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Noah Smith

American Prosperity Depends on a Nonwhite Future

Without immigration, mostly of Hispanics and Asians, economic growth will falter.
This time it counts.

This time it counts.

Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

If the U.S. economy is going to prosper, it needs to keep taking in immigrants. Fertility is below replacement levels, and no country has discovered a way to raise native birthrates. That means that immigration is necessary for the survival of the Social Security system and the solvency of pension funds. Immigrants will allow small cities to grow and expand their tax bases, instead of shriveling into ghost towns. Immigrants support the housing market and the stock market. They take care of elderly Americans and provide invaluable skills for U.S. corporations. Without continued robust immigration, the U.S. population will shrink and gray, and the country will start having the same problems as aging societies like Japan, South Korea, and East Europe.

But in order to keep immigration going, the country needs to accept that most new immigrants won’t be white. And that means that the U.S. is now being forced to face up to the issue of increasing diversity for the first time since the immigrant wave of the early 20th century. Today, the old racial dichotomy of white and black is gone, as Asians and Hispanics join the mix. Some on the right fear this change, and worry that it will lead to ethnic balkanization, or a breakdown in the social fabric. But a steady drumbeat of new data should reassure people that this isn’t happening -- instead, the U.S. is handling diversity better than many seem to think.