Popular Economics Weekly
For most of the past half-century, adults in the U.S. Baby Boom generation – those born after World War II and before 1965 – have been the main driver of the nation’s expanding workforce, reports the PEW Research Center. But as this large generation heads into retirement, the increase in the potential labor force will slow markedly, and immigrants will play the primary role in the future growth of the working-age population (though they will remain a minority of it).
The stakes are enormous if Republicans succeed in removing most of the estimated 11 million undocumented worker (only half of which are from Mexico and the Latin countries), and cut legal immigration in half, as they have promised to do. Economic growth will plummet, since it is mainly based on growth of the working age population, as well as labor productivity, which has also fallen since 2000.
The causes of the drop in labor productivity are largely because of the fall in capex spending, the investment in new plants and equipment, which has fallen by half since 2010, in large part because of the Great Recession, but also because corporations have chosen to move so many jobs overseas where labor is cheaper, rather than investing domestically to improve the productivity of American workers.
The plunge in capex has been most noticeable last year, perhaps because of uncertainty over economic growth in what is the 7th year of this long growth cycle, or uncertainty about results of the President election. Such expectations can be self-reinforcing in these anecdotal surveys, of course, given the poor 1.9 percent GDP growth in 2016.
The ISM manufacturing survey, which tracks anecdotal assessments from a national sample of purchasers, made big headlines in the week with a 4.7 point jump in its new orders index to 65.1. This level of order growth was last exceeded in August 2009 and follows two prior 60 readings.
The number of adults in the prime working ages of 25 to 64 – 173.2 million in 2015 – will rise to 183.2 million in 2035, according to Pew Research Center projections. That total growth of 10 million over two decades will be lower than the total in any single decade since the Baby Boomers began pouring into the workforce in the 1960s. The growth rate of working-age adults will also be markedly reduced, says the study.
So the Trump administration has to be careful of what they wish for, if they want to boost economic growth domestically.
Harlan Green © 2017
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