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By The Gonzales Group

RISMEDIA, July 24, 2008-There are two stories now being told about immigration and the future of America. Each has some basis in fact, although one is based on newer trends and is more optimistic than the other. These stories differ in their answers to three crucial questions: whether immigrants to the United States are assimilating into American society, whether they are progressing economically over time, and how important immigrants are to the U.S. economy.

The pessimistic story – in which immigration is portrayed as increasing dramatically and producing a growing population of unassimilated foreigners – draws upon older evidence. But more recent data and analysis suggest a far more positive vision of our immigrant future. Immigration has not only begun to level off, but immigrants are climbing the socio-economic ladder, and will become increasingly important to the U.S. economy as workers, taxpayers, and homebuyers supporting the Baby Boomer generation.

The following is from a report drawn from Dowell Myers’s new book, “Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America” (Russell Sage Foundation, 2007). Dowell Myers, Ph.D., is a specialist in urban growth and development, with expertise as a planner and urban demographer. Professor Myers is an academic fellow of the Urban Land Institute and a member of the Governing Board of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. He has published recent articles in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Demography, American Sociological Review, and Housing Policy Debate.

Among the findings of this report:

1) The Story Behind the Numbers: Immigration is Slowing Down, Not Speeding Up:

Immigration had been accelerating up until about 2000, but since then the annual flow has declined in the U.S. as a whole and in most states. Nonetheless, some alarmists suggest that immigration is rising and continues at record levels by averaging the years from 1995 to 2006 and disguising the downturn.

2) Indices of Assimilation:

In places where immigration is a new event, most immigrants are newcomers and are therefore less assimilated. However, in locales where immigrants are longer settled, such as California, they have achieved much greater socioeconomic advancement. For example, in California:

– The share of Latino immigrants who are homeowners rises from 16.4 % of those who have been in the U.S. for less than 10 years to 64.6% of those who have been here for 30 years or more.

– English proficiency more than doubles from 33.4 % of those who have been in the U.S. for less than 10 years to 73.56% of those who have been here for 30 years or more.

The pessimistic outlook on immigrant assimilation is more commonly found in states where immigration has only recently begun to increase, but such a new experience does not afford a reliable projection of the future.

3) Aging America

Failure to examine how much immigrants typically advance over time leads to false conclusion that they are trapped in poverty and impose an economic burden on society. Moreover, U.S. society is itself changing, and the aging of the Baby Boomer generation will create growing demand for younger workers. The ratio of seniors (age 65 and older) to working age adults (25 to 64) will soar to 67 % between 2010 and 2030. Immigrants and their children will help to fill these jobs and support the rising number of seniors economically. At the same time, immigrant homebuyers are also crucial in buying homes from the increasing number of older Americans.

Immigrants will clearly be important in leading us out of the current housing downturn.

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