how shrinking populations fuel divisive politics

A look into the future shows the importance of immigration.

In the 2000 film “Almost Famous,” Cameron Crowe’s comedy-drama about rock musicians in the 1970s, the character played by Zooey Deschanel at one point gives her younger brother some advice. “Listen to ‘Tommy’ with a candle burning, and you’ll see your whole future,” she says.

I’m going to borrow that thought for today’s newsletter: Stare at this annotated map with — or without — a candle burning, and you’ll see your whole future.

Created by my colleague Lauren Leatherby, a Times visual journalist who has been reporting on the world’s demographic shifts, the graphic shows how the number of working-age people around the world is forecast to change by 2050.

Europe’s working-age population will shrink. So will that of Brazil, China, Chile, Japan and Russia, among others. And that change could have extremely negative consequences for those societies, without mitigation.

“Working-age population” can sound technical and abstract. But these are the people who staff our offices and factories, work farms, treat the sick, care for the very old and the very young. They are the ones who have children and raise them; who build new things and fix old ones.

When that population shrinks, those activities become more difficult, more expensive and less frequent. The economy slows down. Fewer workers getting paid generates less tax revenue. As the population ages, more people rely on government social security programs to fund their retirements and health care, putting those vital programs further under strain.

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