Greenspan Links Immigration to U.S. Economic Future

As the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) continues its efforts for comprehensive labor and immigration reform, the association is heartened by the fact that top government policymakers recognize the vital role of immigrants in the U.S. economy now and in the future.

On February 27, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, chaired by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID). Greenspan’s testimony described the economic impact of an aging American population, which will lead to a slowly growing population, diminishing growth in the labor force, and an increase in the ratio of the elderly to the working-age population. By 2030, the growth of the U.S. workforce will slow from 1 percent to ½ percent, according to Greenspan. At the same time, the percentage of the population over 65 years old will rise from 13 percent to 20 percent.

Greenspan described how the aging population would have significant fiscal effects. “In particular, it makes our social security and Medicare programs unsustainable in the long run, short of a major increase in immigration rates, a dramatic acceleration in productivity growth well beyond historic experience, a significant increase in the age of eligibility for benefits, or the use of general revenues to fund benefits,” Greenspan stated.

According to Greenspan, immigration could prove a most potent antidote for slowing growth in the working-age population. As the influx of foreign workers in response to the tight labor markets of the 1990s showed, immigration does respond to labor shortages.

An expansion of labor-force participation by immigrants and the healthy elderly offers some offset to an aging population. “Fortunately, the U.S. economy is uniquely well suited to make those adjustments,” said Greenspan. “Our open labor markets can adapt to the differing needs and abilities of our older population. Our capital markets can allow for the creation and rapid adoption of new labor-saving technologies, and our open society has been receptive to immigrants. All these factors put us in a good position to adjust to the [impacts] of an aging population.”

Fortunately, the green industry’s own labor strategies are in line with those called for by Greenspan. “ANLA is working diligently with both sides of Congress to ensure a near-term and long-term labor force for the industry, and ANLA and the Horticultural Research Institute have made labor-saving technologies a top research priority,” says Wayne Mezitt of Weston Nurseries, Hopkinton, Mass., and president of ANLA. “These efforts are intended to keep the nursery and landscape sectors thriving in uncertain times.”

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