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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Galston: Why Immigration Reform May Become An Easier Sell

In  his Wall St. Journal column, “Biden’s Slow-Growth Budget Gamble,” Brookings Institution Senior Fellow William A. Galston, author of Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy, writes:

According to a recent CBO report, the principal driver of slow growth since 2008 has been a sharp slowdown in the growth of the labor supply. As baby boomers joined the workforce, the annual increase in labor supply averaged more than 2%, peaking at 2.5% between 1974 and 1981. As late as the 1990s, annual labor-force expansion averaged 1.2%. But as the population aged and baby boomers began to retire, annual increases fell to 0.5% between 2008 and 2020, a figure that the CBO expects to fall to 0.4% in 2021-25 and 0.3% in 2026-31.

The distant future looks no brighter. The total fertility rate needed to maintain a stable population is about 2.1 children for every woman. In 2020 the U.S. rate dropped to 1.64, the latest in a long decline. The workforce of the 2030s and 2040s could be smaller than today’s, a prospect that other advanced economies are also facing, including China.

The other main driver of economic growth—output per worker—has been less predictable. Annual increases averaged 2.3% between 1950 and 1973, fell to 0.7% between 1974 and 1981, then surged to 2% in the 1990s before falling back to about 1.3% in 2001-20.

Galston argues that ” international experience suggests that there is little government can do to increase birthrates. But there is much that can be done to improve labor-force participation. Government can make it easier for women to remain in the workforce, for those formerly incarcerated to re-enter it, for young adults not bound for college to find technical training and for aging Americans to work part time if they choose, among other things.”

But Galston also sees a possible solution to America’s immigration crisis emerging from the labor supply slowdown:

Another strategy is more immigration. We have gone in the other direction in recent years, but immigration policy reforms keyed to the needs of the economy may be easier to sell to a skeptical public than an expanded version of the status quo.

However, Galston warns, “Getting America back to faster growth will take resources and focus. But if growth remains slow, Mr. Biden’s honorable effort to improve the lives of working- and middle-class families may end up hobbled by the well-known difficulties of zero-sum politics.”

One comment on “Galston: Why Immigration Reform May Become An Easier Sell

  1. Victor on

    The two solutions are politically incompatible.

    Increasing domestic labor participation requires progressive policies.

    Increasing immigration turns off conservatives and many moderates, leading to no immigration reform plus no progressive policies.

    Is it really that hard to understand?

    Reply

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