Okay, maybe the sky falling is a bit of an exaggeration. But a new report from the Urban Institute’s Damir Cosic and Richard Johnson does predict doom if we move to the leaner, more skills-based immigration system proposed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue’s (R-Ga.) RAISE Act.
Here’s what they say will happen if the RAISE Act were to become law:
- The Social Security Administration’s unfunded obligations would increase by $1.5 trillion over the next 75 years.
- The fund would go into the red sooner (in 2033, instead of 2034).
- The U.S. labor force would shrink by 2 million workers in 2030, 6 million in 2050, and 8 million in 2070. Fewer workers = fewer people paying into the trust fund.
The first thing to know about economic projections 75 years into the future is that they are as reliable as projections about who will win the World Series in 2093 (although the Cubs will be about due to win another one by then). The world in 2093 will be as unrecognizable to us as 2018 was to people who were making important political and economic decisions in 1943.
Cosic and Johnson’s projections for 2030 is a more realistic time frame. They forecast that our labor force will be 2 million workers smaller than it otherwise might be if we left the current immigration system in place. Assuming that their projections are accurate, it still leaves out other important economic trends. Many economic forecasts predict that we will need many fewer workers, as automation, E-commerce, and globalization eliminate many jobs. A report by Forrester Research last year, predicts that the United States will see a net loss of 10 million jobs by 2027.
Moreover, as Cosic and Johnson concede in their doomsday forecast, the workers who would enter the country under the RAISE Act would likely be more skilled and better prepared to fill the jobs that remain and those that are created. Higher skilled workers tend to earn higher wages and pay more into the system over their careers, thus offsetting some of the loss in revenues that would come with fewer workers.
Finally, the Urban Institute report avoids the point that the Social Security system is an unsustainable Ponzi scheme that needs to be reckoned with. Fewer workers will mean fewer people paying into the system. But it also means there will be fewer people collecting benefits in the future. Conversely, the more immigrants we import to extend the solvency of the trust fund from 2033 to 2034 will mean more people who will expect to collect benefits in 2050.
Reckoning with the structural problems of the Social Security system is a valid concern for policymakers and everyone else. But perpetuating a dysfunctional immigration policy is not the solution.