Yeah the country is changing. No, you don’t need to be scared.

Some post-election thoughts about the genuine human fears harbored by many people that the country they grew up in is slipping away.

I’ve been thinking post-election about the genuine human fears harbored by many people that the country they grew up in is gone, or at least slipping away. I spoke with many of those men and women on the campaign trail in 2008 and again this year.

These are good people, mostly older and white, who are unsettled and scared by the pace of social change in America. Same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, talk of legalized status for undocumented immigrants—that’s a lot of change to accept within just a few years.  I met some others, too. Consider the liberal Jews of my parents’ generation who sense—accurately, I think–that the coming generation of liberal politicians can read from the hymnal but don’t sway with the music about Israel the way the generation of 1967 and 1973 once did.

It’s an irony of recent history that the conciliatory and calm Barack Obama exemplifies in his person some inexorable and potentially scary political and demographic trends. Some would exploit the accompanying anxieties by challenging the President’s birth certificate. Most people really fear the “otherness” of our coming 21st-century America, not the alleged inauthenticity of our president’s initial paperwork fifty years ago.Whatever your ideological stance, however you might disdain birthers such as Donald Trump, you’d have to be tone deaf not to sympathize at some person-to-person level with millions of people who feel left behind and a little lost.  We liberals would be wise to reach out, not in a spirit of triumphalism but in a more embracing and human way, to simply reassure people that the planet will still rotate despite all the changes we see in American society.  Many of our best values and most important interests are being advanced, not undermined, by the coming of a more liberal and inclusive society.

This morning, I had a meeting at 18th and Ashland Avenue in Chicago, within a neighborhood dramatically redrawn by immigration. The street names here celebrate central Europeans whose countrymen are long gone. It’s easy to snap pictures like the one I took here, and to conclude that urban flight killed this neighborhood. It hasn’t.

I arrived an hour early for my meeting. So I had breakfast in a small café right underneath this graffiti. The owner of this Mexican-Italian restaurant needed to explain the various offerings since I don’t speak Spanish. Maybe 60 years ago, a restaurant menu at this same address might have been written in Polish. My eggs and sausage breakfast was equally good (and equally non-APHA approved). This immigrant community and others are doing more than survive. In many ways, they thrive.

Chicago and our other great cities display the changing face of America. Every day, they become a little less mainstream—if by mainstream you mean the predominantly non-Hispanic Christian and white America of 1960. Every day, these cities become a little more of everything else. Is something lost along the way? Of course. I wish I knew more ways to show people that much is gained, as well. So much that we might be frightened by turns out not to be so scary after all. Crime, teen pregnancy, and many other social indicators look brighter than they did twenty or thirty years ago. 

The 300 square-block area around me faces the usual problems of low educational attainment, unemployment, and crime in our current recession and state fiscal crisis. The neighborhood would face these very same problems—indeed these problems would be much worse–if these immigrants weren’t there. The neighborhood teems with working families, many of whom are moving up the economic ladder. The main threat here is not immigration, but broader economic trends that are tearing the heart out of urban America by curtailing the wages and employment that sustain working-class life.

That’s a problem we must face together. Or it really will tear us apart.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

67 thoughts on “Yeah the country is changing. No, you don’t need to be scared.”

  1. A key point to make in the discussions Harold proposes concerns immigration. Many developed countries are facing a demographic bust — too many seniors drawing benefits without enough younger people to pay all the implied taxes. The saving grace for all those overwhelmingly white American seniors are people with names like Jose and Maria who come to our country seeking opportunity and who raise families here. Without them adding population at the young end of the demographic makeup of our population, those older people who fear them would have much less chance of holding on to the social security and medicare that they receive.

    1. Trying to have more young people than old people is the philosophy of cancer, a demographic Ponzi scheme with terrible environmental consequences. The policy goal should be a managed and anticipated population decline. I’m not opposing immigration, but it should be kept below the level that leads to overall net population growth.

      1. Pretty shrill there Brian, and pretty confused on the facts as well. Immigration per se does not affect the size or age distribution of the planet’s population at all, it’s just moving people around, not raising or lowering their number. If what you are objecting to is people in low income countries emigrating to high-income countries, that again makes no sense in terms of worries about population: birthrates tend to drop when people (especially women) acculturate to developed world norms.

        1. Absolutely wrong. Mexican Americans have a much higher birthrate than Mexicans, for example, and are by far the largest immigrant group. Further, the 1986 amenesty led to a big spike in the Mexican American birthrate. In short, more immigration to the USA means both more people worldwide, and also a transfer of people to one of the most environmentally distructive countries on a per capita basis.

          Further, because native born Americans tend not to want to live around immigrant communities, which usually have higher crime rates and worse schools, immigration also leads to suburbanization and the attendant environmental distruction and higher use of fossel fuels.

          1. The birth rate among Mexican American women is indeed higher than the rate among women in Mexico (though it is down 23% just from 2007-2010 according to the latest Pew report), but why is that relevant to the subject of low-income to high-income country immigration?

            Fifty years ago, immigration from Mexico to the United States would have qualified as movement from low-income to high-income countries (Mexican mothers had an average of nearly 7 children each then, by the way). Today it is not, Mexico is a middle income country with a middle income country birthrate; it’s already had the big drop in fertility that comes with development. Do you believe that when women from low income countries (e.g., Niger, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, East Timor) move to Europe and the U.S., their birthrate rises?

        2. You’ve moved the goalposts Keith. Are we talking about the US or the world?

          As an economic argument internal to the US, it remains a Ponzi scheme to have more young people than old people. As an environmental issue on a global level, moving people from moderate-size per capita environmental footprint to giant-sized environmental footprint does have consequences, and I expect emigration weakens pressure to reduce fertility in source countries.

          And yes, a bit shrill. Sorry. I’m annoyed at immigration activists who ignore the Ponzi scheme aspect of their viewpoint and deny population issues at country or global levels. Maybe Keith doesn’t fit into that category.

          1. “As an economic argument internal to the US, it remains a Ponzi scheme to have more young people than old people.”

            It is essentially inevitable to have more young people than old people, unless your population is utterly imploding, like Japan; Everybody is young before they’re old, and some die before they get old. So in a stable population, there will always be more young people than old people.

          2. Brian: I thought you were talking about the world and not the US. If I misunderstood you, I apologize.

            There is perhaps another miscommunication here. You said

            Trying to have more young people than old people is the philosophy of cancer, a demographic Ponzi scheme with terrible environmental consequences.

            In response to me saying

            too many seniors drawing benefits without enough younger people to pay all the implied taxes.

            “Younger” (note that I didn’t say young) means people younger than senior citizens in my comment. A 55 year old wage earner is younger than a senior citizen who gets a social security check. There is no contradiction between the population of people age 0-65 being larger than the population of people over 65 and the population as whole dropping, indeed this may be the West-European situation right now or soon. If on the other hand you are saying that we should have a policy such that the entire population of a country in the first 6.5 decades of life must be numerically smaller than those in the last decade or two of life, that sounds like China birth management policy on steroids and I don’t buy it.

    2. Without them adding population at the young end of the demographic makeup of our population, those older people who fear them would have much less chance of holding on to the social security and medicare that they receive.

      The planet’s birthrate needs to decrease drastically if we are to continue without standard biology and population dynamics kicking in. That is: we need a soft landing, not a hard landing.

      G20 societies need to figure out how to assuage the legitimate fears of the elderly, while at the same time figuring out a new business model. It is essentially the same issue as we find with, say, water providers – it is hard for many water companies to truly promote reductions when their existence depends upon revenue from water sales.

      1. The planet’s birthrate needs to decrease drastically

        @Dan Staley: The simplest way to do this is to ensure that more women on this planet get adequate educational and vocational opportunities. Not that you are saying this, but restricting immigration is not the relevant concern if reduced world population is the goal.

        1. Ready access to practical, affordable contraception doesn’t hurt matters either, and is not assured in many places.

      2. Assauge the elderly…with Robots.
        Kids can focus on productive stuff (development / manufacture of iHolosphers, jetpacks, teleportation devices, nano-greygoo, etc.), while olds have the caretaking of their Robot nurse. There will be a few “incidents,” but then again, there always are, even with meatspace caretakers.

    3. The problem is that poor immigrants tend to use more money in public services than they pay in taxes. This is especially problematic with illegal immigrants, who often work under the table and thus aren’t paying into Social Security or Medicare (though they still do pay local/state sales tax when they buy things).

  2. The problem for Chicago is that Illinois is currently the number one state in which people are voting with their feet to live somewhere else.

      1. Point taken. Chicago metro area population is growing. But only about half the rate of the rest of the country from 2000 to 2010.

  3. i grew up in a small town in texas with an ethnically diverse population. of the 90 or so students who made up my graduating class about 30 were white, 30 were black, 25 were hispanic, and the remainder were descended from south asian ancestors. while we were together in school there would occasionally be frictions related to race between us but for the most part we acted in solidarity to oppose our perceived oppressors–our parents and teachers. i felt hopeful that through these experiences we would foster a change in the race relations among our community. sadly, with a very few exceptions, my classmates have carried on the tired prejudices traditional to our ethnicities and socio-economic statuses. 30 years have gone by and the one thing i have seen happen to do the most to change racist attitudes has been the development of mixed race marriages and children. i have found among my cohort that it is a lot harder to be casually racist towards one’s grandchildren than to a stranger and the lessons learned in dealing with one’s ethnically different grandchildren and son or daughter-in-law do carry out to ethnically different strangers. i am no longer an optimist about race relations but i am still hopeful.

    1. I grew up in southeast Texas in a town frozen in population at about 100,000 to 110,000. It was an oil town owned by and controlled by 6 or 7 families who did not want the railroad to come in a shake their control. So the railroads went to Houston, which in 1950 was about 500,000 people. Now it’s 6.5 million. The small town remains class-ridden and run by oil families and their tame preachers. The rural parts of Texas state wide are losing population even as the population of the cities and the state increase. What’s happening?

      Texas was a rural agricultural state in 1940 and today most of the population lives in large urban areas. The only thing that remains rural and class-based in Texas is the shrinking rural areas and the politicians.

      Those social changes are the changes every society which industrializes and urbanizes goes through. Ernst Gellner in “Nations and Nationalism” describes the sharp differences in culture between rural low-population density societies and urban industrial and post-industrial societies which we are still changing into in America. Those social changes include less consideration of class, greater demand for more social equality and increased mass education.

      Every industrializing nation has seen children raised in the old culture shocked and frightened by the new modern culture their society is creating around them. This is normal. People learn their culture from family, friends and church (roughly) before they are 10, and from then on find changes in the culture around them to be somehow “wrong.” That’s because the societies standards are changing and the standards of adults change more slowly. This pattern explains old conservatives and young progressives. Each represents the culture they grew up in. There are, of course, individual exceptions.

  4. I find immigration to be a genuinely vexing issue. Vexing because it really does present massive problems and opportunities for society (the demographic shifts in US society are huge, and thus the impact – good and ill – is huge). But also because neither “side” in the political debate seems interested in wrestling with the full-on complexity.

    For example, for some time the Democrats have positioned themselves as the party most concerned with the interest of the urban poor generally and African Americans specifically. All well and good. But permissive immigration policies and lax enforcement of immigration laws allows millions of low-skilled workers to come into the US, settling predominantly in cities. These workers take jobs that otherwise would likely be filled by the urban poor generally and African Americans specifically. This is a simple economic reality. In the absence of the massive wave of Mexican immigration in the past generation Black employment would almost certainly be higher. My own job as a management consultant is not much at risk from the inflow of rural Mexicans into the United States. I pay no “price” for this demographic change, and I benefit from generally richer cultural resources and plentiful of low cost services. But a high-school educated black man or woman faces a labor market where opportunities are scarcer and wagers lower than they would otherwise be.

    But the Republicans are no better. For some time the Republicans have positioned themselves as the party most concerned with the interests of the “respectable middle class.” All well and good. But the influx of younger Mexicans is the only thing pushing back the massive fiscal crisis in social security and medicare. We speak of these as looming problems and not present realities only because so many young people have entered the country in the last generation. And as we struggle through a once-in-a-generation economic downturn that is still largely driven by a housing bubble crisis, the supporters of the fantasy of mass deportation would do well to ask themselves what would happen to residential property values, and thus middle class household net worths, if 10-20 million Mexicans, each of whom (more or less) occupies a bedroom of some sort each night, were to head back to their homeland. There wouldn’t be an existing home mortgage that originated in the last 10 years that would be above water for a decade – maybe 2. And there would scarcely be demand for new construction of either residential or commercial buildings for years.

    On the cultural front, folks on the political left seem oblivious to the impact on social cohesion of rapid demographic shifts. Civilizations can and must change over time, but without a threshold level of shared experiences, cultural references and common group identity they fall apart. The Scandanavian countries that liberals admire so much for their robust welfare states aren’t exactly the most diverse places on earth. And it should be remembered that modern media make it possible for cultural sub-groups to isolate themselves in ways that were not possible in the early 20th century when the US last experienced massive inflows of immigrants.

    But folks on the political right seem to forget how little of what we think of as common, even “traditional” American identity is in fact derived from the culture of English settlers to the Eastern seaboard in the 18th century. One might find Colonial Williamsburg charming, but I doubt that many people at all would want to live in an America that didn’t have African American music, Italian food, Jewish literature, German beer (or to be less trite, German-style research universities), Spanish architecture, and Asian-inspired movies (Star Wars, anyone?). Such a country would royally suck.

    Sigh. We’ll see how the politics of this plays out over the next decade or so. But I’m not entirely optimistic that either party will really advance a program that treats mass immigration as both the tremendous boon and tremendous challenge that it certainly is.

    1. Stephen: This is one of the more stimulating comments I have read in some time. Thanks.

    2. Even the culture of eastern seaboard settlers wasn’t English. There were African slaves and indentured servants that spoke Scots Gaelic ( because their “masters” did) in South and North Carolina into the 19th century. There were several German-language newspapers in Pennsylvania and other colonies. Jews and Catholics arrived in Savannah on the first boat. Quakers and baptists and dissenters and free thinkers of every ilk were, in some cases, hated and despised by certain others, just as any splinter or ethnic group is today.

      The eastern Anglo Protestant “norm” (that never really was) developed later and its myth was solidified in the 1800s when nativist (Anglo) sentiment was at a political peak and new mass media could rewrite history in a singularly dominant way.

      1. GA was a penal colony from the beginning, no? Reading between the lines, is this an implicit slur of Jews and Catholics?

      2. A move to make German the official language of the United States failed by only a few votes, I believe. So not as Anglo as some people now think it was (though maybe Saxon…)

  5. A thoughtful and well-considered post. Yes, we can criticize and even despise some of the more retrograde reactionism we see. Bit the fact is, our society is changing rapidly, and for folks old enough to have 40 or 50 or 60 years of perspective, it can be unsettling. The neighborhood from whichever own family came, Flushing, bears no resemblance to the Irish and Italian neighborhood it was when my father and his siblings were growing up there. It is gone, never to return, and never again to resemble any of the memories that people carry of it. Not better, not worse, just very different. Certainly, we can and should abhor the nastier effects that broad societal change can have on people, but sometimes I think there is also room to recognize that change can be scary, and unsettling.

    1. I don’t know what Flushing was like a generation or 2 ago, but I think it hard to argue that the cuisine there, at least, is not better today.

  6. Yeah, ok, but the demise of independent neighborhood bakeries is very real and extremely troubling.

    1. But in my small Midwestern city new neighborhood bakeries are being opened by recent immigrants – not the same as the ones that were lost, but a happy trend nonetheless.

  7. Agreed with Dan Staley. I’m thinking that processing the pain and loss of our massive cultural and societal transformation – finding mythological balm and creative response – will come in large part from the arts. The novel springs to mind – kind of old school, but the idea’s the same whether it’s a 500 page bildungsroman or epic album. At this point we have no coherent “story,” no common, shared narrative (as noted above) of this experience that both acknowledges and allows acceptance of the sense of loss (that Harold nicely evokes), and opens the door to embracing reality. In fact, I’d say offhand that Mr. Pollack has made a good start of this.

  8. Teen pregancy is down but single parenthood is way, way up. We can’t force people to get married, but the social fabric we all depend on is weakened by the existence of so many families that have an absent fathter. And the families themsleves have much smaller cushions against disaster.

  9. Walther von der Vogelweide, who died in 1230 AD, glooms about change and the miserable young:

    Owê wie jæmerlîche junge liute tuont,
    den ê vil hovelîchen ir gemüete stuont !
    die kunnen niuwan sorgen: wê wie tuont si sô ?
    swar ich zer werlte kêre, dâ ist nieman vrô:
    der jugende tanzen, singen zergât mit sorgen gar:
    nie kein kristenman gesach sô jæmerliche schar.
    nû merkent wie den vrouwen ir gebende stât:
    die stolzen ritter tragent an dörpellîche wât.
    uns sint unsenfte brieve her von Rôme komen,
    uns ist erloubet trûren und vreude gar benomen.

    (Modern Hochdeutsch)
    Wehe, wie kläglich führt sich die Jugend auf, deren Denken und Trachten früher so höfisch war! Sie kennen nur noch ihre Sorgen. Wehe, weshalb tun sie das? Wo ich auch hinkomme, keiner ist mehr fröhlich. Tanzen, Lachen, Singen geht in Sorgen unter. Nie sah ein Christenmensch einen so beklagenswerten Haufen. Beobachtet nur, wie den Frauen ihr Kopfputz steht und wie die hochgemuten Ritter bäurische Kleidung tragen. Wir haben unerfreuliche Briefe aus Rom erhalten: man hat uns das Trauern erlaubt und die Freude restlos genommen.

    Alas, for the young people, how lamentable they are.
    Once they were so courtly, a better crowd by far.
    All they know is worry! Why are they so sad?
    Though I search the world over, not one I find is glad.
    Dancing, laughing, singing are no-where in their creed.
    No Christian ever saw a more pathetic breed.
    Just look at how the ladies bind up their hair;
    Proud knights attired in costumes the peasantry might wear.
    Unlovely, unkind letters have come to us from Rome;
    Distress caused at a distance brings despondency at home.

    (JW: the last line of this free translation is particularly inaccurate. Lit.: ¨They have allowed mourning and taken fun away entirely.¨)

  10. Hello! @Stephen. You have got the very good point that when it comes to immigration neither of the political sides would like to tackle with all implications of the particular policy. I think that acknowledging potential flaws and risks of either immigrationstand is crucial. As you mention the common basis for people to live side by side- “shared experiences, cultural references”- this opinion can be challenged. I understand reservations about it, but there are places in the world where social cohesion or rather a successful multiculturalism is reality despite the fact that communities do not share a common cultural ground. The problem is that we hear from media more about the opposite. I myself worked with people from divided communities and I could see that sharing cultural heritage is not always a presupposition for peaceful living. For this to happen we need right protective laws for all, but also change of fearful attitudes toward the other, which may be more difficult to see happening than passing laws. However, it is not impossible.

  11. >>These are good people, mostly older and white, who are unsettled and scared by the pace of social change in America. Same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, talk of legalized status for undocumented immigrants—that’s a lot of change to accept within just a few years.<<

    Harold, I am white and "older" (69), and I am not one iota unsettled or scared by social change. Same-sex marriage, legalized pot, acceptance of sneak-in immigrants — those are merely steps in the progress of evolution. Why is that so easy for me?

    Well, I had the great good fortune to grow up in Baltimore, Maryland, in the 1950s. I went through elementary school amd junior high in a segregated school system. In 1954 SCOTUS said that's not only wrong, but now it's illegal. And our Governor, Theodore McKeldin, said that's it, the court has spoken, and we're not going to do any of that "all deliberate speed" b.s. From this day forth there is no segregation in Maryland schools.

    So I started going to school with black kids, and nobody caught anything from them, and our high school teams got lots better, so the white families I knew didn't say "Oh, my, I think I'm going to get the vapours, I just don't know if I can handle all this change." Rather, they said "well ain't we sumthin? Those good ol'boys down South oughta pay attention to how we're doing."

    My family, and my neighbors, could easily accept social evolution, because we felt secure in one absolute certainty–there would never be another Great Depression. We had a vast and strong safety net, created by the Roosevelt Administration and perpetuated by every subsequent administration, that kept the Wall Street vultures from turning the rest of us into their roadkill. Glass-Steagall, the FDIC, the anti-trust legislation, the Fed, … We could still have business cycles, but we would never again plunge into the abyss of massive, protracted unemployment and a disastrously bi-polar economic picture. Both political parties believed in that.

    And now I fear for our country, not because my neighbors speak a different language, but because they can't find a job, and their savings have been ravaged, and only the rich are assured of a safe and sane future. And worst of all, one of our two political parties, with considerable power and, for some reason I can't comprehend, with some degree of credibility among a substantial segment of our population, strives with every muscle of their political body to exacerbate that situation, and to return us as quickly and as completely as they can to the nineteen twenties.

    I'm white and I'm old and THAT'S why I can't sleep.

    1. I was fortunate that the (by then) suburban town where I grew up in South Jersey had a fairly substantial (about 7%) black population (dating from sometime in the 1800s) when I was growing up there in the 60s. It meant we went to school with black kids from kindergarten on, and well, they were pretty much like us. Some of them were smarter, others not so smart, sometimes they came to school in their Cub Scout uniforms, and they lived in houses pretty much like ours. It’s kind of hard to be a hardcore racist when you grow up in that kind of environment.

      I’m sure were my dad still alive he’d really be freaking out, but as a 58-year-old gay man I welcome the changes I’ve seen over the years and to be honest I’m astounded at how far we’ve come as a country in the 45 or so years I’ve been aware of these things.

    2. “In United States history, the Gilded Age was the period following the Civil War, running from 1877 to 1893 when the next era began, the Progressive Era. The term was coined by writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, satirizing what they believed to be an era of serious social problems hidden by a thin layer of gold.”

      The current Republican party has blown right past a desire to return to the 1950’s, and the trend in income disparity points solidly to the 1880’s as their goal. (Or maybe the 1060’s, where the new Gilded Age is just a step on the road back to Serfdom.)

  12. Many of our best values and most important interests are being advanced, not undermined, by the coming of a more liberal and inclusive society.

    I am concerned about a society that values “inclusion” over “liberalism” to the extent that it promotes economically and socially destructive forms of affirmative action. I am pretty sure that the unaffected diversity of the south side of Chicago will win in the U.S., as opposed to the showy sensitivity of other parts of the “first world” and the zero-sum bitterness of the third world.” However, I may be wrong.

    On the other hand, I really do value diversity in terms of differences in lived experience between communities, and I do not want cultures that are special to the U.S. to diminish too much. A Mormon homeland. A white southern homeland. A black homeland, I guess. American Indian reservations already exist. Maybe a northern non-Mormon white homeland, but maybe not for reasons too complex for a blog comment.

    1. Preemptively, I know about the South African homelands and am not encouraging apartheid. I am just suggesting something so that these cultures may be preserved. I also know about the U.S. Constitution that would make this scheme pretty much impossible, but whatever.

      1. In a liberal society, it’s up to families and communities to preserve their own culture if they want to, not get the state to hold the culture in place. If a culture is ‘diminished’ because its adherents would rather assimilate, what’s wrong with that?

  13. I don’t know where Harold’s campaign efforts took him–but my sense, just from maps, is that a lot of concern is coming from “rural” vs “urban”: using quotes for both because rural includes a lot of small towns, and there are urban settings that have a lot of the worried people that Harold describes. This is all quite evident in my region (California). Insofar as rural areas are losing population rather than gaining, the experience there would be biased towards one with a lot of people who are living being born there and planning to spend their lives there, with everyone knowing everyone else–for good and ill. The expectation based on the remembered past would be of an unchanging situation (maybe homogeneous, maybe not), with no new people–and change could be pretty threatening.

    It is just about impossible to expect this in a city, and you have to get used to there being people around who are different. My favorite example (from my own community) was sitting in our local small shopping mall, outside a really good Vietnamese restaurant (there is also a Persian one) and leafing through a “homes for sale” booklet: there was an ad for financing, showing a happy young couple outside their house, with wife in headscarf and part of the pitch for this particular ad being that the financing was sharia-compliant. (No big deal–after all, the grocery store sells kosher-compliant food).

    On attitudes towards immigration I recommend Peter Schrag’s book “Not Fit for Our Society”. These were mostly “Keep out the new people”: Benjamin Franklin worried about Germans, and in 1910 the fear was of people like Tom Tancredo’s ancestors. He does suggest that it may been beneficial that there was a slowing from 1920-1960, which gave everyone time to adjust. Also, the experience of WWII made a lot of the older prejudices weaken–as well as introducing some major changes, for example in the laws relative to the Chinese (since they were our allies).

  14. I think the reason immigration is such a contentious issue, and the changes involved bother so many people, is that it’s the #1 example of an imposed, not natural, change. And imposed against the will of the per-existing population. For decades, public opinion favored enforcement of immigration laws, and for decades, the government has refused to enforce them.

    So the resulting changes were imposed. Per Bertolt Brecht, the government elected a new people, and didn’t let the old people have any say in the matter.

    And it’s not as though it were a smart policy being imposed, either. We’re not skimming the cream of the world, to improve the nation. We’re deliberately letting people sneak across the border who we’ve got laws to keep out, illiterates and grunt laborers. We’re not maintaining our population against a birth dearth, we’re rapidly inflating it. The population of this country has practically DOUBLED over my lifetime, and not because Americans were having huge numbers of kids, most of it was because of how massive the level of illegal immigration was.

    We didn’t need to do that, it wasn’t even smart to do that, and it was done against our will. Why wouldn’t people be pissed about that particular change?

    1. i see you’re rounding the increase in population to make your point seem somewhat more dramatic. since i think you’re close to my age the actual population increase has been by a factor of 1.7 since 1960. interestingly the number of illegal immigrants in the u.s. has been fairly consistent for the past 10 years representing around 3.5% of the total population of the us since 2000. in absolute numbers illegal immigrants are fewer now than they have been in the past 7 or 8 years (hint–a recession in this country will do that). for the years 1974-1996 illegal immigrants represented a very steady 1.3% of the u.s. population. during the period 1969-1974 illegal immigrants represented less than 0.5% of the population and if you might recall that was another recessionary period. to put it another way, the data available do not support your thesis that the population growth in the u.s. since our respective childhoods is attributable to the presence of illegals in the country.

      there may be valid reasons to support the strict enforcement of our immigration laws but arguing on the basis of population increase is just silly.

      1. Right, this would be why I get Spanish as the first language I hear on some voice mail systems, in a country where you’re nominally required to speak English to legally immigrate; Because illegal immigration has had nothing to do with our population increase. Could it be that illegal immigrants have children here, who are thus legal citizens? And that this is how illegal immigration has altered the demographics of the citizen population?

        American citizens have been reproducing at a rate just above replacement, most of the growth in our citizen population has been from the children of illegal immigrants. Without illegal immigration, the US would have a population closer to 200 million, and roughly the same demographics as when I was born.

        No, it doesn’t take amnesties for illegal immigration to have altered our demographics. This particular change that’s got people upset was absolutely a result of illegal immigration, and the longstanding policy in favor of permitting it.

        1. and for the most part, the second generation of those immigrant families’ children exhibit the same fertility rate as the rest of the country. births to new immigrants, both legal and illegal, account for about 10% of live births annually. i admit that i did only a quick and dirty calculation but i estimate that the population of the us without the presence of illegal immigrants and their children would be around 250-270 million.

          i’d like you to reflect on something else in relation to illegal immigration. forgetting entirely the rhetoric that each party uses to talk about illegal immigration and focusing instead on the actual policies that the two parties enforce when they are in power, is there really any difference between the outcomes generated by the parties? and if, as i suspect, there is no practical difference between the outcomes what does that suggest? deportations have proceeded at a pace of around 180000 +/-20000 per year since 1997. the number of illegal immigrants peaked during 2007 and has been declining since. specifically what do you suggest be done? and simply saying “enforce the laws” does not represent specificity.

          1. “is there really any difference between the outcomes generated by the parties?”

            No, in fact, there isn’t. Which is a symptom of the breakdown of our democratic system of government, due to office holders becoming a self-perpetuating political class, with views on a wide variety of subjects different from the population at large. On any subject where the major parties decide to agree, democracy ceases to function as a way to constrain public policy.

            “and simply saying “enforce the laws” does not represent specificity.”

            No, I think it does. We have laws, they’re not being enforced, systematically not being enforced. But those not being enforced laws ARE specific laws. Additionally, though:

            I would offer a bounty to the first illegal immigrant employee of any specific company to turn that company in, for a substantial sum of money. This would break the bond of trust between illegal immigrant and employer necessary for it former to find jobs with the latter, and could be financed from fines against those companies.

            I would much more strongly enforce laws against the use of fake ID and identity theft. Employment of illegal immigrants on anything but a cash basis is dependent on their us of fake ID; Illegal immigrants aren’t “undocumented”, they generally have forged documents, the use of which is after all a crime. Much of our problem with identity theft, IMO, is due to the need to avoid catching illegal immigrants engaged in it.

            I would direct the SSA administration to stop facilitating the employment of illegal immigrants by turning a blind eye to the use of the same SS number at different jobs widely separated; Many people have two jobs, few of them have two jobs in different states.

            I would end tolerance for “sanctuary cities”; If Arizona can’t enforce immigration laws contrary to the President’s policy that they not be enforced, why can San Francisco thwart immigration laws contrary to a policy that the laws be enforced?

            Finally, I’d actually build a border fence. Much is made of the size of the US-Mexico border, but relative to the size of our GDP, it’s actually quite short; Even 1% of our annual defense budget would pay for a Israeli style high tech border fence along the entire length of it. Think of it as a “shovel ready” project…

            Aside from that, I am not opposed to legal immigration, in fact, I’m married to one. But I do think it’s a serious problem when you’re getting roughly half of your legal immigrants, and most of the illegal ones, from a specific country with a different culture. “You are what you eat”, they say, and this applies to immigration as well as food. If we want to become more like Mexico, our current immigration mix is ideal, but why would we? Does Mexico look like a model we want to emulate?

            We have millions of highly educated, law abiding, and English literate people, all over the world, begging to come here even now. We have people actually coming here, getting educated in our schools, and begging to stay. And we’re favoring English illiterates willing to break our laws, instead? That’s madness. It’s the immigration equivalent of gorging yourself on junk food when you’re in a 5 star restaurant.

            And now the President is obstructing green cards for the most qualified immigrants, holding them hostage to get green cards for people who broke our laws to come here? That’s not good policy, even if you favor high immigration.

          2. you skillfully elided a couple of germane points i was making in order to further your particular rhetorical agenda so i’d like to go back to them. illegal immigration has been declining each year since 2007 and deportations the past few years has been at a higher level than during the previous decade so i question the critical nature of the situation. your suggestion of a bounty on companies that are exploiting illegal immigrants is a good idea. stricter enforcement of laws regarding fake i.d.s and identity theft are reasonable and not just because of illegal immigration. i think you and i could probably have a productive conversation on the topics of sanctuary cities and the ssa using its databases to flag suspicious activities regarding the use of ss numbers. the thing i don’t get is the idea of a border fence. to make a border fence worthwhile as a preventative would require a level of construction and staffing equivalent to the demilitarized zone between north and south korea. say 12.5 million landmines, 360000 regular army troops, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 million national guard troops. certainly there would be a sort of stimulative effect to the economy but it seems quite a poor way of going about it. i think you are underestimating the costs inherent in that project.

          3. “certainly there would be a sort of stimulative effect to the economy but it seems quite a poor way of going about it. i think you are underestimating the costs inherent in that project.”

            More stimulative effect than loans to doomed solar power companies, or for electric car companies to build their product in Finland, I should think. Israel’s border fence is costing about $1.5 million per km. The US-Mexico border is about 3,200 km. That would be about $4.8 billion dollars, 2.5 days worth of our defense budget, under 1%. When the nation next to us has an active civil war going on, I think we could justify devoting 1% of our defense budget to the border.

            Yes, economic downturns tend to reduce illegal immigration for a little while. I’m kind of hoping the economy will eventually improve.

          4. your ability to avoid important points in a clear text is almost as impressive as your ability to change the logic of your arguments in the middle of your arguments, i’m sure warren terra and cranky observer could provide the links to demonstrate those.

            i hesitate to try and mention it again but i would point out that it is the staffing levels required to make a border fence truly secure that you are leaving out. based on the example of the most secure border on earth–the one between the two koreas–it’s going to take the equivalent of about 360000 regular army troops plus about 6 million reserve quality troops to make the border truly impervious. and the recurring costs for that kind of staffing is what is going to be the greatest drain on the budget.

            oh, and it was one failed solar power company among a multitude of green projects that are still going concerns. why the tiny amount of funding and credit guarantees that have gone to green industries should cause you such enormous anger when compared to the billions of dollars going to the most profitable companies on earth is something i have never quite understood.

          5. I don’t expect us to make the border impervious to a mass military assault using tanks and enormous mortar batteries, such as South Korea has aimed at them. I expect us to make it less inviting to mass illegal migrations of civilians. This would scarcely require stationing a soldier 24/7 every hundred meters along the border, with shift changes every 8 hours, as your numbers imply. All it requires is a barrier capable of detecting small scale intrusions, and slowing them long enough for law enforcement to arrive before they can lose themselves in the desert.

            Always, people who don’t want the border secure engage in hysterical projections of how difficult it would be, to justify not trying.

          6. no, you want a border fence impervious to a determined and desperate population willing to risk their lives and savings in order to cross over. i’m going to say that it would take something closer to the militarized border i describe than taking care of it on the cheap as you describe. my larger point was that you had some good ideas that would be worth examining and implementing without getting bogged down on sealing the border up tight. but that option is obviously the most controversial and therefore you are absolutely the most interested in discussing that instead of the useful ideas you expressed. i feel so sad for you, here you had a chance to make a real contribution to an interesting conversation of policy perspectives to reduce illegal immigration and you just won’t let go of the controversy to talk about the practical and possibly effective.

        2. Right, this would be why I get Spanish as the first language I hear on some voice mail systems

          That’s never happened to me, ever. What voice mail systems are you talking about?

    2. “And it’s not as though it were a smart policy being imposed, either. We’re not skimming the cream of the world, to improve the nation. We’re deliberately letting people sneak across the border who we’ve got laws to keep out, illiterates and grunt laborers.”

      Speak for yourself. I think people who have the gumption and determination displayed by the undocumented in the US are a substantial improvement in quality, particularly over the “native” eurotrash who make up the bulk of the republican party. The children of those “illiterates and grunt laborers” will very likely be sterling citizens far superior to those of the people of Wasila and other parts of Real America(TM). I include my own nieces and nephews, who are pretty typical youths of non immigrant white nonhispanic “American” parents. Nice kids, absolutely worthless in a very conventional way that is not unusual in their age cohorts at all. They are perhaps not formally illiterate; they just don’t read. Anything.

      1. Anybody who comes here has “gumption”, I marvel at the courage of my wife, who was willing to make a new life for herself halfway around the world. The people who come here illegally have “gumption” and “contempt for our laws”. I find that a troubling combination, personally, but maybe you like the idea of lawbreakers being bold rather than timid, and prefer them to bold people who don’t break laws.

        1. The people who come here illegally> have “gumption” and “contempt for our laws”.

          I like to think I have gumption and contempt for those particularly contemptible laws myself.

          If I had to choose one, I think I’d choose the contempt.

  15. Yeah the country is changing. No, you don’t need to be scared.

    They sure have a funny way of showing fear:
    Shouting “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi”.
    And doing everything possible to stomp Susan Rice into a mudhole…

    Nice sweet people who just want to privatize my social security, voucherize my medicare, and undermine my faith in science.
    (Remember when the tea party louts were shouting down folks in wheelchairs at townhalls?)

    Here’s what I promise to do to help smooth my conservative brothers’s passage into the future:
    Elect the fist woman president in 2016.
    Do you think they are ready for that? Me neither.
    Does that matter to me? Not one damn bit.

    We are in a war for the control of reality.
    And yes we need good liberals like Harold to help keep us human.
    And yes we need bad liberals like me (and Kleiman) to drive in the shiv with a grin…

  16. Immigration – whether or not legally authorized – seems to me to be a red herring, a symptom of fear of change rather than the cause of it. In the early 20th century second, third and prior generation Americans were themselves opposed to the poor “white” ethnic immigrants of southern and eastern europe. And the distinction drawn between rural and urban populations in accepting such change also seems unwarranted. In the 50s and 60s, the influx of southern black americans to northern cities resulted in a mass exodus of the white middle class from many city centers and from urban school systems that has ongoing ramifications today. It seems to be stating the obvious but the change that everyone I know seems most affected by for themselves, their children and their neighbors is the contracting economy and lack of opportunity whether one is mid-career and unemployed in a contracting industry shedding middle management jobs, college educated but burdened by student loans or ill-educated and facing a lack of well paying (union) jobs that allow a middle class lifestyle despite that lack of education. If “illegal” immigration were truly a problem then there would and should be a substantive discussion of what is a beneficial and appropriate legal level of immigration, but instead those opposed to illegal immigration turn out to also be opposed to any liberalizing of legal immigration! Illegal immigration in fact benefits the moneyed class by producing a steady source of cheap labor for lawn maintenance and child care that allows the overstretched professional and managerial classes to maintain an affluent lifestyle despite their indebtedness to banks for student and mortgage loans.

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