Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

The E.U. and the U.S.: Lots to Learn-From Each Other

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

The E.U. and the U.S.: Lots to Learn-From Each Other

Article excerpt

For Americans, a surging population level isn't just a good thing. We see it as imperative, the critical measure of economic success.

But are we right?

Just posing the question seems unpatriotic in a nation built on immigration and a go-go consumer ethic. As we see it, more people equals more wealth equals the American Dream, inherently better than anyone else's.

But now the European Union is showing us how nations that were even vicious combatants in not-so-recent wars can unite, write a common constitution, adopt a common currency, with 445 million people, suddenly outdistance the United States not just in population but as the world's largest internal market and exporting power.

There are, to be accurate, two big flies in the Europeans' soup: how to deal with immigration, and their own meager birth rate.

Even Jeremy Rifkin, whose new book, "The European Dream," plausibly claims the continent enjoys a dramatically higher quality of life than ours, points to Europe's "frighteningly low fertility rate" and warns that without a "massive increase" in non-E.U, immigration in the coming decades, "Europe is likely to wither and die--both figuratively and literally."

The fertility rate is a meager 1.4 percent in Germany, Sweden, Spain and Greece. Italy, which has the world's lowest population growth rate, will likely lose a fifth of its people by 2050. Europe's median age will soar from today's 37.7 years to 52.3 years in 2050--while the U.S. figure will only inch up to 35.4 years.

If you believe a nation needs youth not just to feed an adventuresome and entrepreneurial spirit, but also to pay for the aging generation's pensions and health bills, then the European dilemma is real.

And on the immigration front, the Europeans are discovering how tough it can be when newcomers fail to assimilate rapidly or very much at all, hanging onto their cultural identity, as Roma (gypsies) have for generations.

Muslims represent the most dramatic immigrant flow into Europe--now more than 10 million overall, 8 percent of France's population. By some demographic extrapolations they'll be a majority of Europe by the end of this century. A vast Muslim diaspora is spreading across the continent, millions physically resident in Europe but linked to their lands of origin by strong faith, cell phones, Internet and commercial ties.

In a Europe where every nook and cranny has long been filled by native populations, immigrants don't find the space America affords them. Many are poor and live in squalid conditions. And there's a serious problem of radicalization of young Muslims.

"We Americans are much better at making immigration work," says Robert Lang of Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute. "We're not finished building the continent and they are. …

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