Although the economy is rightly the top issue presently for voters and policymakers, critical issues such as immigration reform are being negatively impacted by tunnel vision and lack of initiative in Washington. While the White House and Congressional leaders seek to mollify the Latino voters who played such a key role in recent Democratic electoral victories with promises that they will tackle the issue after they “save” the economy, such rhetoric smacks of patronization and belies the essential role that fixing our broken immigration system will have in supporting long-term U.S. economic growth and competitiveness.

In dealing with the economy Washington has focused solely on the current crisis while turning a blind eye to the much larger challenge just around the corner -- the aging of American society. Immigration will be vital to mitigating the effects of this profound demographic shift if our leaders can muster the courage to tackle the thorny issue, and put aside partisan politics and work together to address it.

The aging of the populace, epitomized by the impending retirement of the baby boom generation beginning a few short years from now, represents a colossal challenge to the U.S. economy and the standard of living for future generations. Economists and demographers have been warning of this dilemma for years, to little avail in Washington. Demographer Dowell Myers wrote of the perils to the economy and how immigrants can alleviate these problems in the book Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America and the Reform Institute white paper Old Promises and New Blood: How Immigration Reform Can Help America Prosper in the Face of Baby Boomer Retirement. He will be joined today by former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to discuss the role of immigration in supporting the economy and entitlements at a Capitol Hill forum convened by the Reform Institute.

As the boomers retire and begin collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits instead of contributing to their trust funds through payroll tax deductions spending on those programs will embark on an unsustainable path, which will place further strain on a federal budget already riddled with annual deficits and mounting debt. Boomers leaving the workforce in large numbers through retirement also could create labor shortages in key industries, which will impact U.S. productivity and global competitiveness. However, the infusion of new workers from abroad through sensible immigration policy can moderate these threats.

With his job approval rating in the 60’s, President Obama must lead the efforts on comprehensive immigration reform, which must be a part of efforts to ensure the future vitality of our economy. By dispassionately examining the economic benefits of immigration and exchanging partisan combat for civil discourse and bipartisan collaboration, we can strengthen our economy and make it more resilient in face of the challenges just ahead.