Additional Support for U.S. Needing More Immigrants

 This blog previously has argued that the U.S. needs more immigrants, not fewer.[1] Additional support for that argument is found in recent news about U.S. population data, U.S. low unemployment rate and need for more workers and the examples of some U.S. communities welcoming immigrants.

U.S. Population Data[2]

There are two inter-related sets of U.S. population data that reflect the need for more immigrants: low U.S. native-born birth rate and foreign -born membership in the U.S. work force.

In 2018, the number of babies born in the U.S. was 3.79 million, the lowest in 32 years and the fourth year in a row that this number declined. Similarly the U.S. general fertility rate—the number of births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44—fell to 59.0, the lowest since the start of federal collection of this data. These statistics reflect fewer babies born to teenagers and unmarried women, lower Hispanic fertility rates and the increase in women obtaining college degrees.

Moreover, the total fertility rate—the estimated number of babies a woman would have over her lifetime—has generally been below the “replacement” number of 2.1 since 1971. This could mean (without immigration) a declining overall population and workforce too small to support a growing number of retirees and older people. Such support, of course, includes paying for the Social Security and medical benefits for senior citizens.

This decline in the native-born population has been counter-balanced by increases in the foreign-born who are members of the U.S. labor force. In 2018, there were  27.2 million foreign-born workers, representing 17.5% of the total work force, which is the highest percentage since 1996 when these records were first kept. This segment includes those who now are U.S. citizens, immigrants and those here temporarily. Moreover, the data shows that the foreign-born workers are becoming better educated and more likely to be Asian.

“The top overall reason for people to come to the United States is for employment,” said Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

Shortages of Workers in U.S.[3]

In Minnesota, for example, “factory officials — especially those in rural areas — say severe worker shortages are increasingly impeding their growth and profits. A March survey indicated that nearly 50% of such officials said “their inability to find qualified workers had hurt growth. . . .a rise of 14 percentage points from 2017.“

It is not just Minnesota that is experiencing this situation. The director of a recent survey of the nine-state mid-America region says, “finding and hiring qualified workers remained the chief threat to manufacturing economy for the region. … Of surveyed factory managers, approximately 44.7% identified labor shortages as the greatest threat to company success in the next 12 months.”

A Wall Street Journal editorial makes the same points on a national level. It says that “there is little evidence” for the belief “that lower-skilled immigrants undercut American workers,” but on the contrary “U.S. workers, taxpayers and businesses would benefit from more immigrants of all skill levels.”

This editorial also attacks the concept of  a merit-point immigration system, recently put forward by President Trump. It says that such a system “is vulnerable to political meddling and will discriminate against less-educated strivers who also boost the U.S. economy. Merit systems don’t measure entrepreneurship and would keep out many less-skilled workers who start small businesses like the neighborhood dry cleaner. The plan also doesn’t increase or streamline guest-worker visas, which are crucial to reduce the incentive for illegal immigration.” Moreover, “Low-skilled immigrants are contributing heavily to the nation’s entitlement programs and sustaining Rust Belt communities that otherwise would be losing population. More immigration will be vital to maintaining the “safety net” as the U.S. fertility rate last year fell to a 32-year low.”

U.S. Communities Welcoming Immigrants[4]

 Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist and a Minnesota native, recently visited the city of Willmar, population of 19,610 (2010 census) in the southwestern part of Minnesota. Historically it was a largely white, Lutheran, Scandinavian town.

Now the town’s diversity is seen at its high school, which has  students from 30 countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The languages spoken there include English, Arabic, Somali, Spanish and Karen (the language of  an ethnic group from Myanmar). Visiting the school, Friedman saw “a Benetton ad of races, creeds, colors and clothing.” To assist this mixture the school has “Spanish-speaking and Somali-speaking cultural liaisons [who] work with teachers, students and parents, so families can learn how to advocate for their kids, what the rules are and just how the local culture works.”

The school’s principal, Paul Schmitz, summed up its challenge and mission this way, “Sustainable democracy in the world depends on the United States being a beacon of democracy. And that depends on how well we manage democracy in a pluralistic society.” And that depends on healthy public schools, because “the only shared experience we have any longer in America is through public education.”

Businesses in Willmar have donated money to “create an entrepreneurship program for area schools, through which selected kids begin their day by visiting or working at local businesses. There they have to come up with a business plan for a start-up, get it approved by a local banker, raise or borrow seed money themselves and work on the project instead of attending school for first part of each morning. . . . [One of the] Somali students . . . had started a company that makes short videos!”

Other Willmar collaboration occurs between a local community and technical college (Ridgewater College) and the K-12 schools, the local chamber of commerce, economic development commission and a community foundation. An example of that collaboration is the “Community Integration Center, which some Somali social entrepreneurs opened in 2017 to teach Somalis English and Minnesota culture and to teach Willmarites Somali and Somali culture.”

In short, Friedman discovered a successful community in Willmar because it needed workers to fill jobs, it embraced the immigrants and it has a critical mass of community leaders (business people, educators, philanthropists and social entrepreneurs). As Dana Mortenson, CEO of World Savvy, a global education organization, said, Minnesota towns that are rising are those “that . . .  need a trained work force with a good work ethic and . . . [that embraces] a redefined sense of community.”

More generally in Minnesota immigrants are slowing or halting or reversing population declines in 15 rural Minnesota counties. One such county [next to Willmar] is Stevens County, population of 9,726. Its county seat of Morris (5,286 population) has a large Latino contingent who were drawn here for employment by agribusinesses involved in dairy and beef cattle farming. A professor at the town’s University of Minnesota-Morris started evening  English-language courses for the newcomers that now operates twice a week at five levels of proficiency. This program also raises money to buy English books for the students and hosts events for long-time residents to meet the newcomers. The local library has books and library cards in Spanish. The newcomers organized a soccer tournament in the town.[6]

Conclusion

The objective reasons for wanting more U.S. immigration are clear—we need more workers. We also need younger workers who will help pay for the increasing costs of an aging native population. Rural areas with aging and declining population for their survival need immigrants.

These changes will be immensely aided by communities that welcome change and increasing diversity and develop ways to facilitate the assimilation of new people from different parts of the world with different lagnuages, customs, skin colors  and religions.

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[1]See, e.g.,these posts to dwkcommentaries:  “America’s Farms Need More Immigrants,” (Mar. 22, 2019); Businesses Need More Immigrants (Mar. 24, 2019); Trump Erroneously Says U.S. Is “Full,” (April 9, 2019).

[2]DeBarros, & Adamy, U.S. Births Fall to Lowest Level Since 1980s, W.S.J. (May 15, 2019); Freeman, A Historic Shortage of Americans, W.S.J. (May 15, 2019). 

[3] DePass, Minnesota Manufacturers say worker shortages hurting growth, StarTribune (May 15, 2019); Slaughter, Immigrants for the Heartland, W.S.J. (April 28, 2019); Editorial, Trump’s Immigration Progress, W.S.J. (May 17, 2019).

[4] Friedman, President Trump, Come to Willmar, N.Y. Times (May 14, 2019); Rao, In Minnesota counties losing population, immigrants slow the decline, StarTribune (May 12, 2019).

[5] Friedman’s account of visiting Willmar is reminiscent of his fond reminiscences of growing up in the successful integration of Jewish citizens with the existing Christian community of St. Louis Park, Minnesota and then the current intergraton in his home town of Latinos and Somalis into the exisitng white and African-Ameican population. (See Friedman, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, chs. 12, 13 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2016). See also, Reactions to Tom Friedman’s “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,” dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 13, 2017).

 

 

More Immigrants Needed in U.S.

Previous posts have pointed out the U.S. need for more immigrants, in the opinion of this blogger. This conclusion follows from the U.S. declining birth rate, the aging, declining population of the rural parts of many states and the current low unemployment rates and the difficulties many companies are facing in finding additional workers.[1]

Bret Stephens, a conservative New York Times columnist, eloquently reiterates these  same points: (1) “The U.S. fertility rate has fallen to a record low.” (2) “Americans are getting older.” (3) There are “labor shortages in multiple industries throughout the country [that] inhibit business growth.” (4) “Much of rural or small-town America is emptying out.” (5) “The immigrant share (including the undocumented) of the U.S. population is not especially large.” [2]

Then Stephens adds a sixth, and more controversial, reason: “immigrants — legal or otherwise — make better citizens than native-born Americans. More entrepreneurialMore church-going. Less likely to have kids out of wedlockFar less likely to commit crime.” This reason is supported by (a) a 2015 National Academy of Sciences study that concluded that “immigrants are . . . much less likely than natives to commit crimes;” (b) a 2017 Cato Institute report that 0.85 percent of undocumented immigrants are incarcerated compared with 1.53 percent of native-born Americans; and (c) a 2018 Marshall Project analysis of 200 metropolitan areas in the U.S. with falling crime while their immigrant population was increasing.[3]

Another concurring opinion was voiced in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year by Neel Kashkari, the President of the Minneapolis’ Federal Reserve Bank. He said, “Robust immigration levels are vital to growing the American economy.” The reason is simple: immigration should lead to population growth, which “drives economic growth because a larger population means more workers to produce things and more consumers to buy things.” He concludes, “Immigration is as close to a free lunch as there is for America. Our welcoming culture provides us an unfair competitive advantage most countries would love to have. Let’s use that advantage to win the immigration competition and accelerate growth. We’d be crazy not to.”[4]

The impact of an aging American population is also the focus of another Wall Street Journal article. It says the U.S. is becoming  “a country with fewer workers to support the elderly—a shift that will add to strains on retirement programs such as Social Security and sharpen the national debate on the role of immigration in the workforce.”[5]

Yet another fact supporting this need for more immigrants is the June 21 U.S. Census Bureau report of estimated U.S. population “that showed, for the first time, a decline in the white population. The drop was small, just 0.02 percent, or 31,516 people in the year ending last July. But a demographer at the bureau, Molly Cromwell, said that it was real, and followed a 9,475 person drop the year before. That one was so small that it was essentially viewed as no change, she said.”[6]

This change was associated with deaths exceeding births among white people in more than half of the states in the country. Here is a map of the U.S. with states in blue having more white deaths than births in 2016.[7]

The Census Bureau had been projecting  “that whites could drop below 50 percent of the population around 2045, a relatively slow-moving change that has been years in the making.” But this new report leads some demographers to say that shift might come even sooner.

“The change has broad implications for identity and for the country’s political and economic life, transforming a mostly white baby boomer society into a multiethnic and racial patchwork. A majority of the youngest Americans are already non-white and look less like older generations than at any point in modern American history.”

Some political observers believe this current and future demographic change was a potent issue in the 2016 presidential election that helped drive many white voters to support Donald Trump.

Another New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, sees many Americans exhibiting hatred of immigrants fueled by false beliefs that they are murderers and rapists and criminals or by what Krugman calls “sick fantasies.” He asks, “Where does this fear and hatred of immigrants come from? A lot of it seems to be fear of the unknown: The most anti-immigrant states seem to be places, like West Virginia, where hardly any immigrants live.”  He concludes, “the real crisis is an upsurge in hatred — unreasoning hatred that bears no relationship to anything the . . .[immigrants] have done. And anyone making excuses for that hatred — who tries, for example, to turn it into a “both sides” story — is, in effect, an apologist for crimes against humanity.”[8]

These demographic changes and challenges are not unique to the U.S. An article in the New York Times “states, “Immigration is reshaping societies around the globe. Barriers erected by wealthier nations have been unable to keep out those from the global South — typically poor, and often desperate — who come searching for work and a better life. While immigrants have often delivered economic benefits to the countries taking them in, they have also shaken the prevailing order and upended the politics of the industrialized world — where the native-born often exaggerate both their numbers and their needs.” Their article has many amazing global maps regarding immigration flows.[9]

Conclusion

It is easy to understand why many people fear these changes in the makeup of their communities and seek political answers that purportedly will stop these changes. Those of us who do not share this fear need to develop a message that emphasizes the constancy of change in human life on this planet, that these changes will have positive effects on life in the U.S. and that we as a society can cope with any negative effects.

Another element in this effort should be emphasizing the well-established fact that in any large group of people—be they immigrants or Republicans or Democrats or business executives or farmers—there will be a few “bad apples.” But the “bad apples” should not define the group as a whole. The American people at large get this point as a recent public opinion poll indicated that 75% of them believe immigration generally is good for the nation.[10]

We also have to battle against the vile rhetoric of Donald Trump, who just this week said his hardline stance on immigration was aimed at stopping the “death and destruction caused by people that [sic] shouldn’t be here.” He emphasized this point by having with him “angel families,” who are relatives of people who had been killed by undocumented aliens and who talked about their legitimate grief over loss of loved ones.

A good answer to such rhetoric was provided by John Rash, an editorial writer and columnist for the StarTribune (Minnesota’s largest circulation newspaper), in discussing a new exhibit at the Minnesota History Center:  “Somalis + Minnesota.” This exhibit, he says, “shows how migrants enrich Minnesota” by highlighting “the lives of a cultural cross-section of some [of the 57,000 Somali-Minnesotans,] including state Rep. Ilhan Omar, who made her own news after topping another immigrant, state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, to get the DFL Party endorsement for the Fifth District congressional race.”  Rash adds, “the settlement of Somalis is just the latest contribution to Minnesota’s mosaic. Recent years have seen Vietnamese, Hmong, Karen and other immigrant communities enrich the state.”[11]

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries: U.S. Needs More Immigrants (April 14, 2018); Other Factors Favoring U.S. Immigration (May 17, 2018); Comment: Wall Street Journal: U.S. Immigration Debate Disconnected from Economic Realities (May 21, 2018); Impact of Declining, Aging, Rural Population (May 22, 2018); Comment: More U.S. Guest Worker Visas for 2018 (May 26, 2018); Comment: Wall Street Journal Calls for More Guest Worker Visas (May 29, 2018); Comment: Small Town in Pennsylvania Bolstered by Immigrants (June 4, 2018);

[2] Stephens, Our Real Immigration Problem, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2018).

[3] Rogers, Trump, Defending Immigration Policy, Laments Deaths Caused by People Who ‘Shouldn’t Be Here,’ N.Y. Times (June 22, 2018).

[4] Kashkari, WSJ Op-Ed: Immigration Is Practically a Free Lunch for America, W.S.J. (Jan. 19, 2018)  Kashkari reiterated these views on June 21 at a roundtable event at the African Development Center in Minneapolis. (Ramstad, Immigration plays a key role in economic growth, Kashkari says, StarTribune (June 22, 2018).)

[5]  Adamy & Overberg, Growth in Retiring Baby Boomers Strains U.S. Entitlement Programs, W.S.J. (June 21, 2018).

[6] Tavernise, Fewer Births Than Deaths Among Whites in Majority of U.S. States, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018); Sáenz & Johnson, White deaths Exceed births in a Majority of U.S. States, Applied Population Lab, UW-Madison (June 18, 2018).

[7]  The graph’s source: Analysis of National Center for Health Statistics data by Rogelio Sáenz, University of Texas at San Antonio, and Kenneth M. Johnson, University of New Hampshire.

[8]  Krugman, Return of the Blood Libel, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2018).

[9] Porter & Russell, Immigration Myths and Global Realities, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018).

[10] Chokshi, 75 Percent of Americans Say Immigration Is Good for Country, Poll Finds, N.Y. Times (June 23, 2018); Brenan, Record-High 75% of Americans Say Immigration Is Good Thing, Gallup (June 21, 2018).

[11] Rash, Rash Report: The migration issue is global, and growing, StarTribune (June 22, 2018). See also Prather, ‘Somalis + Minnesota’ exhibit opens Saturday at Minnesota History Center, StarTribune (June 22, 2018); Jones, “Somalis + Minnesota” at history museum, StarTribune (June 22, 2018) (photographs of exhibit).