Capitol Hill

The missing piece

A debate about border security and how best to reform our dysfunctional immigration system has raged in Congress, the media and town hall meetings across the U.S. during the past two years. However, it has lacked a dispassionate, honest appraisal of the demographic trends confronting the U.S.

Fixing our immigration system is a thorny proposition and more difficult if a key piece of the puzzle remains missing. Until U.S. legislators realize the country has a ticking demographic time bomb, this puzzle never will be solved.

Demographic time bomb

Two incompatible trends are emerging as the native-born work force grows older. First, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the annual growth rate of those 55 years old and older to grow at four times the rate of the overall labor force during the next decade; this group will leave the labor force at escalating rates. In contrast, the annual growth rate of those between the ages of 16 and 54 will be fairly flat. Second, the U.S. economy keeps generating high labor demand for industries characterized by jobs that do not require high levels of education. BLS reports 98 percent of projected employment growth between 2002 and 2012 will be in these industries. BLS also expects employment in all occupations to rise by 21 million jobs between 2002 and 2012. But because of changing demographics and worker retirements, there will be 56 million job openings during the decade, or an average 2.6 job openings for each net additional job.