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Friday, December 2, 2016

If you think the only reasons to welcome undocumented workers are generosity and compassion toward the “other” — to be welcoming to the stranger — you’re wrong. There is a very selfish reason to offer legal residency to the men, women and children who arrived here without papers: The United States needs all the younger workers we can get.

This country, like much of the industrialized world, is in the midst of a demographic crisis, a slow-moving but quite evident population bust that will erode our standard of living and threaten our way of life. Simply put, we don’t have enough children and young adults.

One of the easiest fixes Congress could make would be to pass an immigration reform plan that makes citizens of the illegal border-crossers among us, most of whom are still working age. That’s why they came.

But members of Congress rarely link the two, partly because the aging population isn’t an easy crisis to discuss. Politicians don’t like to bring it up because it sounds like an attack on senior citizens — the very age group most likely to vote.

But this isn’t a call to start putting the elderly out on an ice floe to speed their demise. Instead, it’s a clear-eyed look at a demographic reality and a proposal to help ease the population bust.

A January report from the Congressional Budget Office laid out the problem: “Beyond 2017,” said the report, “CBO expects that economic growth will diminish to a pace that is well below the average seen over the past several decades. … The projected growth rate … is slower than that during previous economic expansions for several reasons. The first is slower growth in the potential labor force … resulting from long-term demographic trends, namely, the aging of the population and retirement of the baby boom generation.”

That’s about as clear a statement as you can get in a report written by demographers and economists. And if you consider the labor market, you can easily understand it: Pre-retirement age folks fuel the economy — filling jobs, creating businesses, paying taxes. They are the ones who pay for Social Security and Medicare, the entitlement programs for the elderly. (The tax payments of current retirees were spent on earlier generations.)