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).

 

Federal Reserve Bank Endorses Need for More Immigrants

On November 13 the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis concluded its second annual Regional Economic Conditions Conference with a strong endorsement of the U.S. need for more immigrants.[1]

Its Senior Vice President and Research Director Mark Wright  summed up the proceedings by saying, ““What’s clear to me is that, in the same way that immigration has played a very large role in shaping the history of this country, it is going to do so again in the future, one way or another. The simple laws of demography and economics demand it.”

Wright added, “But what can’t get lost in purely thinking about the statistics, the spreadsheets, and the government budgets and how that’s affected by immigration, we also have to recognize that behind those statistics are the very real lives of many people, many families who are living in a great deal of uncertainty and great deal of difficulty right now.”

The conference’s keynote speaker, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (Rep., WI), agreed. He said, “If you don’t have enough human capital, you’re not going to have a growing economy. No policies, no tax cuts, no deregulation is going to make up for the fact that we simply don’t have enough workers. … We’re going to need a vibrant, legal immigration population.”

Therefore, Senator Johnson called on his fellow members of Congress to adopt an approach of continuous (and incremental) improvement of immigration policy to be responsive to current conditions. He also emphasized the need for  a legal immigration system where states would have a stronger voice in determining the appropriate mix of skilled workers it could welcome to address local labor force needs and where greater emphasis was placed on immigrants work skills, rather than family reunification.

More specifically Johnson said he would reintroduce a bill to allow states to administer guest-worker visas allowing the individuals to stay in the U.S. for one year to take jobs, and he previously has suggested having an annual cap of 500,000 of such visas

Political reality, however, said Johnson, requires the Congress first to fix illegal immigration.

Another speaker, Ryan Allen, Associate Professor of  Community and Economic Development at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, emphasized that as fertility rates among native-born Americans lag and as the population ages, the growth of the labor force will stagnate, but for the inflow of immigrants. For the State of Minnesota, the labor force is growing at what Allen called an “anemic” one-half of 1 percent annually, and that’s not enough to ensure economic growth. In Allen’s view, to maintain the current labor force growth rate, Minnesota needs more than four times the number of immigrants that the state demographer projects will arrive in the state over the next three decades.

These thoughts were echoed by speakers from North and South Dakota. And a Montana immigration attorney redefined what “assimilation” of migrants should mean going forward. “They’re working, they’re providing for themselves and their family, they’re contributing to the economy by spending the money they earn. They are assimilated—perhaps not in language all of the time, perhaps not in skin tone or cultural background. They are assimilated in the sense that they are part of our economy.”

This Federal Reserve Bank’s President, Neel Kashkari, frequently makes these points about immigration.[2]

Conclusion

Recent Minnesota statistics provide further evidence of this need. Its unemployment rate in October remained at 2.8% while the state added jobs at a slower rate than last year and employers were working harder to attract and retain talent. A recent survey by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce found that the difficulty of finding skilled workers is so pervasive that it is threatening business growth in the state. [3]

These conditions are also true throughout the U.S., Europe and other industrialized countries.[4]

It, therefore, is contradictory for the Trump Administration to increasingly deny and delay applications for legal immigration.[5]

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[1] Weiner, Human capital, demographics,, economic growth, and immigrants, Fed. Res. Bank of Mpls,  (Nov. 14, 2018); Ramstad, Sen. Ron Johnson says illegal immigration needs to be fixed before other reform, StarTribune (Nov. 14, 2018).

[2] E.g., Kashkari,  WSJ Op-Ed: Immigration Is Practically a Free Lunch for America (Jan. 19, 2018).

[3] Ramstad, Minnesota adds 3,400 jobs in October; unemployment holds at 2.8 percent, StarTribune (Nov. 15, 2018); DePass, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Survey: Hiring woes threaten state’s business growth, StarTribune (Nov. 15, 2018).

[4] Noack, Fertility rates around the world are declining, some Trump supporters won’t like the solution, Wash, Post (Nov. 9, 2018); Freeman, Is America Running Out of Workers?, W.S.J. (Nov. 1, 2018). See also these posts to dwkcommentaries: U.S. Needs More Immigrants (April 14, 2018); Other Factors Favoring U.S. Immigration (May 17, 2018); Impact of Declining, Aging, Rural Population (May 22, 2018); More Immigrants Needed in U.S. (June 23, 2018); Fear of Change Driving U.S. and European Clamor Over Immigration (July 3, 2018); Outstate Minnesota Newspaper Stresses Need for Immigrants (July 27, 2018); Outstate Minnesota City Aided by Immigrants Aug. 5, 2018).

[5]  Bier, America Is Rejecting More Legal Immigrants Than Ever, N.Y. Times (Nov.15, 2018).