The Pulse: Immigrants' vitality a boon to boomers

Before you reach for that "Make America Great Again" hat, consider some immigration data and weigh the consequences:

From 2000 to 2010, the population of white children in the United States declined by 4.3 million, while the child population among Hispanics, Asians, and people of two or more races increased.

Pat Buchanan Associated Press

Among Hispanics, the median age is 29, while the median age of whites in the United States is 43.

One-third of U.S. Hispanics are under the age of 18 - only one-fifth of U.S. whites are likewise.

When the civil rights laws were passed in the 1960s, only 15 percent of the population of the United States were racial minorities and most of them were blacks living in segregated areas - when the 2020 census is taken, more than 40 percent of the U.S. population will be racial minorities and almost half of the under-30 population will be racial minorities.

So where whites have comparatively become an aging, slowly growing population, minority groups are younger, include proportionately more women in their childbearing years, and are expanding more rapidly. This shift doesn't sit well with some who see the influence of their own population group diminishing.

A 2011 Pew Research Center poll shows that only 23 percent of baby boomers and seniors regard the country's growing population of immigrants as a change for the better and 42 percent see it as a change for the worse. No doubt it's this group to whom Donald Trump has connected, enabling him to draw 30,000 to an Alabama college football stadium on a Friday night.

Assessing this dynamic, Patrick Buchanan told me on CNN last week that "we are becoming what Theodore Roosevelt warned us about, said it would be the end of the country if we become a polyglot boardinghouse for the world. I don't want that."

"Look, you have 31.3 million people who have come into this country in the last, I think, 30 to 40 years, who are immigrants now legal and illegal," he said. "Most of them are unskilled, have no skills, are semiskilled, and some of them skilled - don't tell me that doesn't depress wages of American workers."

There is, however, a different interpretation, that of a demographer who has recently studied changes in the youth population across the 50 states between 2000 and 2014 and who concludes that America should be grateful for the vitality the immigrant class provides.

"I'm not a politician, I sit here and I look at numbers on my computer," said William Frey, author of Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America. "I don't get out and press the flesh or make decisions, so this is very simple, basic statistical stuff."

Frey argues that no fence is going to thwart the change that's already been seeded here. To hear him tell it, it's more about birthrates than borders.

He notes that we passed a significant milestone in 2011, when the first "majority-minority" birth class arrived in this country, meaning the first cohort in which the majority of U.S. babies were nonwhite minorities, of which Hispanics constituted the biggest group. Frey argues that we should consider ourselves lucky to have an influx that brings about these births at a time when the populations in some European countries and Japan have been shrinking. Ironically, he says, it's some of those most unsettled about the changes who stand to benefit, so long as the new minority class is afforded education and employment opportunity.

"The contributions of the new minorities are especially vital due to the impending retirement of white baby boomers," he writes in the book. Where the civil rights movement was spurred by a determination to do the right thing, he says, being "fair" with minority groups today is "economically imperative if only because of the self-interest of these older folks, who are going to be dependent on Medicare, on Social Security, and the money going into those funds comes from the working-age population. The main contributors will be, in the future, these younger minority folks who we want to make sure have good educations, can get into the middle class, and get those good jobs so that they can pay into those systems.

"Politicians that try to fan the flame of division, who say, 'We don't need as much government,' 'Lower your taxes,' 'These people don't deserve it,' 'They're not Americans,' 'They're not a part of our country' - should instead be educating these older folks that this is so important for our country," he said.

He also disputes the widely held perception that illegal immigration is generating the most change.

"The undocumented population in the United States is 11 million, 11.2 million, whatever the new number is. It's only about 3 percent of the U.S. population," he said. "It's been flat or even declining over the last few years, so to me, this is a canard, in terms of the total need we have to have growth in our youth population because of the fact we're aging. One part of the population that's going to grow most rapidly over the next 20 years is the population of people over age 65, people who are retiring at this moment. What that means is we have a real need in our labor force to have young talented people to move into those ages."

Perhaps there is one area of agreement between Buchanan and Frey, namely that even as our majority-minority status is imminent, it's in everyone's best interest that young Americans are educated and well-prepared to assume their role as contributors to their community.

Michael Smerconish can be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on Sirius XM's POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting "Smerconish" at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.