the same year isn't news. I look forward to a time when Obama isn't seen as just a symbol of hope for African Americans but as a sign of fulfilled promise for ALL Americans.

I, like many others, will shed a few tears today because of the visible reminder that we have come so far. I will remember those that worked so hard to make sure that African Americans could vote and didn't live to see the day when it all came full circle. I will make sure that my children see every moment and know that their parents had a small part in breaking down the thickest glass ceiling around.

Then I'm going to put away the party hats and get back to work because the country needs more than self-congratulating. We need universal health care, a thriving economy, and an education system that ensures that many more are qualified for the highest office in the land. Barack Obama can't do those things alone, luckily he is humble enough and an experienced enough organizer to know that without reading my blog post:) He has launched Organizing for America to harness your energy and to make sure that real change happens. I hope you answer the call with me.

Democracy in Action

Minneapolis St. Paul is hosting the Republican National Convention this week. The influx of political junkies is intended to jumpstart our local economy and prove to the world that Minnesota is not just flyover country anymore. I'm not sure if either of those things will happen but I have been impressed with how local community activists are using this as an opportunity to merge art and political discourse to create a variety of community building events, including the UnConvention. A non-partisan collective of citizens and cultural institutions, The UnConvention provides a forum for promoting the democratic and free exchange of ideas during and after the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota from September 1-4, 2008. My favorite project by far is the My Yard Our Message project.

My Yard Our Message is a user-created yard sign project, launched in conjunction with the United States presidential election. The project is divided into three phases: in June 2008, artists and designers were invited to submit political yard sign designs exploring ideas about what it means to actively participate in a democracy. Beginning July 1, with design submitted, and a month-long public voting process began, where browsers could cast votes for their favorite yard signs. And now that the citizenry has spoken, the top 50 vote-getting designs are available for individual purchase.

In addition, the Walker Art Center and mnartists.org will print the winning yard signs and place them in neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities metro area, including those immediately surrounding the site of the Republican National Convention.