Two Kinds of Migrants and the “Cultural Generation Gap”
By Al Giordano
A new report out of the Brookings Institution offers a thought provoking theory that could explain recent freak phenomena like Arizona’s anti-immigrant law and the conservative tea baggers: a widening “cultural generation gap” in certain regions of the US.
The math is simple enough: compare the percentage of senior citizens (age 65 and over) in a given state or metropolitan area who are non-Hispanic white with the percentage of their neighbors who are 18 and under and non-Hispanic white, and, voila, let’s look at what part of the nation has the widest “cultural generation gap.”
Arizona tops the charts, with 83 percent of its seniors Caucasian but just 43 percent of its minors in the same racial demographic: a gap of 40 points.
Demographically, there is no doubt Latinos and other immigrant minorities are America’s future, and on this, Arizona stands on the front lines. Over the past two decades the state has seen its Latino population grow by 180 percent as its racial composition shifted from 72 to 58 percent white.
Yet there is an important demographic nuance to this growth—providing context to the white backlash in Arizona in ways that could play out elsewhere. It is the fact that the state’s swift Hispanic growth has been concentrated in young adults and children, creating a “cultural generation gap” with largely white baby boomers and older populations, the same demographic that predominates in the recent Tea Party protests.
And so what we have here is a kind of cocktail of racial tensions mixed with generational differences (which, although the Brookings study doesn’t come out and say it, I would posit retards societal integration since old folks don’t typically hang out or even cross paths with young ones; both groups tend to avoid the other even within the same racial or other demographic categories).
And here is something else to consider: In the warmer climes of the United States, Mexicans, Latin Americans and other newcomers to the US aren’t the only new wave of immigrants. The exodus of northern retirees that began decades ago to Florida and Southern California has widened into a wave of elderly immigrants to key metropolitan areas throughout the Southwest. The Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area, being one of them, for example, has the highest cultural generation gap in the country, of 41 points. That’s not only because Mexican-Americans are moving in, but also it is a result of the geezer brigades.
The seniors, of course, come government-supported with Social Security checks, Medicare and lots of other socialized goodies. They move into gated communities with access to cheap “illegal” labor to water the lawns and care for them in every other way possible. Many in fact come to border lands precisely so they can cross into Mexico easily to purchase their pharmaceuticals at bargain prices. But despite all the benefits they receive exactly because they move to the lands of immigrants, these older white populations are hotbeds of hostility against the immigrants, which is how we got to the place where Arizona’s anti-immigrant law has now exacerbated racial and other tensions.
The metropolitan areas with the largest cultural generation gap happen to coincide with clusters of Republican voting patterns and tea party activity: The Tucson, Arizona metro area joins Phoenix among the top three cultural generation gap zones. Certain California metropolitan areas are high on the list: Riverside-San Bernardino, Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto, Stockton and San Diego are in the top ten. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, join them there. Here’s the list of the top twenty:
I think Brookings is onto something big here. Generational apartheid is exacerbating racial segregation and discrimination. And this underscores, among other things, that for political movements to succeed they have to be multi-generational and multi-racial, and very intentionally cross over another kind of border fence called demographics.
The situation created by these cultural generation gap clusters also presents a challenge for the so-called “baby boomers” (officially, Americans born between 1946 and 1964) who were, according to the hype when they were young, going to be the pioneering generation of peace, love, “the Age of Aquarius” and all that granola. Starting next year, the oldest of them turn 65 and join the ranks of the retirees. And that’s when another process will begin that will determine the boomers’ place in history: whether it really is a transformational generation, or one that merely replicates the sins of the fathers it rebelled against when young.
Many of the teabaggers, in fact, are boomers. They’re a small percentage of them but it is nonetheless cause for pause that they exist, because they represent the worst-case scenario of where the boomers could end up politically: From parent supported suburban youths to government supported suburban seniors, the danger is that, in their twilight years, they become their parents all over again.
Which is precisely why a responsibility is on the shoulders of every boomer of conscience to break that cycle both in daily life and in political participation; to embrace his and her generation’s best legacy of community organizing, racial tolerance and integration and all the other qualities they championed in their youth.
The coming national debate over immigration reform, I think, is where we will begin to see whether “the sixties generation” walks its talk, head held high, into the retirement years. If not, it will become one of the biggest jokes in history because it began as the most hyped (and privileged) generation ever. But if, as polls suggest, it understands that there is little moral high ground to be claimed by seniors who migrate to live their retirement years and immigrants who migrate to the same places to live their working years, Comprehensive Immigration Reform can accomplish at least two giant leaps forward for the United States.
First, a path to citizenship for twelve million undocumented Americans will bring them onto the voter rolls, creating a vital counter-weight to the cultural generation gap seniors in the very same states and Congressional Districts where the latter group now has the upper hand. It is the change that will cement the generational political change begun in 2008. The latest data is a game-changer: “68% of Latinos approve of Obama’s job (compared with 48% of overall respondents and 38% of whites), and they view the Democratic Party favorably by a 54%-21% score (versus 41%-40% among all adults and 34%-48% among whites)… And Latinos remain a sleeping -- yet growing -- political giant: 23% of them aren’t registered voters (compared with 12% of whites and 16% of blacks).”
And second – listen well, ye boomers – unless those twelve million undocumented Americans are brought out from the persecuted shadows and into the aboveground economy, there won’t be enough Social Security or funding for your health care or your drugs or anything else left when you hit retirement age. Contrary to urban legend, immigrants aren't a drain on the social services system, but elderly people are! When immigrants are brought in to the system, they also begin to pay in: an about to be badly needed net plus on the national budget.
Without them, your gated communities will fast become the new ghettoes, filled with the elderly poor suddenly without the same benefits their parents and grandparents had. And senior slums won’t be a pretty sight or happy places to live. Only with the new sweat equity of immigrants will retirees get to live out the American dream. Funny how that works, but it’s always been that way. Without immigrants, there can be no America at all.