Congress, Get Woke on Immigration

Blog Post
Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Economist Diane Lim hopes that Washington policymakers “will somehow become woke and enlightened and . . . say, ‘Hey you know what? We need to focus more on our economy and to do more of what would help our economy prosper.’ ” If that happens, she says, “there are a lot of things that policymakers could do on the immigration front to . . . dispel this notion that it’s a zero-sum game.”

During the latest segment of “Economist Mom” on Facing the Future, Lim called for encouraging legal immigration that would help meet the severe shortages being experienced in some industries and occupations, especially given the aging of the nation’s population.

On the program, she and Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby take a close look at immigration, demographics and how they impact the workforce, the economy and fiscal policy.

Demographic challenges are a major contributor to the country’s fiscal challenges.

“That is because government spends money on benefit programs that tend to go disproportionately to older Americans and we raise revenue primarily from working age Americans,” Lim said. “The ratio of working age people to retirement age people is very important.”

Because of baby boomer retirements, we knew we were on a path to a lot more demands on the spending side than revenue coming in, she said.

“Immigration is one way we can kind of diversify our people portfolio in the U.S.,” she said. “We don’t have to rely on our own demographics if we are continuing to attract people from other parts of the world that have different demographics.”

“When people think about immigration, they think about things like the border wall and what do we do with the Dreamers,” Bixby said. “It’s not that those issues aren’t important, but the big thing going on with our population is the decline of the growth of the workforce.”

The biggest reason why the economic projections for the next several decades are so much lower than in the past is because the workforce is growing so much slower, Bixby said. Workforce growth is about a third of what we are used to in the post-World War II era.

“If you have such a dramatic slowdown in the growth of your workforce, it’s going to slow down the economy,” he said. “That bleeds back into the fiscal impact and what it means for the budget.”

Both he and Lim called on Congress to better utilize the legal immigration system to help address the nation’s fiscal and economic challenges.  

“The U.S. is not known for pursuing immigration policy for the goal of supporting the economy,” Lim said. “Most of our permanent visa system goes to people based on family status, not employment status.”

Bixby and Lim agreed that our country has many jobs that are not being filled by native-born workers. There are strict limits and huge bottlenecks in letting immigrants into the country who have skills we need.

Lim and Bixby said immigration has become unnecessarily partisan in recent years when it should be viewed as a potential economic engine for the country.

Hear more on “Facing the Future.” I host the program each week on WKXL, NHTalkRadio.com (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, elected officials and candidates for public office. Past broadcasts are available here. You can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play or through RSS.

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