National Data | A Nation Of…Emigrants?
June 02, 2008, 05:00 AM
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George W. Bush's latest disapproval rating (69 percent) is the highest of any president in the 70-year history of the Gallup poll. Faith in the economy, as measured by consumer confidence, has dropped to levels not seen since the great stagflation of late seventies/early eighties.

We are mad as Hell, and ought not to take it any more. But inauguration day is 240 days away. (Sigh.)

Some Americans have reached the point of no return. Literally.

A recent Barron's article by Bob Adams analyzed the responses of 115,000 Americans polled by Zogby International. [A New Life In Panama, September 24, 2007]. Extrapolating the poll results Adams reaches these rather startling conclusions:

 

  • 1.8 million are seriously considering and likely to leave

 

  • 7.7 million are somewhat serious about leaving and may do so

 

  • 3 million are seriously considering purchase of non-U.S. property

 

  • 10 million are somewhat serious about purchase of non-U.S. property

There are 113 million households in the country, so the poll figures imply that about 10 percent of us are looking to leave while another 11 percent are considering living abroad at least part-time.

These folks are not retirees: most are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. They are not tax cheats, corporate employees heading for overseas assignments, or Foreign Service personnel. Most are private citizens leaving the good ole U.S.A. on their own initiative. They are mainly malcontents and/or adventurers.

Adams, CEO of New Global Initiatives commissioned the poll to fill a data gap. Not for the first time in the immigration area, the federal government has no reliable database that tracks the movement of Americans out of the country. [Read the Migration Policy Institute report (PDF)]

Even true believers find Adams' numbers, well, hard to believe. They're simply too large to jibe with what most of us think is plausible—or even possible—regarding the potential emigration of U.S. natives.

There's also a whiff of self promotion: New Global Initiatives is a consultant to firms that sell goods and services to Americans living abroad.

But where else can we go for this kind of information? The paucity of reliable emigration data is acknowledged by official Washington:

"Accurate, detailed, and timely estimates of emigration are needed to develop and evaluate U.S. immigration policy, to derive accurate national and local population estimates (including estimates of unauthorized immigration), and to measure coverage of the decennial censuses. The sketchy data that are available indicate that emigration is a large and growing component of U.S. population change. However, partly because of inherent methodological difficulties, data on emigration from the United States are not being collected." [Immigration and Naturalization Service, 2000 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, PDF ]

This wasn't always the case. Until 1957 U.S. immigration authorities collected annual data on emigration—"inherent methodological difficulties" or not. Since then emigration flows have been estimated by the Census Bureau, using statistics collected in other countries on immigration from the U.S. as a guide.

During the 1995-97 period the Census estimated U.S. emigration to be at 268,000 per year– with only 48,000 of this native-born. In 2005 Census upped its emigration figure to 310,000. The increase was due solely to the estimated growth in the foreign-born population; Census kept its native-born emigration estimate at the same level as in 1995-97.

In a word, Census views native-born emigration as a trivial constant not requiring rigorous analysis.

British experience suggests that emigration may be caused by immigration. Since the Blair government massively increased immigration after 2001, 2.3 million immigrants have entered the country, mostly from the Third World—and two million  Britons have left, often citing the transformation of their home country.

Of course, this further weakens the argument that immigration is needed to augment the workforce.

The U.S. certainly has the immigration. Eventually, we may get the emigration—and the Zogby/Adams poll could prove to be prescient.

Maybe even the Federal government will wake up.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.