Most of my friends and colleagues think of me as a fiery activist for immigrant rights. Indeed, I spend as much time as I can organizing and enjoying good demonstrations. But I'd like to confess that I have a secret, quiet quirk. I love demographers. Doug Massey of ...
Most of my friends and colleagues think of me as a fiery activist for immigrant rights. Indeed, I spend as much time as I can organizing and enjoying good demonstrations. But I'd like to confess that I have a secret, quiet quirk.
I love demographers. Doug Massey of Princeton; Audrey Singer of Brookings; Dowell Myers of the University of Southern California; and Chicago’s own Rob Paral of Notre Dame: Superstars and heroes, one and all!
This is not a quirk shared by many, however. The Illinois Republican Party, for one, has failed to get in touch with its inner demographer and this has meant deep pain at the polling place.
I know that demographers are an understated, tweedy sort of crew, and I doubt one will ever make the cover of Rolling Stone. But I've discovered that they have a wondrous ability to shine a light on the future.
On Thursday, May 1, most of the television crews in the country were out filming the latest immigration marches. I was there myself, enjoying the great parade and speaking to the crowds. But that day, on the inner folds of the nation’s newspapers, demographers were using their numbers to paint a picture of what's to come.
Between 2000 and 2007 the nation’s Latino population grew from 35.7 million to 45.5 million, an impressive 27 percent jump. Even more significant was that, in the last two years, 62 percent of this growth has been through births, not immigration. In Illinois, the Latino population has grown by 390,000 during these last seven years, while the white population has declined by 118,000.
Are these numbers a good thing or a bad thing? Well, like everything else, it depends.
Writing from my particular vantage point -- as a 52 year-old baby boomer -- the statistics look pretty good. It turns out that the average white American is 40.8 years old and the average Hispanic is 27.8 years old. Dowell Myers points out that currently there are some 23 seniors for every 100 workers. However, 20 years from now (when I'm 72), the ratio will have changed drastically to 41 seniors for every 100 workers! The answer to the old Beatles song about "who will feed me when I’m 64" is already clear – Latino immigrants and their children. In addition, undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $7 - $8 billion a year into the Social Security Trust Fund and a recent report by the Social Security Administration credits them with reducing the long term deficit by 15 percent.
Again, from where I sit, these demographic trends look great.But if I were a GOP politician in this state, I might feel differently.
Unfortunately for Illinois Republicans, they continue to allow their party to be defined by anti-immigrant bellowing from the likes of Jim Oberweis, the perennial candidate who recently lost the seat vacated by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Perhaps if Oberweis had used his millions to hire himself a demographer, he would have been warned that over 29 percent of the 14th Congressional District is now made up of immigrants and their children.
Since 2002, Republicans in Illinois have lost seven statehouse seats and one Congressional seat in areas that have large concentrations of immigrants. New suburban Democrats have names like Hernandez, Crespo, and Chapa la Via.
But in the General Assembly, DuPage Republicans like Harry Ramey and Dennis Reboletti keep banging the anti-immigrant drum. They too appear to have no demographer on staff to warn them about Illinois’ changing electorate. For example, during the three years from 2002 through 2004 there were 80,000 new naturalized citizens in Northern Illinois. Since 2004, this number has increased by 56 percent, with 126,000 new applications for citizenship!
So until the Illinois GOP catches my demography bug, their numbers will continue to decline. It's a pity, really. Demographers could help them set good immigrant policy in education, identify good investments to be made in English learning, and identify gaps in our workforce to be filled with strategic training. Plus a talented demographer is a great thing for every politician, because THEY KNOW HOW TO COUNT!
Joshua Hoyt is the Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
"How The Democrats And The DCCC Finally Got Immigration Right," March 16, 2008.