Immigration changes will change retirement system
By Tara Bahrampour, The Washington Post
For Marcelo, a construction worker who lives in Silver Spring, Md., the way he will live out his old age will probably depend on the details of an immigration reform plan that a group of U.S. senators intends to unveil soon.
Marcelo, an undocumented immigrant who moved to the United States in 1999, and his wife, an undocumented house cleaner, have no retirement savings, although both have paid taxes since arriving from their native Bolivia.
An immigration reform package is likely to include a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom already file tax returns and pay into the Social Security trust fund. Now, as the imminent retirement of 78 million baby boomers puts Social Security on a steady course toward depletion, some experts are debating whether legalizing the undocumented and encouraging immigration will help shore up the system with tax contributions or drain it by adding more beneficiaries to the rolls.
A low birthrate and a disproportionately large population of aging baby boomers have created a top-heavy ratio of retirees to working-age Americans, with too few younger workers to support government benefits at current levels.
A 2012 Social Security Administration report estimated that, on balance, adding more immigrants would give a slight boost to Social Security, since the population of workers would rise sooner than the population of beneficiaries.
But the boost is not large. Currently, about 1 million immigrants a year come to the United States; whether this number stays the same or increases to 1.37 million, the fund will be depleted around 2033, the report said, noting that the fund gets a .07 percent gain for every additional 100,000 immigrants.
Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports limits on immigration, said America's immigrants are not young or fecund enough to shore up the system.
"If the immigrants all came at 20 and had seven or eight kids, you would see more of a difference," he said. The average immigrant arrives at age 30, and immigrant women have, on average, 2.1 children, according to the Pew Research Center.
Camarota also said immigrants tend to be poorer than native-born Americans and are therefore more reliant on a wide range of public services. n