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Monday, June 4, 2012

Visions of the Future

The future will not necessarily look like the past.  Michael Barone writes of "inflection points" at which trends change.
Since 1990, Americans have been moving out of California to other states in large numbers. The Golden State’s population growth in the last two decades has reached the national average only because of Latin and Asian immigration.

That immigration, to California and elsewhere, is one of the two big demographic trends that has reshaped the country over the last 40 years. The other is the movement of vast numbers of people from high-tax states in the Northeast and industrial Midwest to lower-tax and more economically vibrant states elsewhere.
Both these movements have halted, at least temporarily. American mobility is near an all-time low. As in the Depression of the 1930s, people tend to stay put in hard times. You don’t want to sell your house if you’re underwater on your mortgage.
And immigration has plunged. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that from 2005 to 2010, more people have moved from the United States to Mexico than the other way around. I suspect reverse migration is still going on.
The question is whether those trends will resume when — if? — good times return.

My prediction is that we won’t ever again see the heavy Latin immigration we saw between 1983 and 2007, which averaged 300,000 legal immigrants and perhaps as many illegals annually.
Mexican and other Latin birth rates fell more than two decades ago. And Mexico, the source of 60 percent of Latin immigrants, is now a majority-middle-class country.
And average Americans do not think that the economic future will necessarily be as good as the economic past. Gallup reports:
Nearly six in 10 Americans are currently dissatisfied with the opportunity for the next generation of Americans to live better than their parents. Older Americans are particularly unhappy on this question, but on balance, the majority of young adults are negative as well.
The idea of America as a place where citizens can rise above their economic position at birth depends partly on an economic system that rewards people based on effort and merit -- not race, class, title, or other social barriers -- and partly on Americans' willingness to make a serious effort to succeed. Americans themselves currently have doubts about both aspects of that equation.
Fifty percent of U.S. adults are satisfied with "the opportunity for a poor person in this nation to get ahead by working hard"; 48% are dissatisfied. Satisfaction with "Americans' willingness to work hard to better themselves" is similarly mixed, with 52% satisfied and 45% dissatisfied.
Joel Kotkin suggests that there is good reason for bad vibes:
Even America, traditionally a beneficiary of European woes, seems to have turned on its young. College debt is crushing many young people with degrees—particularly those outside the sciences and engineering—that are not easily marketable. The spiking number of people in their 30s working as unpaid interns reflects this erosion of opportunity. This has happened even as the price tag for college has shot up; 94 percent of students who earn a bachelor’s degree now owe money for their educations, compared to 45 percent two decades ago. Here’s a tribute to futility: today a majority of unemployed Americans age 25 and older attended college, something never before seen.

Governmental priorities here continue to favor boomers and seniors over the young. For a generation, transfer payments have favored the elderly, a trend likely to accelerate as the boomers continue retiring and demand their due. According to Brookings, America spends 2.4 times as much on the elderly as on children.