By Dave Oberting

A serious immigration battle is underway and the Republican party faces a stark choice — placate your base, or win elections. You can’t do both. The reality of American life in the 21st century is that comprehensive immigration reform is not a political issue, but a national imperative. The Census Bureau tells us why:

An 80-million strong Baby Boomer generation is now retiring at a rate of 10,000 people per day. As they hit 65, they begin collecting Social Security and Medicare. The next generation, Gen X, is 41 million people. The generation after that, Millenials is 71 million people, but they are a long time from their prime earning years. When Social Security started in 1945, there were 41 workers per beneficiary. In 2010, that number was down to 2.9 workers per beneficiary, and declining. Who is going to pay into the system to support the retirement benefits of the baby boomers?

worker-per-beneficiary-chart-580_1

It’s not going to be native born Americans. The U.S. birthrate just dropped below 2.1 children per American woman for the first time. 2.1 is the number required to maintain the current population, so we will have slightly fewer births going forward than is required to maintain our population. The combination of a declining birthrate and the huge size of the baby boomer generation presents a fiscal challenge unlike any other the country has faced since its founding. And it presents us with an immigration imperative:

We need as many workers as we can get our hands on to pay for our entitlement promises. High-skill workers are preferable, but we will need millions of workers at all skill levels. In twenty years, we will be begging immigrants to come to the U.S. — in some cases, paying them to come. While we have a huge advantage over the rest of the world in that we integrate immigrants better than any other country on earth, we have to lay that groundwork now. As other countries develop, they will create more opportunities for their workers to stay in their home countries, thus adding to the intensity of the competition.

The District is in better shape than most jurisdictions. It is one of 31 cities that have declared themselves to be sanctuary cities. This means they ignore and do not enforce federal law as it relates to undocumented workers. While we’re not big on ignoring federal law, this does send a powerful signal to immigrants that they are welcome here and that we appreciate the contributions they make to our economy and our culture.

The city has become a magnet for young urban, well educated professionals. For every one of those people who moves to the city, three jobs are created to support that new resident’s consumption — restaurant workers, bus drivers, government workers, etc. We will need more immigrants to fill these jobs. The District can stay ahead of the game by continuing to push for more affordable housing and amenities that immigrants of all skill levels find attractive.

Certain segments of the population need to stop seeing increased immigration as a threat and start recognizing it for what it is — a bid for national survival.

Dave Oberting is the Executive Director of Economic Growth DC, a political and economic advocacy organization focused on the District. Follow him on Twitter @GrowthDC.