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Earth To Politicians: The U.S. Has Too Few Immigrants — Not Too Many

Earth to politicians: The U.S. has too few immigrants — not too many

Earth to politicians: The U.S. has too few immigrants — not too many

A woman and child are among migrants gathered inside the fence of a makeshift detention center in El Paso on March 27. (Sergio Flores for The Washington Post) With the imminent demise of Title 42 , which led to the automatic expulsion of many seeking asylum in the United States, scary stories about an “immigration surge” and “border crisis” are reliably back in the news . Politicians have mostly taken this opportunity to fearmonger about how our country will soon be overrun with “illegals.” Rather than stoking panic, they should find ways to match the overwhelming need for workers in nearly every field at home to the overwhelming demand for entry from people who live abroad. Because right now there are least three major challenges that a revamped immigration system could help solve. All three require increasing legal immigration, rather than curbing it. First: inflation. To be sure, many factors have contributed to rising prices. One is the continued mismatch between demand for workers and the supply of available workers, which has disrupted supply chains. As of February, there were still nearly twice as many job vacancies as there were unemployed workers available to fill those vacancies. Wage growth alone can’t fix this problem. Advertisement Not coincidentally, many of the industries that have faced the most severe labor shortages (food services, health care) are those that disproportionately employ immigrants. Indeed, many of the country’s “ missing ” workers appear to be immigrants who either never arrived early in the pandemic, when consulates and borders were closed, or immigrants who are already here but have not been legally allowed to work for bureaucratic reasons. Follow Catherine Rampell’s opinions That is, U.S. immigration agencies are backlogged, and have had trouble processing work-permit applications and other documents in a timely manner. The Federal Reserve has been trying to bridge this supply-demand mismatch by reducing demand, through interest-rate increases. An alternative strategy might involve ramping up supply, allowing in more immigrants legally authorized to work. To some extent, this has already been happening; the population of working-age immigrants has largely normalized in the past year or so. Advertisement The working-age immigrant population is now roughly back on pre-pandemic trend Jan. ’10Jan. ’12Jan. ’14Jan. ’16Jan. ’18Jan. ’20Jan. ’2231M32M33M34M35M36M37M38M Actual Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Haver Analytics, Apollo Chief Economist Torsten Slok But the Biden administration is still failing to process work permits for asylum seekers as quickly as the law requires, which means a lot of these immigrants might not be legally allowed to work. (These delays also contribute to stresses on cities receiving these immigrants , who must rely on public services if they are not allowed to financially support themselves.) A second problem that enhanced immigration could help solve: executing the Chips Act and other industrial policies that politicians favor, but that are facing some hurdles . Around the country, companies tasked with setting up new semiconductor factories , battery plants and infrastructure projects report shortages of construction workers as a major ongoing challenge. In Columbus, Ohio, alone, three new factories in progress currently require 10,000 skilled construction workers — more than are available across the entire state . Advertisement And that doesn’t account for the skilled manufacturing workforce that will be needed to operate the plants and other projects once they’re (hopefully) built. The White House has said it will draw more native-born Americans into these industries through retraining and the promise of new perks, such as child care. Even if that plan works, it will be slow. If climate is truly an emergency, and if reshoring supply chains dominated by China is a national security priority, we need to beef up this labor force. Not a decade from now, but today. Congress at one point understood this, and passed an earlier version of the Chips Act that expanded the number of visas for high-skilled immigrants with STEM degrees. Lawmakers chickened out, though, and cut the measure. Third problem: Our long-term fiscal challenges. Advertisement Even now, politicians are fighting over how to reduce the nation’s deficits and debt. Republicans propose spending cuts ( generally unspecified ); Democrats offer vague tax increases (only on the “ wealthy ,” of course). Both parties have promised to mostly spare changes to Social Security and Medicare. Unfortunately, those two programs are among those facing the biggest budgetary challenges, thanks to demographic trends: The country is aging, fertility rates are well below replacement level, and so we do not have sufficient numbers of working-age people paying […]

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Daisie Hobson

Daisie Hobson is a Director at the Reshoring Institute and an engineer with many years of experience in manufacturing and project management.

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