US Experiencing Concerning Population Decline, But There May Be An Easy Solution

The United States birth rate has taken a noticeable drop, and the overall population has gone into decline, in order to alleviate the problem, economists are suggesting increasing immigration rates.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Published

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Countries all over the world are experiencing lower birth rates, which leads to population decline. And unfortunately, the United States is not immune from this troubling trend. However, some economists have proposed a solution to this news – increasing immigration.

Their proposal comes at an interesting time in the U.S., where massive surges at the southern border have sparked heated debates. So, the suggestion to increase immigration when countless border towns are struggling to handle record-high illegal crossings is risky. And it may spark some spirited discussions on Capitol Hill, which may or may not be productive.

But why have economists reached this conclusion in the first place? It all goes back to the bad news about the birth rate. We need to understand why it causes a population decline and why this is a problem.

NPR spoke with Lant Pritchett, a developmental economist, and Tara Watson, an economist at the Brookings Institution, about this question. Pritchett believes “falling birth rates could upend economies.” Watson agrees with this assessment.

Both Pritchett and Watson also believe immigration is the solution. The reason is that “Slowing birth rates in the developed world are resulting in aging populations and smaller workforces. But in parts of the developing world, the youth population is still growing, and some countries are struggling to create enough jobs for an expanding working-age population.”

So, they postulate that the best way to combat a population decline in the U.S. is to encourage immigration from countries with too many workers. A third economist, Michael Clemens, believes the South Korean model is ideal. They have the lowest birth rate in the world (0.79 children per woman), so the country relies on immigration to combat labor shortages.

But they don’t allow just any form of immigration. Instead, South Korea taps into the growing pool of migrant workers. Clemens and Pritchett believe this is the best avenue forward for the United States.

That is not a conclusion Watson agrees with. She told NPR, “‘It’s not easy to make temporary migration work in a way that’s not exploitative.’ Part of the problem, she said, is most temporary work options are ‘tied to a specific employer, and that gives that employer a lot of discretion over your work environment and really limits the worker’s ability to advocate for themselves.'”

Additionally, Watson firmly believes that increasing the number of migrant workers will ultimately not help combat our population decline. So, she feels we need to overhaul our legal immigration process. However, that is possible without jumping significant political hurdles.

And one of the main sticking points is that most eligible workers are from Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Clemens, “The opportunities for lawful migration of Africans are extremely constrained [in the U.S.]. And the main route into the U.S. right now for Africans is the diversity visa.”

“That visa is vastly oversubscribed for every visa that’s given … Again and again, politicians have proposed eliminating that entirely,” he continued. In other words, there is not currently a viable way to accomplish what Pritchett and Watson believe is the best path forward. That may ultimately pose bad news for the U.S. economically, but only time will truly tell.