Thursday, January 5, 2012

Conservative think tank wants more immigrants...

From a 10,000 foot level there are only two primary drivers of economic growth - increases in population, and improvements in productivity.  A recent study by the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute shows how immigration pulls both of these economic levers....
A typical counter-argument is that the only immigrants worth keeping are those who come for advanced degrees because the much larger pool of less educated immigrants may add to economic output in some areas but this benefit is negated by a higher than national average rate of public assistance going to newcomers.   They do participate in welfare programs at a higher rate - 21% of immigrants versus 16% of native born. But they pull themselves out of poverty unlike many native born Americans - the poverty rate of Americans overall is roughly 12% while foreign born is 17%...but for immigrants here 20 years or longer the poverty rate is 9%, significantly less than the national average.

Many are calling for a return to traditional American values use that as an excuse to put up fences.  But in reality we should be doing everything we can to encourage immigration.  With babyboomer retirement accelerating and life expectancy climbing, we need all the help we can get.  When Japan's birth rate slowed below the replacement rate, that country faced 20 years of stagnation.   The same problem will be a significant headwind to rapid growth in China as soon as the one time benefit of urbanization have been accrued.      The lessons are there for the learning and the data is clear - immigration is good - it is also arguably THE core 'American value.'

Q - When are welfare programs consistent with conservative ideology?

A - When they cut costs, strengthen families, and motivate the poor to work. 

This AP article described the tribulations of a California family trying to get back on their feet after a fall in to drug addiction and homelessness.   Both husband and wife have found decent jobs and are working to build a life for their family.  They make use of a California program that subsidizes child care costs for families below a certain income, a program that is on the chopping block in that state.  Without the assistance the equation of work versus full blown welfare becomes a difficult one for the mother.

Looking across the many sites and newspapers that ran the AP article, the typical reader comment has been fairly negative and generally raises one or both of these questions:  1. Why did these selfish irresponsible people have children that require taxpayer support? 2.  Why don't these people leave their children with relatives like we do?   Presumably these comments come from conservatives. 

The largely negative response to this article really shows a serious lack of critical thinking skills and a simplistic view of the conservative agenda. This family is actually doing what an informed conservative would WANT them to be doing. They are not collecting full-fledged welfare and sitting at home. They are not on unemployment. Rather they are both working full time to support their family and taking what amounts to a bridge benefit to get them through until their child can go to public school when this 'handout' will stop. The cost of this relative to the cost of a full welfare benefit is negligible. This is what pro-active anti-welfare, compassionate conservative poverty policy looks like.   We need to take the long view and see things from a total cost perspective. 

This argument of leaving your kids with friends or family misses two important points: 1. Many people are leaving wherever they came from to move to places where they can find work; this a side effect of mobility - no family nearby to help. 2. pre-school is actually incredibly important for preparing a child socially and mentally for 'big kid school' - if you start behind as a kid from a poor family with some issues, you will be hard pressed to catch up - and yes the separation does start that young - leaving their child more likely to be collecting money from the government as an adult.

This is what incremental progress looks like, what trying looks like - and as a country we need to incentivize effort or else face a larger pool on full fledged welfare at a much higher economic and social cost.   Unfortunately the political environment is such that any effort to help the poor is attacked by the right - this is not a winning strategy and I do not believe it reflects the views of most thoughtful conservatives.