hamada46_BRYAN R. SMITHAFP via Getty Images_immigration BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images

America’s Immigration Calculus

For both historic and economic reasons, the United States should continue to rely on immigration. But there is always political pressure to restrict it in order to protect incumbent groups’ welfare. President Joe Biden’s administration faces a formidable task in balancing these interests.

NEW HAVEN – After Donald Trump’s 2016 US presidential election victory, Yasushi Akashi, a former under-secretary-general of the United Nations, invited me to lunch in Tokyo, at a club near the Akasaka district. “In a decade or two, US demography will change so that it will be impossible to neglect the voice of the country’s non-white people,” Akashi said to me. “This election may be the last chance for white people to resist this change in the tide.”

Incidentally, the club where we met was owned by a zaibatsu (business conglomerate) family that, at least at the time, did not admit women as members. But while a gender barrier exists in both Japan and the United States, America must also contend with long-standing and systemic racial inequality, as well as a related and increasingly polarized immigration debate.

The US, of course, is a country of immigrants; even the first Native Americans are believed to have arrived from Asia across what is now the Bering Strait. In 2019, 28.4 million of the 166.3 million people in the US civil labor force, or 17%, were foreign-born. Those immigrants help to counter the labor shortage resulting from America’s relatively low birth rate, as well as a lack of highly skilled US workers. They also stimulate the labor market by adding diversity to America’s human capital.

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