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).