US dropped ball on politics, population growth

Political scientists assess a nation’s level of success by looking at its geography, natural resources, political culture, and population dynamics. Successful countries typically have a favorable geographic location, easy access to natural resources, an established democratic political tradition, and a young, well-educated workforce.

Twenty years ago, the United States enjoyed these four indicators of success. This is why we were considered the most important nation on earth and why other countries looked to us for inspiration and leadership.

Fast forward to 2022 and we can clearly see things have changed. And not for the better. While we still enjoy our same geographic advantages and no shortage of natural resources, we have dropped the ball on the political and demographic fronts. Both, by the way, problems of our own making.

It’s no secret that our current political environment is a trash can fire. More The Jerry Springer Show than The PBS News Hour. More PT Barnum than James Madison. A clown car of indignation shelled out in pursuit of a garish spectacle, and all overseen by carnival barkers posing as statesmen. A mess. Turning the situation around will require moderation and goodwill, both of which are in short supply these days.

Then there’s the population…or lack thereof.

The twin drivers of population growth are rising birth rates and immigration. In our case, both are declining largely due to the choices we’ve made over the past few decades.

Birth rates are falling because young people are delaying parenthood or giving it up altogether. And the reasons are quite obvious and understandable. Personal debt, lack of affordable childcare, stingy parental leave policies, poor access to health care, and the country’s continued social and political uncertainty (see above) all play their part. All of this points to a society that often pays homage to parents and parenthood, but also can’t bring itself to actually support them.

To add to the numbers crisis, our immigration system is broken with a large minority of the population openly hostile to both immigrants and immigration. Even legal immigration. Xenophobia, demographic angst and outright racism are all at play here. Apparently the “bad people” who don’t like or love us are now looking to get in.

Our former president expressed this sentiment very clearly when he thought “this nation needs more Norwegians and less people from s___hole countries”. Since more than 95% of potential immigrants come from the developing world and not from Scandinavia, we have an immigration problem on our hands. But then isn’t that the intention?

Nations need a constant and lasting way to replace their numbers. It helps economies thrive and, in our case, supports an aging population that has come to expect a generous tax-funded social safety net.

Without a repeated infusion of new workers, this social contract simply collapses. Without these young workers, who will build your homes, treat your illnesses, care for you in your nursing home and grow your food? Who will pay for your Social Security, Medicare, and Disability insurance in your declining years?

Barring another unlikely baby boom, immigration remains the only other way to augment our declining population. And that means comprehensive immigration reform.

This is not new because 20 years ago former President George W. Bush, with strong bipartisan support, envisioned such an agenda by revamping our immigration system to make it both humane, legal and consistent. . The program was shot down, however, after anti-immigration groups chose to leave in place a broken immigration system that survives to this day as equally inhumane, unequal and inconsistent.

Contrary to what its detractors say, a comprehensive immigration reform is not a blanket amnesty. This implies legal entry. Such a program would include a way for new entrants to apply for a pathway to citizenship if they wish. For those who just want to work here temporarily and eventually return home, having a well-vetted guest worker visa program in place would suffice. This could effectively control and standardize the immigration process, making it safer, more predictable and simpler.

Revisiting the concept of implementing a common-sense immigration policy would not only fit with our tradition of welcoming foreigners fleeing political, religious and economic conflicts. It would also address our declining population that threatens the future success of our nation in the future. A win-win situation.

— Mike Radoiu lives in Staunton and works in Harrisonburg.