Where new and old Americans are headed

Aging of US expected to create a geographic divide between retirees and immigrants.

A Popular bumper sticker on recreational vehicles sweeping along the highways reads: "I'm spending my children's inheritance."

That proclamation could become more common. In the United States, 76 million baby boomers are heading into their senior years in the decade ahead. Some see the nation becoming like Florida - peppered with a lot more gray heads.

But it's not that simple.

A study by the Milken Institute, an economic research body here, sees the continuing expansion of a demographic divide.

First, the number of retired baby boomers will grow in mostly white areas in the West and Southeast, such states as Utah, Nevada, and North Carolina.

Second, new immigrants will continue to settle in "gateway" cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New York, and Chicago.

These melting-pot areas will be younger, more multi-ethnic, and culturally diverse, notes William Frey, an author of the Milken report. Education will be an even bigger issue in terms of quality and affordability.

The "heartland" areas with their less diverse populations could be more staid. Politicians in these areas will have to answer to more seniors about the soundness of the Social Security system.

This split will change the economic and political landscape.

About a million newcomers arrive in the US each year, largely from Latin America and Asia. Some 660,000 come as legal permanent residents. Another 115,000 entered last year as temporary workers, and probably more than that arrived illegally to find work.

An estimated 6 million illegal immigrants are already in the country. With the economy booming and employers scrambling for workers, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is spending less effort tracking down illegals at work in the US.

New immigrants and their children should account for more than half of the 50 million additional residents added to the population in the next 25 years, the study calculates.

Hispanic Americans should outnumber blacks by 2005.

US companies have "virtually ignored" this growing market, Mr. Frey charges. Yet this fastest-growing demographic group spends more on food, utilities, and shelter than other groups, after adjusting the numbers to account for income and family size.

The Asian-American market has also exploded. It is becoming more attractive to upscale marketers because of its higher education and income.

Some 72 percent of those getting green cards had family ties in the US. On average, these immigrants have less education than Americans born in the country. They tend to get such jobs as raking leaves and cutting up chickens.

Some economists say competition from these less-educated workers is one reason the wages of low-income Americans have been slow to climb in these boom times.

But Frey figures there is insufficient political support to reduce the number of immigrants accepted into the US on the basis of family unification.

At the same time, there is much political pressure from high-technology firms to bring in more highly educated immigrants, especially workers with computer skills. Republicans have introduced a bill into the House of Representatives that would increase the number of visas for highly skilled workers by 45,000 to 160,000 this year.

Other results of the rising tide of immigrants noted by the Milken study include:

*Just 10 of the nation's metropolitan areas attracted two-thirds of all immigrants between 1990 and 1998. This clustering is expected to continue. Since racial and ethnic minorities will be mixed in these areas with whites and blacks, the number of inter-racial marriages will increase.

*Ten metro areas, led by Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago, are home to 58 percent of US Hispanics.

*New York gained a net increase of 1.3 million immigrants from 1990 to 1998. In the same time, 1.7 million New Yorkers left the city, mostly to less populated areas.

Frey doesn't see any major clash arising from the division of the nation between areas of high immigration and of many retirees. But, his report notes, "National 'one size fits all' strategies taken by government agencies, political parties, restaurant chains, or other organizations are not appropriate."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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