As we observe and celebrate Labor Day I felt a tilt in another direction might be needed as we head into a robust campaign season that leads up to the mid-term elections. We often hear a variety of misplaced complaints and false gripes about immigrants ‘taking jobs’ or somehow living on ‘the taxpayer’s dime’. But the facts and data do not support such rhetoric.
Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Moscow, CEO of Google Sundar Pichai in Tamil Nadu, and Satya Nadella, the head of Microsoft, in Hyderabad. The biological father of the late Steve Jobs was a Syrian who moved to America. Half of all the American startups that are worth more than $1 billion were founded by migrants. Many of the engineers at tech firms were born abroad, too. In Cupertino, a posh suburb in Silicon Valley, half the population is foreign-born.
In 2012, I posted a question on this blog that I would have asked at the first presidential debate that year. It dealt with a topic that has frustrated me for a very long time, one of those big-themed issues that our country really needs to deal with. It is one that still resonates, especially considering the Dreamers are still left in limbo today.
“Mr. President, Mr. Romney. Between 1980 and 1998 Chinese and Indian immigrants founded a quarter of all Silicon start-ups. In addition, a quarter of all technology and engineering start-ups between 1995 and 2005 were founded by immigrants. In the 2010 Fortune 500 more than 40% of the companies were started by immigrants. The U.S. is the most popular destination for foreign students, many of whom wish to stay after they graduate, but can not due to not being able to get work visas. At a time when advanced science and technology degrees are in high demand globally what will you do to allow for more skilled workers to stay here, and how would you explain to low-wage and unemployed people in America tonight the importance of allowing more international graduates with advanced skills to call America home?”
The bottom line is the current skepticism that has existed for decades has deadlocked prospects for immigration reform, even though no one is particularly happy with the status quo. Against that trend, we should be looking at immigration as a creative force in our economic favor. Allowing in more immigrants, skilled and unskilled, wouldn’t just create jobs. It could increase tax revenue, help finance Social Security, bring new home buyers, and improve the business environment. Every business sector in every state needs workers!
The data speaks as to why this is true. In fact, the participation rate for men peaked at 87.4% in October 1949 and has been dropping steadily ever since. It now stands at 67.7%. (Sept. 2021 data.) Just as the data shows that a worker shortage has been underway in the United States for a long time, so too does the data show that there have been, at times, united efforts to resolve the immigration issue and assist with worker-related shortages.
For the record, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed in the Senate on May 25, 2006, with a 62-36 vote. The bill included provisions to strengthen border security with fencing, vehicle barriers, surveillance technology, and more personnel; a new temporary worker visa category; and a path to legal status for immigrants in the country illegally if they met specific criteria. President George W. Bush commended the Senate “for passing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform” and said he looked forward to working with both chambers.
But the bill was never taken up by the Republicans in the House.
Then, in 2013 a bill backed by Democrats and 14 Republicans, called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act passed the Senate on a 68-32 vote on June 27, 2013. But it too rotted in the GOP-controlled House. In 2015 even The Wall Street Journal took one of the false arguments against immigration head-on.
A Guatemalan picking strawberries in Washington state doesn’t mean a native-born worker has lost a job. The increasingly integrated North American markets are not zero sum, and the most likely result of the U.S. immigration standstill is moving factories, businesses and farms overseas where labor is cheaper. Or some services will simply vanish in the U.S. as too costly to sustain.
For the Republican Party to remain viable as a national party they need to get their attitudes and policies in alignment with the country when it comes to immigration reform. As of today many within the GOP still seem unwilling and unable to get to the place where policy changes can occur which will benefit immigrants, the country, and their party. Economics speaks to the necessity of such a move, humanity demands it.