Statistics Vital to California: The subsidies Wilson Overlooked in Immigration Debate Sacramento Bee Op-Ed February 15, 1995 B. Meredith Burke
In both the debate over NAFTA last year and the current controversy over the U.S. plan for bailing out Mexico financially, hardly anyone has addressed the demographic gulf separating the two countries. Yet nowhere else does a major industrialized country whose native-born population has below-replacement fertility share a long border with a higher-fertility country just emerging from Third-World status. And that disparity has been a source of much of the friction, particularly in California.
Demographically unschooled Americans are unaccustomed to factoring concerns about mortality and fertility into our international policy considerations. Even Doris Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, persists in confusing a symptom -- illegal immigrants seeking jobs -- with its root cause--cause -- high population growth rates in the sending nations.
The surge in Mexican immigration after 1980 roughly coincided with the entrance into the labor force of the first generation of Mexican workers who have benefitted from a significant decrease in mortality rates that began in the late 1950s. By 1992, for example, there were 3.9 million Mexican citizens between the ages of 40 and 44, but more than two and a half times that many, 10.7 million aged 10 to 14. Yet the overall population of Mexico, as recorded in the just-released 1992 Mexican Demographic Survey, is significantly smaller than demographers at the United Nations were predicting as recently as 1989. If the projections were accurate, where have these people gone?
Certainly some went uncounted. Others have slipped across the border illegally. But a substantial part of the shortfall is represented by births which Mexico has in effect exported to the U.S.
In 1992 Mexico recorded 2 million births. However, Mexican-born women in the U.S. bore an additional 275,000 children, roughly 7 percent of the four million babies born on this side of the international boundary. In California, the numbers are even more dramatic.
According to statistics from the Department of Health Services and Department of Finance, Mexican-born women bore 161,000 or 27 percent of all the 601,000 babies born in the Golden State in 1992. The next largest group of foreign-born mothers, Filipinos, accounted for two percent of the state total. Other national groups contributed less than one percent each.
Mexican-born mothers, moreover, accounted for 61 percent of all the Hispanic births in the state. And altogether, California's estimated 2.1 million Hispanic women of childbearing age bore 44 percent (267,000) of all births in California even those these women constitute only 28 percent of the state's women in this age group. Non-Hispanic white women, in contrast, represent 53 percent of all women of childbearing-age but delivered only 38 percent of the births that year. African-American, Asian, and others gave birth roughly in proportion to their numbers among all women of childbearing age.
Since every child born here is automatically granted U.S. citizenship, fully entitled to education and other social services, the export of these births represents a substantial subsidy for Mexico. The debates over Proposition 187 and Pete Wilson's' efforts to secure more financial aid from Washington all focus on how much is being spent on services to illegal immigrants.
But the costs of services to children who are citizens of the U.S. even though their parents are not represent an additional subsidy that has for the most part not been addressed. And over time, the costs of services to these citizen-children are likely to add up to much more than the direct costs of services to illegal immigrants.
What matters more from a demographer's perspective is this: If immigration and immigrant fertility continue these rates, and the U.S. does not enact the proposed Beilenson-Gallegly bill restricting citizenship at birth only to those infants whose parents are here legally, then California may, by the year 2005, be educating as many as 1.5 million children who have been, in effect, exported in this fashion from Mexico.
It is certainly true that Mexican fertility rates have been declining since the Mexican government approved a national family planning program in 1973. Whereas older Mexican women who are just completing their childbearing years delivered an average of 6 children, the average for all Mexican women aged 15 to 49 years is now down to 3.5 children each. By comparison, Asians and non-Hispanic white women in the U.S. average less than 2.0 children per woman, black women 2.4, and all Hispanics in the U.S. 3.0.
But even with a declining fertility rate in Mexico, Mexican women between the ages of 15 and 19 are still nearly three times more numerous than their mother's generation. And if they bear 3.5 children on average, their descendants in turn will be over five times more numerous than the grandparent generation.
Virginia Abernethy, editor of the journal Population and Environment, has compiled data suggesting that where physical resources are demonstrably limited and out-migration infeasible, sharp fertility declines ensue. But in Mexico, the demographic distress that might be expected from such rapid population growth is being dissipated northward through emigration. That undercuts Mexico's effort to cut back on childbearing at the same time it is contributing to a population explosion here.
As recently as 20 years ago, for example, at a time when U.S. fertility rates were declining to near replacement levels, many demographers were predicting that the population of the U.S. would level off by the middle of the 21st century and even earlier in California. Given the conditions of today, however, that kind of stabilization no longer seems even remotely possible. In fact, California's population has increased at least 60 percent since 1970 , while the U.S.'s has grown 30 percent.
Viable futures for both the United States and Mexico require a speedy end to rapid population growth in both countries. Bilateral agreements should be crafted to that end. Continuing the bailout as we have been for two decades now, allowing demographic business as usual, will doom us both.
B. Meredith Burke is a demographic and economic consultant in Palo Alto. She will present her California fertility analysis at the April 1995 meetings of the Population Association of America.