At times in journalism it is not the story but the context that matters. So it is with news reports this week about rapid declines in Mexican immigration that generated front-page news coverage throughout the nation. Mexicans coming northward form only one component of the changing demographics roiling the country — and it is important that HispanicLatinos do not think that the size of their population is going to diminsh in any way in the years ahead. Almost 50 years ago – long before the advent of the HispanicLatino population became newsworthy – the power of demography and the economy made a deep impression on me.
The winding down by Congress of the bracero program that allowed for Mexicans to work legally in the country and the nearly simultaneous closing of the local air force base economically devastated the town in West Texas where I grew up, reducing the county’s population from about 40,000 to 30,000. But at the same time the country already had written a prophetic passage in its history, and its authors were not Mexican immigrants, changes in the economy or laws passed by Congress but the so-called Anglo population. Sometime in 1972 or 1973, the Anglo population decided it was going to stop having more than two kids per family. Thus news gives way to context.
When the female members of a nation do not give birth to at least 2.1 children, they set the course of a whole people on a downward trajectory – and that as much as anything else has caused the composition of the population of the United States to change in the last five decades. The Pew Hispanic Center’s report this week on declining immigration rates from Mexico will never be as important as understanding that Anglo birth rates are continuing – today — to still fall faster than those of Mexican and Mexican-American families and the HispanicLatino population as a whole. The replacement rate of the Anglo population has collapsed to 1.6 and perhaps as low as 1.4 while that of the HispanicLatino population remains somewhere around 2.4 or higher. Were it not for the HispanicLatino population the very existence of the country would be in question.
HispanicLatinos and the rest of the nation must be aware of the calamity that low birthrates pose for the country. As I have written before: The laws of demography are clear: A nation of people who stops having children dies. It is that simple. No nation can except itself from the arithmetically-ordered dictates of demography. The Great Economic Recession of 2007 is as much a Great Demographic Recession. The birthrates of all groups took a hit, but the Anglo population more so.
It is true that the core of the nation’s HispanicLatino population growth curve has been fed mostly by Mexican immigrants and Mexican-American birth rates, and their rates of growth have slowed significantly. But they are still are giving birth to life around them.
Almost static Mexican migration patterns only slow down the inevitable transformation of the nation’s population – and that is the only news story that in the end will matter.
Feel free to forward these blogs adapted from previous writings, with additional thoughts published invariably in between.