The Vital Role of Immigration

Blog Post
Wednesday, December 22, 2021

This week on Facing the Future, Concord Coalition Chief Economist Steve Robinson and I spoke with Richard Jackson, President and Founder of the Global Aging Institute, about the new issue brief he authored, The Vital Role of Immigration in an Aging America.  This latest edition is part of a periodic series of issue briefs published jointly by the Concord Coalition and The Global Aging Institute entitled, The Shape of Things to Come

Later on in the program, Concord Coalition Communications Director Av Harris and I took a deeper dive into some of the findings in Jackson’s paper and how to move forward with some policy solutions to our immigration challenges. Joining us for that segment were longtime labor organizer and activist Jose Laluz, and Pankaj Prakash, an immigrant to the United States from India, now a workforce data analyst in the defense and aerospace industry.

Jackson says immigration is the key to both components of GDP growth: employment growth and productivity growth, which together maintain economic and living standards  in an aging America.

“Without immigration, the working age population would already be shrinking today,” said Jackson.  “Faster growth in the working age population translates into faster employment growth. Immigrants boost employment growth not just because they add to the population, but also because they’re more likely to be of working age than native born people are. Many economists also believe that also boosts productivity growth.  With employment growth growing faster, there is more need for capital broadening investment, there is a quicker turnover in capital stock, and that can spur productivity and technological progress by creating opportunities for learning by doing. Immigrants also bring a greater diversity of skills, and an entrepreneurial initiative to the economy, and this can boost productivity growth as well.”

The problem, Jackson says, is that immigration has been declining dramatically in the last 25 years. This decline threatens long-term economic growth in the United States which in turn can mean declining revenue generation for the federal budget and increasing deficit pressures as the cost of federal programs such as Medicare and Social Security increase as the population ages. In short, America has growing burdens and a shrinking economy to pay for that increased burden.

So what do we do?  How do we boost immigration levels to meet the needs of our economy and the cost of our aging society?  And how do we make progress on federal immigration policy in a politically polarized environment?  For answers and discussion on those questions we turned to two individuals who know the issue intimately. 

Jose Laluz is a long-time labor organizer and activist who has spent decades working on both sides of the US Mexico border on immigrant and labor rights, and served as advisor to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in 2020 as well as organizing the Hispanic community in Florida for the Obama reelection campaign in 2012.  

Laluz says attitudes have evolved within the organized labor movement from a resistance or hostility towards higher immigration levels out of fear that immigrants would take the jobs of native born workers.

“Perhaps in certain sectors among the building trades, there is some resistance.  Change is always slow and it comes from the bottom up.  As many more immigrant families continue to contribute to the country’s economic growth, people begin to see the benefits. The only labor federation we have in this country – the AFL-CIO – has come out strongly in favor of immigration reform that leads to citizenship and the normalization of the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants that have been living in the country for years and years. This will clearly benefit the economy and workforce growth and development.”  

Pankaj Prakash is an immigrant from India who originally came to the US on a student visa in 2001, and later became a US citizen.  He now works in workforce data analytics in the defense and aerospace industry and serves as a Republican elected member of the Town Council in Rocky Hill, CT as well as the Connecticut Republican state central committee. Prakash says the key to improving an imperfect system is focusing on making immigration policy more just while also better serving the country’s economic needs.

“Personally speaking and as someone who has interest in matters of immigration and workforce, as a country we need to focus more on the conversation about family based immigration vs. skills based immigration. That paradigm can solve a lot of things and these are not exclusive to each other. It can be inclusive of the two. Right now, we have about 45% family based immigration and about 10% skills based immigration. Those numbers are pretty much flipped for countries like Canada and Australia, that many policy organizations have looked to as models for healthier immigration growth.”

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL in Concord 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, and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook, and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.