Trump Official Says U.S. Needs More Immigrants

On February 19, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney appeared at a members-only event at the Oxford Union, the private debating society at the U.K.’s University of Oxford. [1]

He, however, was not debating anyone, but instead talking about current political issues in the U.S. One such issue was U.S. immigration.

“We are desperate — desperate — for more people,” Mulvaney said. “We created 215,000 jobs last month. We are running out of people to fuel the economic growth that we’ve had in our nation over the last four years. We need more immigrants.”

The Trump administration wants those immigrants to come in a “legal fashion.” 

Alex Nowrasteh, director of immigration studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said Mulvaney’s statements were very much in line with the views he often expressed as a GOP congressman from South Carolina. “Mulvaney in Congress was hugely supportive of expanding immigration, and the great thing about having him in this position is that he’s been a voice of sanity, reason and support for the mainstream economic consensus on immigration, which is that it’s good for economy,”

The Mulvaney statements echoed a recent report about U.S. immigration by the U.S. Census Bureau.[2]

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[1] Miroff & Dawsey, Mulvaney says U.S. is ‘desperate’ for more legal immigrants, Wash. Post (Feb. 20, 2020); Haberman, Mick Mulvaney Says He Often Disagrees with Trump (Just Never Publicly), N.Y. Times (Feb. 20, 2020).

[2] U.S. Needs Immigration To Keep Growing and Maintain Prosperity, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 16, 2020). 

U.S. Needs Immigration To Keep Growing and Maintain Prosperity

A new report by the U.S. Census Bureau examines the impact of different levels of immigration on the growth, age and racial diversity of the U.S. work force.[1]

The report concedes, “International migration is difficult to project because political and economic conditions are nearly impossible to anticipate, yet factor heavily into migration movements into and out of a country. While we make no attempt to predict future policy or economic cycles, we do recognize the uncertainty surrounding migration and the impact that different migration outcomes could have on the future population.” Therefore, the Bureau “produced three alternate sets of projections that use the same methodology and assumptions for fertility, mortality, and emigration but differ in the levels of immigration that they assume: high, low, and zero immigration.”

The report’s summary stated, “Higher international immigration over the next four decades would produce a faster growing, more diverse, and younger population for the United States. In contrast, an absence of migration into the country over this same period would result in a U.S. population that is smaller than the present.”

“Beyond influencing the number of people in the population, immigration patterns over the next four decades will also shape the racial and ethnic composition of the population. In 2016, Asians were the fastest-growing racial group in the nation, and immigration was the primary driver behind the growth in this group. If immigration increases, the Asian alone population could grow by as much as 162 percent between 2016 and 2060 and go from 5.7 percent of the total U.S. population to 10.8 percent. The future size of this population is particularly sensitive to immigration. Under a scenario with no immigration, the Asian alone population in the United States would decline over time, representing just 4.5 percent of the total population in 2060.”

“Regardless of immigration, the population is expected to continue to age between now and 2060. Low fertility rates coupled with large cohorts of baby boomers reaching their ‘golden years’ are expected to shift the age distribution of the population so that the share of the population aged 65 and older exceeds the share of the population under the age of 18. The timing of this shift, however, will vary depending on the amount of immigration that occurs. High immigration levels will delay this milestone more than a decade relative to scenarios with lower levels of migration.”

“Over the next four decades, the population is expected to increase from its 2016 level in two out of the three alternative scenarios. In the high scenario, the population will increase by 124 million, reaching 447 million in 2060. In the low scenario, the 2060 population is projected to be 376 million, representing an increase of 53 million people. Under a zero immigration scenario, the population is projected to increase until 2035, at which point the population would peak at 333 million. After that, the population is projected to decline through 2060, when it could reach a low of 320 million.”

“The share of the population that is White alone is projected to decline in all scenarios of population projections between 2016 and 2060. For the high, middle, and low scenarios, the number of residents classified as White alone actually increases from the 2016 values, but these increases are outpaced by increases in the other racial and ethnic groups. “

“The population aged 65 and older is projected to surpass the population under the age of 18 in size in all immigration scenarios. The date at which this occurs is earliest in the zero immigration scenario (2029), followed by the low immigration scenario (2031), and then the high (2045). By 2030, more than 20 percent of the U.S. population will be aged 65 and older. In the high scenario, this milestone is reached in 2028. For the low scenario, it occurs in 2026; and in 2025 for the zero scenario.”

Conclusion

William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, reviewed the report and concluded, “We desperately need immigration to  keep our country growing  and prosperous.The reason we have a good growth rate in comparison to other developed countries in the world is because we’ve had robust immigration for the last 30 to 40 years.”

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[1]  U.S. Census Bureau, A Changing Nation: Population Projections Under Alternative Migration Scenarios (Feb. 13, 2020); Lang, U.S. population will decline faster without steady immigration, Census report says, Wash. Post (Feb. 13, 2020). 

Implications of Reduced U.S. Population Growth 

As noted in a prior post, “on December 30, the U.S. Census Bureau issued its official population estimates for 2019 showing, as expected, a slowdown in overall growth of population and reduced population in 10 states: New York, Illinois, West Virginia, Louisiana, Connecticut, Mississippi, Hawaii, New Jersey,Alaska and Vermont. In addition, the Census Bureau stated, “U.S. population is expected to grow 6.6% in the 2020s, a slide from 7.5% growth this decade” and “urban and rural areas across the country will divide further in the deceleration.”

The slow growth of U.S. population, as discussed in the prior post, is due to several factors: (1) the “U.S. fertility rate—the number of children each woman can be expected to have over her lifetime—has dropped from 2.1 in 2007 to 1.7 in 2018, the lowest on record.” (2) “Death rates, already rising because the population is older, have been pressured further by ‘deaths of despair’—suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-related illness.” (3) U.S. immigration “has been trending flat to lower” and is subject to anti-immigration policies of the Trump Administration.

An editorial in the Washington Post notes that this may cause a positive reduction in the demand for resources. However, the reduced population growth “may mean less economic growth and a diminished support base for a large retired cohort” as well as a warning that “starting a new life in the United States has come to seem less attractive, both to prospective parents already living here and to prospective arrivals from abroad.”[1]

This, said the Post, “is a warning” that “the need for more [immigration] is real,” which “this country cannot afford to ignore.” [2]

Lower population growth is not the problem in rural America. Declining population is its problem. This situation recently was examined at the Regional Economic Conditions Conference of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis by Beth Ford, the CEO of Land O’Lakes, the Minnesota-based, member-owned agricultural cooperative.[3]

She said this population problem was exacerbated by problems in the agriculture economy. “Consolidation was happening across agriculture because of oversupply.” The average age of farmers was rising, and it is awfully difficult for young want-to-be farmers to get into the business, resulting in widows owning 60% of Iowa’s farmland. Many dairy farmers are surviving by taking jobs off the farm. Conventional corn and soybean farming will continue although the farming incentive structure will have to change over time. “Farmers are raising wages for help, but can’t find people who want to do the work.” Consolidation of farms continues because of economies of scale. The rural communities where farmers live are struggling to survive. Under these conditions, government subsidies for agriculture are necessary.

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[1] Editorial, America’s dip in population growth is a warning we shouldn’t ignore, Wash. Post (Jan. 4, 2020)

[2] Recent letters to the Post disagreed with the conclusion that lower population growth was a problem.  Instead, one letter argued that a “decreasing population would naturally buy the United States more time to use the limited amount of resources we have, to find a bipartisan plan of attack against climate change and to create legislation to protect the environment.” Another letter said that “slower population growth provides an opportunity for us to lift up the next generation so we can have a healthy, skilled, productive workforce” by focusing resources and attention on “the 13 million children trapped in poverty.” (Letters to Editor, Slow population growth is a good thing, Wash. Post (Jan. 9, 2020).

[3] Belz,Land O’Lakes CEO calls for investment in rural America , StarTribune (Jan. 9, 2020).

 

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).

 

 

Trump Erroneously Says U.S. Is “Full”   

President Donald Trump at an April 5 roundtable on the border at the U.S. Border Patrol station in Calexico, California addressed arriving Central Americans: “Can’t take you anymore. Can’t take you. Our country is full. Our area is full, the sector is full. Can’t take you anymore. I’m sorry.” Two days later he repeated this message in the following April 7 tweet:

  • “Mexico must apprehend all illegals and not let them make the long march up to the United States, or we will have no other choice than to Close the Border and/or institute Tariffs. Our Country is FULL” (Emphasis added.)  [1] 

Trump, however, was wrong in this assertion.[2]

U.S. Needs More Immigrants

 Immediately after the roundtable, U.S. Representative Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Dem., WA) rejected the contention that the U.S. was “full.” She said, “It’s just a ridiculous statement. We have agriculture industries across the country that desperately need workers. We have construction industries in California and in other places that desperately need workers, and immigration has always been not just a question of immigration policy, but who we are as a country.”

A More complete rejection of Trump’s assertion came in an article in the New York Times. It starts by saying this assertion “ runs counter to the consensus among demographers and economists.” This conclusion was documented by the following:

  • The U.S. is a country “where an aging population and declining birthrates among the native-born population are creating underpopulated cities and towns, vacant housing and troubled public finances. . . . Local officials in many of those places view a shrinking population and work force as an existential problem with few obvious solutions.”
  • “In smaller cities and rural areas, demographic decline is a fundamental fact of life. A recent study by the Economic Innovation Group found that 80 percent of American counties, with a combined population of 149 million, saw a decline in their number of prime working-age adults from 2007 to 2017.. . . Local officials in many of those places view a shrinking population and work force as an existential problem with few obvious solutions.” [3]
  • “Population growth in the United States has now hit its lowest level since 1937, partly because of a record-low fertility rate — the number of children born per woman.”
  • “The Congressional Budget Office foresees the American labor force rising by only 0.5 percent a year over the coming decade, about one-third as fast as from 1950 to 2007. That is a crucial reason that economic growth is forecast to remain well below its late 20th-century levels.”
  • “There are now 2.8 workers for every recipient of Social Security benefits, a rate on track to fall to 2.2 by 2035, according to the program’s trustees. Many state pension plans face even greater demography-induced strains.”
  • John Lettieri, president of the Economic Innovation Group, fears a “declining population, falling home prices and weak public finances will create a vicious cycle that the places losing population could find hard to escape.”

One of the solutions to this U.S. problem is creation of “a program of ‘heartland visas,’ in which skilled immigrants could obtain work visas to the United States on the condition they live in one of the counties facing demographic decline — with troubled countries themselves deciding whether to participate.”

Washington Post Editorial

A Washington Post editorial lambasted Trump for his “full” statement. It points out that only a month before these remarks, Trump said, “‘So we’re going to let a lot of people come in because we need workers. We have to have workers.’ And the day after his ‘full’ assertion, the Department of Homeland Security nearly doubled the number of guest worker visas it would issue this year. [4]

The Post editorial then recited the following facts about why the U.S. needs more immigrants:

  • The U.S. “faces a shrinking native-born labor force as baby boomers retire at a rate of 10,000 daily , unemployment reaches historically low levels, and immigration continues to dwindle from Mexico, a traditional source of cheap documented and undocumented employees. In March, the Labor Department reported there were 7.6 million unfilled jobs and just 6.5 million unemployed people, marking 12 straight months during which job openings have exceeded job seekers.”
  • “The labor shortage is sapping growth as well as state and municipal revenue. Small businesses and major corporations have sounded the alarm as the delivery of goods is delayed by a drastic shortage of truckers, and housing prices in some markets are driven up by an inadequate supply of construction workers.”
  • “The deficit is particularly acute in lower-wage jobs, as more and more Americans attend college and are reluctant to take positions in skilled trades and other jobs requiring manual labor. Home health aides who care for the sick and frail are in extremely short supply, as are workers in retail, restaurants and farms. The problem is exacerbated by a fertility rate — the number of children born per woman — that is the lowest since the 1930s. The impact of that decline until now has been partly offset by immigration.”

In short, the Post says, Trump’s “political strategy is a prescription for long-term economic anemia and declining competitiveness.”

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[1] Kim & Perry, ‘Our country is full . . . . So turn around, Trump warns migrants during border roundtable, Wash. Post  (April  5, 2019); Trump, Tweet (April 7, 2019).

[2] Irwin & Badger, Trump Says the U.S. Is ‘Full.’ Much of the Nation Has the Opposite Problem, N.Y. Times (April  9, 2019). This blog also frequently has discussed the U.S. need for more immigrants.  See, e.g., “America’s Farmers Need Immigrants” (March 22, 2019); Businesses Need More Immigrants (March 24, 2019); U.S. Construction Industry Needs More Immigrants (April 3, 2019).

[3] The Economic Innovation Group has published a report on the facts of U.S. population and its impact on economic growth with fascinating U.S. maps showing various population facts. (Economic Innovation Group, From Managing Decline to Building the Future: Could a Heartland Visa Help Struggling Regions?, at 9-10 (April 2019). )

[4] Editorial, The country isn’t ‘full’—and Trump knows it, Wash. Post (April 12, 2019).

 

U.S. Construction Industry Needs More Immigrants 

Two recent posts have discussed the U.S. need for more immigrants in agriculture and business.[1]

This point was underscored by a New York Times article focusing on the need for more immigrants in the construction industry.[2]

This article states, “Nationwide, the average wage of nonsupervisory workers in residential construction hit $25.34 an hour in January. That’s over 6 percent more than a year earlier, close to the steepest annual increase since the government started keeping track almost 30 years ago. Pay is taking off even among those in less-skilled construction trades.”

This “rising cost of . . . [construction] crews reflects a demographic reality that could hamstring industries besides their own: Their labor force is shrinking. President Trump’s threat to close the Mexican border, a move that would cause damage to both economies, only adds to the pressure.”

In addition, “economic growth in Mexico and the aging of . . . [its] population were reducing the flow of Mexican workers into the United States. The number of undocumented immigrants in America declined to 10.7 million at the end of 2017 from a peak of over 12 million at the height of the housing bubble in 2008, according to the Center for Migration Studies.” This is coupled with projections of “very little growth in the[U.S.] working-age population over the next two decades. If the United States were to cut off the flow of new immigrants, Pew noted, its working population would shrink to 166 million in 2035 from 173 million in 2015.”

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[1] “America’s Farms Need Immigrants,” dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 22, 2019);  Businesses Need More Immigrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 24, 2019).

[2] Porter, Short of Workers, U.S. Builders and Farmers Crave More Immigrants, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2019).

 

“America’s Farms Need Immigrants”   

This is the title of a letter to the Editor of the New York Times from an Illinois farmer. He says, “Rural farming areas need people. We need farm workers to bring their families and fill our schools and places of worship. We need people not just to work but also to support our small-town economies, attend our events and make themselves at home.” [1]

He adds, “Anti-immigration policy is devastating to America’s small towns. Fear of ‘the other’ is killing us.”

His comments were prompted by a Times article describing the same phenomenon for small dairy farmers in upstate New York.[2]

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[1]  Morse, America’s Farms Need Immigrants, N.Y. Times (Mar. 21, 2019).

[2] Goldbaum, Trump Crackdown Unnerves Immigrants, and the Farmers Who Rely on Them, N.Y. Times (Mar. 18, 2019).  See also the posts listed in  “U.S. Population & Immigration“ section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States (POLITICS).