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Darrell Berkheimer: Worker shortages need immigrants

Darrell Berkheimer | Other Voices

I’m expecting a few of our more astute economists to soon start emphasizing how badly we need those immigrants who flock to our borders. Because without allowing large numbers of immigrants to enter our workforce, the U.S. likely will face more than one horrific recession.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported our economy had 11.2 million job openings. Many are low-skilled jobs that immigrants could fill because native-born citizens either are not available, or are unwilling.

It’s time to set the record straight. The U.S. is facing a dire need for immigrant workers as members of the big Boomers generation retire. And shipping some immigrants north from our southern border may not be a bad idea; only the federal government needs to identify where they are needed most.

Of course, the GOP governors in Texas, Florida and Arizona are sending some immigrants north to score political points. But they also are drawing attention to the fact that their states are the ones forced to deal with the chaos created by political failures in Congress.

That chaos exists because Congress has failed to enact any significant immigration reform for decades. The last comprehensive immigration legislation was enacted under President Ronald Reagan in 1986. So immigration has been subjected to policy changes by each new presidential administration, and even changes within each administration.

Is there any wonder why we have chaos at our border?

Meanwhile, our low birth rate and aging population are combining to create a momentous workforce shortage that will be unable to meet our economy’s future demands, according to a Brookings Institution report. And future financing of Social Security benefits is at stake.

Immigrants bolster our national birth rate, which fell to only 1.64 per woman in 2020, when a minimum of 2.1 is necessary to maintain a stable population. In addition, the U.S. mortality rates for mothers and children have been climbing rather than declining.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonprofit think tank, noted the Census Bureau projects the ratio of working-age adults in the U.S. to each person age 65 or older will drop to 2.4 by 2035 – nearly half the 4.7 ratio in 2016.

And the Social Security ratio is projected to drop to 2.1 workers per Social Security beneficiary by 2040. But Social Security trustees calculate the system needs at least 2.8 workers per beneficiary to maintain its economic feasibility.

So our country will be in dire need of large numbers of immigrant workers for at least the next 20 years.

Few people realize just how significant and consequential our immigrant population has become. They account for 14% of our nation’s population – about 45 million people. And together, with their U.S. born children, they account for 26% – one out of four of our U.S. inhabitants.

Employment figures show they provide more than a third of the workforce in several industries. They account for 36% in farming, fishing and forestry occupations, and another 36% in building and grounds maintenance.

They also account for 29% of the workforce in textile and apparel manufacturing; 27% in both food manufacturing and the hotel industry; 24% in the construction industry and administrative-support services, and 21% of home healthcare workers.

In addition to understanding their importance to our economy, we must debunk the myth that immigrants are taking welfare services and jobs away from our native-born citizens.

The statistics show that immigrants have higher employment rates than native-born workers who receive food stamps, Medicaid and housing assistance – simply because their wages are that low that they still qualify for those services.

From the very birth of our nation, immigrants have brought a certain vitality and various entrepreneurial ideas that have enhanced our economy. Those benefits become more evident with each new generation as their children show an upward mobility that surpasses our native-born Americans.

But I must agree that it is improper for our federal government to saddle just the border states with the immigration chaos that Congress should be resolving with reforms legislation.

Our federal government should not only maintain statistics on where immigrant workers are needed most, but it should cooperate with the states needing those workers to finance their transportation from the southern borders to those jobs.

And why should only the border states be saddled with the asylum processing and acceptance procedures? Why can’t some of those proceedings be transferred to the states where the immigrants are sent to fill jobs?

Wouldn’t the prompt transfer of immigrants to locations where needed eliminate a lot of wasted expenses at the border states? I suspect the governors and many citizens in Texas, Florida, Arizona – and California – would agree.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has nine books available through Amazon. His two Essays books include nearly 120 columns published by The Union, plus a variety of travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.



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