Immigration is the only thing keeping U.S. work force growing

WASHINGTON -- The only way for the U.S. labor force to grow over the next two decades is for new immigrants to replace retiring baby boomers.

So concludes the Pew Research Center in a new report that projects that the U.S. working-age population (people aged 25-64), which was 173.2 million in 2015, will shrink to 165.6 million by 2035 without immigrants entering the country. At current rates of immigration, by contract, the worker pool will grow to 183.2 million, Pew estimates


Without new immigration, the working-age population would shrink to 2005 levels

Irina Ivanova/CBS MoneyWatch

“In recent decades, immigration to the U.S. has become an increasing source of growth for the working-age population,” Pew states.

In other words, new immigrants account for all the projected growth in the labor force, according to Pew. That represents a big shift from the past 50 years, when boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1965 -- were the main driver behind the nation’s growing work force. Even if immigration proceeds at the same rate, the growth rate of working-age adults will be slower compared with previous decades, Pew found.

A growing labor force is key for continued economic expansion, as well as to help pay for social benefits for retiring workers. If the labor force shrinks, the U.S. could find itself in a similar situation to Germany or Japan, where businesses are struggling to find enough skilled workers to fill jobs.  

The center’s projections combine legal immigrants with those who enter the country illegally. 

Pew also projects that, between 2015 and 2016, future immigrants and their U.S.-born children will account for 88 percent of the nation’s population growth.