Let’s take a closer look at Ted C. Fishman's new book, Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World's Population and How It Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival and Nation Against Nation.
(IMPORTANT: At this moment, Google has the entire book up for free, at http://books.google.com/books?id=UZMvbAjwjPIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Shock+of+Gray&source=bl&ots=qc-foXW9S9&sig=cbltXejIJ8uoVcF1CKWm9LyeF94&hl=en&ei=X2q_TJuKLtGLswbf-421DQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false )
This book could not have been released at a better time.Think about it -- around the globe, populations are aging, and soon many countries will have more old people than young people. Last week, the French took to the streets in huge protests over the government raising the retirement age. At almost the same time, Britain dismantled government programs across the board, eliminating almost a half million jobs much to the shock of many. We're facing an election in which many are expected to vote in favor of reducing -- or eliminating -- entitlements for the old and the disabled, in favor of (supposedly) making life easier for the middle-aged, middle-income family. (Whether that equation would work or not is yet to be seen but I don't want to go there, at the moment.)
It’s entitlements that are at issue here, and most of those entitlements are pseudo-sacred programs set aside for those no longer in the workforce due to age or disability. People don't want to fund programs for those not contributing to the tax base, only eroding it. For those of you who missed reading excerpts from Shock of Grey published in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, here are a few quotes (in italic) that appear to support my belief that the success of this country lies in its ability to attract immigrants, especially young, skilled ones. The world’s population is aging … the number of older people is expanding faster than the number of young. China’s youthful labor force thus helps the country maintain its low-cost economic ecosystem and attract foreign investment that seeks the higher returns a “younger” economy offers, whether or not any particular pot of foreign money goes to employ young people.We decry the fact that US companies – including Microsoft, Apple, HP, Ford, for example – have moved at least some of their manufacturing to younger countries (China and India, for example), dumping their older US workers along the way. Because they must satisfy shareholders, corporations move jobs so they can offer the same service/merchandise for the same price. We lose jobs, in this exchange, but maintain our ability to buy goods cheaply from younger countries. US companies thrive, even if some of their former employees don’t. The US consumer is happy about getting cheap goods, but not happy about a high rate of unemployment and increasing national debt. Around and around we go, shortchanging one segment of society to augment another.
The population of nearly every developed country is expected to shrink before midcentury. Young countries like China will be the countries that in the not-distant future go shopping for younger workers in younger places [like Africa and South America]. Those places will be transformed by satisfying an older China’s needs.
[The US] is subject to the same two big trends — longer lives, smaller families — that are aging much of the world’s populations, but we are not growing old as fast as countries in East Asia and Western Europe. Our median age will climb only 3 years, to 40, by 2050, a rate slowed by the arrival of young immigrants, including millions from Latin America.
China will be older than the United States within a generation, making it the first big national population to age before it joins the ranks of developed countries. One of China’s biggest fears, expressed repeatedly in public pronouncements, is that it will grow old before it grows rich.
Power rests on how willing a country is to neglect its older citizens.
You might want to read that last line again.
According to Fishman, our older, unemployed workers can blame their predicament (that is, the loss of their jobs before they were ready to retire, and the threat of a reduction in their government-supported retirement benefits) on their own opportunity to live longer than their parents and grandparents, thanks to expanded public health programs, literacy and other life-extending practices. They may blame immigrants all they want, but immigrants are not the problem. Living long, is.
Still want to go after immigrants?
If we want to live long lives, enjoy and maintain some level of comfort in life, we better kiss every immigrant we see for coming here and keeping US businesses flush with talent. All those employed green-carded workers pay into Social Security, Medicare and the general fund, while they keep the economy clicking (or slogging) along.
I thank my Albanian physical therapist, the French hospice nurse who took care of my mother in her last days, the Thai restaurant owner in our town, my friend’s Moldovan beautician, my nephew’s Mexican-engineer wife, a Russian doctor I know and all the Jamaican migrant workers who keep our local orchards and fields in production. Without them, we’re screwed. Our own children either don’t have the talent or the inclination to take on some of these jobs, so thank goodness there are others who do.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, if young people from young countries aren’t willing to come here to work and pay into entitlement funds, our businesses will fail. Just ask IBM, HP and Microsoft. They’ve already figured out that they must move overseas to make it easier to recruit top talent in China, India and Mexico. When they open plants in China, they also get a big break on how much they pay toward employee benefits. So it's a win/win solution for business, a lose/lose solution for US elders and families.
Remember: If more of our big companies fail, not only will our senior citizens lose entitlements, but more of OUR young people will leave to find opportunities elsewhere.
It's hard enough to be old and poor, but imagine losing your children and grandchildren on top of that? My daughter-in-law's parents did, and they're heartbroken. I certainly sympathize.
Our kids haven't left (yet) but we know a handful of young people who have already gone to China, Japan, Argentina and other places, to work for big US companies with offshore facilities.
Want to keep your kids and grandkids in this country? Then support immigration reform that makes it easier for talented young people from other lands to come here to live and work.
If they come here, our kids are less likely to have to go there.
Otherwise, you may find yourself looking for Waldo thousands of miles away, just like part of our family does:
First let me say I am not an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. I'm from a typical American family, born and bred in the USA.
But, like most Americans, many of my ancestors were not born here.
The first to come from Europe were French Protestants. That was about 350 years ago. To make it easier to get into the New World, they moved briefly to Holland and stayed long enough to establish citizenship so they could sail to New Amsterdam with Dutch papers. Without those documents, they would have been diverted to French North America (Canada), where they may have been persecuted for their religion (think Evangeline). No dummies, these folk. They'd already figured out how to work the immigration system.
The Desmarées had at least a dozen children and, as adults, they settled up and down the Hudson River. The line I'm related to bought a huge tract of land along the west side of the Hudson River from the Lenape Indians. It was once called the French Patent, but now is known as Bergen County, NJ. If you were a Sopranos fan, I believe the family home was set somewhere in northern Bergen County.
Twice that I know of, my line of this huge family moved west to settle on land the US Government had taken from Native Americans. After the Revolutionary War, my group moved from New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania then to Kentucky, to homestead land they received as veteran's benefit for military service. The natives didn't take to the idea, and attacked the settlers, mercilessly. A number were scalped, raped and kidnapped. Eventually, they moved north as a group and settled on the other side of the Ohio, River, in Indiana.
Then, in 1894, their descendants moved from what-is-now Leavenworth, Kansas to western Oklahoma in the last Oklahoma Land Run. My great-grandmother drove one wagon with five or six of her children (including my infant grandfather), and the oldest daughter had the rest of the 11 children in a separate wagon. Both women took off from the starting line -- at the signal of a gun shot -- to meet my great-grandfather, who waited near the stakes he had set to claim their parcel of land. That spot is now jiust outside Woodward, OK.
Both of these mini-migrations were perfectly legal and accepted by society, but talk about immigrants taking over the natives' jobs! What about their jobs and their land?
Another group came over in 1785. They looked for terrain similar to what they knew back home in the Old Country, which fell on either side of the southern Rhine. These people found what they were looking for in a section of the Appalachians known as Little Alsace, which stretches south from Pennsylvania through the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia. Many descendants of those folks are still there.
The newbies in my family came over from what-is-now Germany in 1838. All members of the same Lutheran church, they had a hellish time getting here and finding a place to live. After crossing the Atlantic and landing in Baltimore, they rafted up the C&O Canal (right past a house I once lived in, in Georgetown, DC). From Harper's Ferry, they portaged to the Ohio River, then rafted another 500 miles west. When they left that river they walked north IN the White River to keep from getting lost in the thick forest. Eventually, they stumlbed a nice spot, cleared the trees and founded a town in what-is-now Indiana (think John Mellencamp). I'm not sure how they were able to claim this land, or what they had to do to get into this country, but I believe the US was advertising in Europe for people willing to migrate to sparsley populated areas, including the Western Reserve.
Along the way, several adults in that group took sick and died while they were out on the ocean. At least three more were washed off the rafts. Once established in Indiana, my dad's greatgrandparents lost three of their eight children to malaria. Tied to their roots, they took some abuse from people who had already settled in that area, because they wouldn't give up their language or customs, according to one of my dad's cousins. After what they went through, I doubt they cared.
My current husband’s family came here from Germany in the Great Migration of the 1880-1890s. They settled near New York City so were able to assimilate quickly, although the family still follows many ethnic traditions. My former husband’s people arrived from Russia in 1917, weeks before the onset of that country's bloody revolution. Since they were Jews, they probably would have perished, had they stayed.
Remember, these were all immigrants who moved here to give their children a better life than they would have had back home. For the most part, those immigrants' dreams came true. But, what happened between 1666 and 2010 to turn a good number of descendants of these brave and adventurous souls into fearful and rigid people anxious to slam shut the gate to others, I can't explain. I have more relatives leading the charge to "Take Back America" than I care to mention.
I can only tell you that my husband and I are delighted that newcomers to the US have married our kids, our nieces and nephews, our cousins and our cousins' children (following all the laws of all countries involved, of course). Over the last decade, we’re so lucky to have expanded our clan with the addition of some terrific young men and women from Germany, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain, South Africa and Columbia, who are keeping the family moving forward. As I said, a typical American family.
We're not alone.
In the last few years, some of our closest friends have gained sons-in-law and daughters-in-law from Australia, Mexico, Ireland and Japan. Others have watched their grown children move to China, Japan and England for career opportumities. (Imagine that!). It’s entirely possible some will stay abroad for many years and never come back.They might marry citizens of those countries, or even bring their spouses back to the US. Or not.
To us, the recent uptick in immigration has brought us and our friends grandchildren we otherwise would not have had. Mixing cultures has given these adorable children the advantage of multiple languages spoken at home, a panoply of traditions to learn and enjoy, and love and attention from family around the globe. To us, opening our borders to immigrants has meant a stronger family, as well as more opportunities for our kids and grandkids. It's as if we're keeping the tradition going, in honor of those who came before.
How lucky can we get?
So, it’s with this overview that I reproduce a recent op-ed from The Washington Post, written by the former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Do you believe any of the following?
1. Immigrants take jobs from American workers.
2. Immigration is at an all-time high and most new immigrants came here illegally.
3. Today’s immigrants are not integrating into American life like past waves did.
4. Cracking down on illegal border crossings will make us safer.
5. Immigration reform cannot happen in an election year.
If you do, click "Read More" below on the right, and read an explainer written by someone with first-hand knowledge and understanding of the issues.