Does America Need More Workers?
Sure appears so
Right now America has its lowest peacetime unemployment rate since WWII, 3.4%. There are almost two job openings per unemployed person, an ongoing record. 12 states have an unemployment rate under 3%, and 35 states are at or below what is considered full employment, 4%. And this is before the big three Biden bills - infrastructure, CHIPs, the climate bill - start creating demand for millions of additional workers each year.
It sure appears we need new workers. Where will they come from?
In an ideal world the first step America would take would be to legalize the 11m undocumented already here. Assuming 7-8m of these immigrants are currently working here illegally, legalizing their work would create a big new pool of legal workers who have already assimilated, are older and skilled, have put down roots and are integrated into communities. It would be the most pragmatic step we could take right now, but it is also one that feels politically out of reach.
A second approach, as outlined in Greg Sargent’s new Washington Post essay, would be for the Administration to “parole” immigrant workers directly into states at the request of a governor. Two Republican governors, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, offered such a proposal in an op-ed last week, writing:
Indiana has about 220,000 open jobs right now and Utah has 107,000, according to the most recent federal data — more than 6 percent of all jobs in both states. With strong business and tax environments, we like our chances in the competition for job-seekers moving from other states. But they won’t be enough to fill all of those vacancies. We also need immigrants who are ready to work and help build strong communities.
To help us do our jobs as governors, we call on Congress to end its two-decade standoff on setting immigration policy — one of its most basic duties. And, as leaders of states, we pledge to share the accountability. Though border security is a national concern, and a nonnegotiable requirement of national security in a world with drug cartels and terrorists, we believe that states should be able to sponsor whatever immigrants serve the needs of their communities. As it is, the standstill on immigration hobbles both parties and, more seriously, endangers America’s long-term well-being.
Pretty interesting idea. As Greg points out this approach would be build on steps the Administration is already taking:
[The state based approach] would build on Biden’s new initiative extending parole to tens of thousands of migrants each month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In that program, migrants apply from abroad for a U.S. sponsor, rather than journeying to the border. That’s facing legal challenges. But if the initiative survives, Biden could extend parole to migrant workers who would also apply from abroad and get sponsored by employers, in conjunction with input from states.
As this new article from Politico details, this worker shortage problem could significantly slow the implementation of Biden’s big three bills. A primary reason we’ve ended up with too few workers was the assault Trump made on the legal immigration system, leaving us 2-3m workers short of where we should be.
However we get there in the coming months it’s time for Congress to do something about this serious worker shortage problem, and it is very encouraging to see two Republican governors taking the lead in finding ways to overcome the rancid nativism of MAGA.