University President Lawrence H. Summers moderated the panel.
“The decision we are going to have to make in the next decade is whether we are serious about government,” Summers said. “I would suggest to you that there are no examples of countries that achieve their national interests without being well and complicatedly governed.”
Dean of the Kennedy School of Government David T. Ellwood ’75 said that the government needs to concern itself with the changing makeup of the working population, stressing that “demography is destiny.”
Ellwood said because of the aging Baby Boom population, the number of native-born working adults aged 25-54 in 20 years will be no different than it is now. In addition, the number of children per household has decreased with the advent of reliable birth control in the 1960s, Ellwood said.
He said that to increase the size and productivity of the economy, the workforce will therefore be forced to rely upon older Americans and immigrants.
But Ellwood said present government policy is not attuned to the needs of immigrants. He said our present policy is to either deport illegal immigrants, or to train immigrants and then ask them to return to their home countries. Illegal immigrants are also not legally able to obtain the same level of public education as citizens.
“We are discouraging immigrants in every way we can from becoming part of larger society,” Ellwood said.
Ellwood said America needs to adopt a more realistic policy that focuses on raising the socioeconomic status of immigrant families.
Ellwood also said he was concerned about the disparity in birthrates for mothers from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds.
Educated women are choosing to have children later in life, Ellwood said—partly because women have found their wages level out after they have their first child. Consequently, Ellwood said, educated women are also having fewer children.
Conversely, he said, uneducated women are having more children earlier in life.
Ellwood said that in the United States there has been an increasing correlation between the successes of parents and their children. The decreasing number of children born to educated parents and rising number of children of disadvantaged parents thus presents a potential problem to the U.S. economy, he argued.
Ellwood said he thought there needed to be research into making child-rearing less costly in terms of potential wages lost for women with high incomes, and to make professional advancement increasingly possible for women from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Professor of Economics Caroline M. Hoxby ’88 said the United States needs to improve its educational facilities if it is to remain a superpower. She added that in the global economic structure, companies will invest in the countries with the most skilled people, even if that country is not the one with the most political clout.
“If we want to remain one of the richest nations on Earth and get the benefits associated with that, we have to remain highly skilled,” Hoxby said. “We need an educational factory that produces people with skills. That is something we do not have.”