Swapping Seniors for Immigrant Workers

Baby Boomers (Americans born in the period 1946 to 1964), and undocumented immigrants (who number some 11 million) are major issues impacting America’s national debt. Boomers are the largest part of the nation’s growing senior population, now 40+ million and destined to become 76 million — nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population — by 2030, millions of them living entirely on their Social Security income.

Swapping Seniors for Immigrant Workers - Helping Both and America

Meanwhile, millions of undocumented immigrants from the south of our border live under the threat of deportation while eking out low-income lives doing work most Americans eschew.

A major solution to this pair of conundrums: U.S. seniors going south, immigrant workers coming north, both bettering their lives.

The lack of jobs and opportunities for a better life in Mexico and Central America and the endemic violence in many parts of these countries are the driving force for immigrants to illegally risk their lives to cross the U.S. border to their north — while ever more cash-strapped American seniors seek new lower-cost living opportunities south of the border.

The heart of the Trading Places proposal is the development of a network of Senior Health & Wellness Eco Resorts in the South, including Healthcare Academies to train and prepare locals for the opportunity to legally migrate to the U.S. as healthcare workers and professionals.

America needs the Latin American immigrants living here now and the new “illegal” immigrants to thrive and pay taxes in order to support the growing U.S. senior population. In 1935, the year the Social Security system was enacted, there were 42 American workers per retiree.

Today, 80 years later, there are only 2.9 workers per retiree, and by 2030 there will be just two workers per retiree.

Currently, there are over 40+ million U.S. seniors and over the next 20 years, 10,000 seniors will reach age 65 every day, beginning to receive Social Security and Medicare — adding to an already large retired population and straining the federal budget. In 1935 the average life expectancy for men in America was 60 years; for women, it was 64. Today, the life expectancy for men is 75; for women, it is 80. With these demographics, it was easy for the program to generate sufficient revenue to meet its promises to those over 65 when it was first established.

But the picture has changed. In 2015, Social Security is facing an uphill battle to become sustainable with this vastly increased longevity calculation and reduced worker-per-retiree ratio.

We need to get the 11 million undocumented workers enrolled as tax-paying residents, many to become future citizens, to help fund the Social Security Trust Fund.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke states, “Although demographic change will affect many aspects of the government’s budget, the most dramatic effects will be seen in the Social Security and Medicare programs, which provide income support and medical care for retirees and which have until now been funded largely on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Under current law, spending on these two programs alone will increase from about 7 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) today to almost 13 percent of GDP by 2030 and to more than 15 percent of the nation’s output by 2050.”

How will we support these active and longer-living seniors?

The converging mega-trends of global competition, a graying population, rising healthcare costs, and inflowing illegal immigrants are already shaping a new future for America.

Mexico and Central America have become an almost merged population with the United States, and increasingly even with Canada. America’s plans for America in effect are our plans for Mexico and Central America, whether we recognize it or not.

The accelerating growth of seniors will require trained personnel in caring for the longer-living elderly population — the same seniors who have been the driving force that built Miami, Phoenix, Palm Springs, and other retirement communities in the U.S. Therefore, immigration strategy should include investing in and helping to develop Mexico and the countries to its south by utilizing the economic and brainpower of our seniors.

Trading Places: Swapping Seniors for Immigrant Workers is an idea to help the United States and Central America, and all North Americans, by making the best of two facts: 11 million illegal immigrants work in the U.S., most of them from Mexico and Central America, and over one million U.S. seniors live abroad, a majority of them in Mexico and Central America, many of them doing so to reduce their cost of living.

A network of Senior Health & Wellness Eco Resorts in Mexico and Central America could be the central future growth-business opportunity to fix America’s immigration challenge.

Currently, thousands of seniors already have retired in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and other resort locations in Latin America and around the Pacific and Caribbean regions, and beyond.

These international-living seniors are experiencing a good quality of life on a limited income.

In the process, they have frequently become the most important local economic stimulus for the towns, cities, and local regions they have relocated in, and in some cases even American ambassadors of goodwill.

Some of them are people returning from the U.S. to their roots as more and more “Americans” are families who originated in these regions and countries.

Why not develop a policy that helps fund and otherwise encourages the building of senior resort communities along the coasts of Mexico and Central America as a component of America’s ever-evolving reform of its national immigration programs? A bi-national public-private effort to build senior resort villages for retired Americans — and, increasingly, retired citizens of the local country — in Mexico and other countries could be a very beneficial activity for the host countries and their people, and for the Americans who live in these retirement villages and centers.

The Senior Health & Wellness Eco Resort villages and centers will become a network of localized economic engines within their host regions and countries, employing a range of professional people, service workers, and healthcare providers. Local improvements in water, sanitation, and power infrastructure, in some cases, will begin at these locations.

Global telecommunications has evolved to a point where these resorts can be connected to hospitals in the U.S. through telemedicine clinics and hospitals in the host countries and is a crucial part of the senior health resort development strategy. More active seniors will be able to act as an International “Mentor Corps” — sort of a cross between the Service Corps of Retired Executives and the Peace Corps — to help local people to learn English and prepare for possible eventual work in the U.S., and to get into an orderly line for possible immigration to the U.S. as part of a retooled immigration program.

As environmental sustainability and carbon reduction become a guiding principle of almost every activity and policy worldwide, it will be essential that the planning, construction, and operation of these senior communities for North Americans and local citizens abroad fully exploit all feasible renewable energy, energy conservation, and sustainability technologies and designs, and fully respect the local natural and cultural environment.

Only if these communities represent a net gain and happy presence in their foreign locales and countries will this be a successful and sustainable two-way social and economic development strategy.

Americans’ investments in their retirement pension funds will become part of the investment that helps build these resort and healthcare communities — and the host countries — of which they become residents. This investment should be encouraged by generous tax credits and other incentives for these projects: a much wiser expenditure than the billions to be spent on the proposed “great wall” along the U.S. southern border.

American Friendship is as important as American Self-Interest, and much more potent. The former will do a lot more than the latter to meet America’s needs for security and prosperity.

The reality is that we need young workers to keep our economic engine oiled, and we need to find a better way to the house and care for our seniors during their golden years.

Trading Places: Senior resorts/immigrant workers is a sensible approach toward integrating the Americas, an important piece of a larger suite of potential strategies and policies for a better North America. Adventurous and vigorous American retirees, starting with the wave of elder Boomers, will become a sort of “Retirees Without Borders” who play a new and constructive role in the globalization of the Western Hemisphere.

The Baby Boomer Bubble is inflating. President Obama and Congress must find a way to deflate it before it bursts by developing an integrated Boomer/Immigrant Initiative that supports U.S. seniors going south and immigrant workers coming north, both in the process of bettering their lives.

About the Author: Les Hamasaki is a sustainable development planner and former Executive Director of GIVE that launched the Inland Empire’s Green Valley Initiative. He served as City of Los Angeles Planning Commissioner under Mayor Richard Riodan and Los Angeles Airport Commissioner under Mayor Tom Bradley.

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