Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Could a fast-track to citizenship for undocumented workers help sustain Social Security?

Social Security 

For my second reaction paper, I decided to give more thought to Social Security and ways to replenish the trust fund we are currently pulling funds from. As it is, the social security payroll (FICA) tax is not currently drawing in enough money to cover the payments being made every month to those receiving old-age, survivors’, and disability benefits. Of the items discussed in class to increase funding, we considered a small tax increase immediately, a larger tax increase later, or removing the cap on taxes collected on incomes over $118,500 (SSA.gov, 2016). There was also mention of the increase in revenue possible if current undocumented immigrants were allowed a stream-lined process to citizenship, making their incomes taxable. 

After reading a few articles from various sources, I found many economists and politicians agree that allowing undocumented workers to become legal citizens will only further strengthen our economy and Social Security. An article from The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (n.d.), states the Congressional Budget Office believes allowing the 11 billion undocumented workers currently in the United States to become legalized citizens could increase economic growth by 1.3%. The article also cites Social Security trustees as claiming legalizing 100,000 workers would improve the Social Security Trust Fund deficit and quotes Edward Alden, from the Council on Foreign Relations, as saying undocumented workers are currently holding low-wage jobs and giving them a legal status will increase their confidence to look for higher earning employment, thereby contributing more in taxes (NCPSSM.org, n.d). 

But there are people who believe the benefits of higher tax revenues on these workers will be short lived due to the increased number of people who are eligible for benefits later. With this in mind, I searched for a good source on the ages of undocumented workers and found a report from the Department of Homeland Security (2013) showing in the year 2012, 61% of these workers are between the ages of 25-44. This is a high percentage of workers who would have at least 20 years to contribute towards Social Security before receiving benefits if they were legalized. 
I find this information interesting and useful as an additional source to replenish the Social Security Trust Fund. While there are those that support a stream-lined immigration process for both economic and humanistic reasons, there is definite opposition to the idea based on national security concerns. It is an area, I believe, which needs more consideration and scrutinizing to find if it is a valid source of revenue. 

Good essay.  I will point out a couple minor details that do not have bearing on your conclusions. 

 First, I have read that the estimate of 11 million undocumented non-citizen residents in the United States dates back to before the Great Recession (from an estimate made in 2005 or 2006), and that the population may now be much smaller, although the latest Pew Research Center report I could find (from November 3, 2016) suggests 11.1 million is the most accurate current figure. A Census Bureau study discussed in the Atlantic in January of this year reported 10.9 million undocumented residents in 2014. So, my point is that your estimate of 11 million is probably quite accurate, and the higher number that existed here before the Great Recession was about 12-13 million.

Secondly, among the objections to legalizing persons who are here without proper permission and documentation there are many plausible reasons.  Some I'm sympathetic to, and others I reject, although I have not made up my mind and remain neutral on some of these immigration policy disputes.  On one extreme are people who worry that the character of the United States will be changed if too many “non-European” immigrants are allowed in.  Of course, the Hispanics of Latin America (including Mexico) are a mix of indigenous native Americans and Europeans, so not only is this sort of objection stupid (for suggesting that culture exists in blood, or that national character is inherited with genes), it is also ill-informed (since most immigrants are coming from persons with Native-American and European genetic stock, making it ridiculous to call them alien or non-European, since they are neither). On the extreme that I am sympathetic to are the arguments that our population in the USA is too large, given our carbon footprint, and bringing more immigrants here to help us continue to maintain a growing population will harm the planet, and therefore we ought to diminish immigration (but not necessarily eliminate it—I personally would cut it by 40% or so), and we could start by having undocumented American residents return to their nations of origin and apply to return here, giving them favorable consideration if a certain number of American citizens support their immigration applications with testimonials about how these persons have contributed to American society while living here as undocumented residents, but denying them readmission as immigrants if they could not establish that they had contributed to community life and integrated into American society.  Another argument is that even if legalization made sense economically, there are issues of justice here, since many foreign persons would love to come to America, and they are following the rules and applying for permission through the official channels.  Giving amnesty or creating policies to help undocumented residents become citizens quickly allows some people to get away with essentially jumping to the front of the line without waiting their turn.  That makes sense to me, but of course there is a counter-argument based on humanitarian grounds that many of these persons have lived her a long time and established themselves in their communities.  I personally know several undocumented American residents (mostly from Mexico and China) who stand as significant persons in their communities, having lived here for more than a decade (or for a few decades in one case) and naturally I would want these friends to be well-treated by any new immigration policy.

All in all, the idea that allowing a mass immigration of young working-aged immigrants to join our society as Americans and then collect from them sufficient payroll taxes to keep Social Security and Medicare going without increasing FICA taxes does have its appeals.  In fact, I can remember in 1993 making exactly this same argument to Martha Ozawa in a policy course... suggesting that America could always increase payroll taxes by allowing more young immigrants to come here so we did not end up with an inverted population pyramid of many elderly citizens and few working-aged citizens to support them.  Dr. Ozawa thought it was a very intriguing idea, but suggested it was unlikely because Americans would be too anti-immigrant.  And, here we are about 23 years later, and you are making the same point I suggested, and my thought is sympathetic, but I retain some of the same skepticism that Dr. Ozawa showed me.  

No comments: