Immigrants and the Economy

It is disheartening to see that, despite the fact that job losses have finally started to slow, the unemployment rate remains so high that the process of applying for a job is more difficult than ever.  I recently read that the U.S unemployment rate reached a staggering 10.2 percent in October. And the economy isn’t just affecting American workers in the U.S.

Immigration is down, and the number of foreign nationals seeking employment in the U.S. is at rock bottom.

All of which has gotten me thinking about this question that economists and policy makers are always debating: Do immigrants take jobs and opportunities away from Americans? Or would more foreign workers, visitors and immigrants result in a much-needed boon for our suffering economy?

I am neither an economist, nor a policy maker, and any conclusion that I reach on this subject will be biased (I will not deny it) by the fact that on a fundamental, intuitive level, expansive immigration policies seem like a good idea to me.  But I don’t think this makes my perspective any less valid. It only makes it more honest.  I really believe that immigration is good for the U.S. economy and I feel like I have only to look around the world that I live in to see evidence of that truth.

It really shocks me when I come across these so -called “impartial” researchers, the ones who compile volumes of statistics that “objectively” support the proposition that the employment of immigrants leads to the unemployment of U.S. workers.  And then, shockingly, seem to arrive at the same conclusion in every realm of the economic and political spectrum. Really? Immigration does not have one positive consequence for the U.S. economy? Is the benefit of an increased labor force contributing to Social Security and Medicare not worth mentioning? The benefit to U.S. industry of having employees at the top of the field insignificant? And providing U.S. employers with access to short-term and unskilled labor has no affect on the desirability of out-sourcing as an alternative to maintaining U.S. operations? Really?

I have a feeling that the economists that I refer to, if given the opportunity, would claim that their anti-immigrant agenda is fueled by the findings of their various studies on the subject, and not the other way around. But that strikes me as transparently self-serving. If “objective” parties who cannot find one redeeming quality in immigration are truly impartial, then the word has really lost all meaning.

I have not conducted a “study” to support my hunch that immigration is good for the U.S. economy, but I will offer you the following:

1. Immigrants = $ spent in the U.S.

Depending on which side of the debate you fall, you can find studies that show either that immigrants drain U.S. funding by using more government resources than they pay for in tax dollars, or, conversely, that the immigrant dollar is vital to the health of the U.S. economy.

I’ve already told you where I stand in the debate, so let’s look at the incontrovertible (to me) ways that immigrants stimulate the economy.

Immigrants pay taxes. And how dearly our country needs those tax dollars right now! Around the country, government-funded services are being terminated. Libraries, women’s shelters and low-cost medical service facilities are closing their doors. The tuition at state universities is going up and local school districts are facing drastic budget cuts. Frankly, we can use all the help we can get. The contribution that is made by foreign nationals who are living in the U.S. should not be held lightly. One recent estimate puts the amount of Social Security taxes paid by immigrants at $9 billion per year. And that’s just Social Security.

And immigrants don’t only pay taxes. Immigrants pay tuition that is not supported in any way by the U.S. government. In addition, the tuition that foreign students pay is often significantly more than the tuition paid by American students at the same school.

And how about the contributions of temporary visitors? Tourism is a vital industry for cities throughout the country. International visitors infuse much-needed capital into communities that depend on seasonal vacationers for their prosperity. Increased restrictions on obtaining visas make the U.S. a less desirable destination. And that is just not good for business.

And don’t forget that access to immigrant labor in the U.S. keeps many U.S. businesses located here, instead of outsourcing operations to developing countries with few to no labor laws and little regulation.

In general terms, a global presence in the U.S. is simply good business sense. I mean, have you ever heard of an isolationist country that was a hotbed for foreign investment?

2. Diversity is good

At the end of the day, I feel like where one stands on the immigration debate is a matter of how much you value diversity. And if you value it, I mean really value it, then you should support expansive immigration policies.

Diversity is good. It introduces a cross-pollination of ideas, perspectives, and cultural experiences, without which a society can become stagnant, bigoted, reactionary and isolationist.

The value of diversity distinguishes itself in the role it plays in schools and business. In both areas, the open exchange of diverse ideas and experiences has manifold benefits. In academics, a diverse student body leads to novel research, artistic inspiration and an unparalleled spirit of competition. In business, the ability to think outside of parameters defined by custom has lucrative benefits.

In both school and business, collaboration with foreign counterparts creates links that are vital to the ongoing success of the United States in the global economy.  The U.S. has educated foreign leaders and hosted some of the most influential business people in the world, as well the men and women who serve as the backbone of countries with which we do business and collaborate on global policy initiatives.

Our society recognizes the value of diversity by supporting programs that encourage the participation of racial minorities. As a society we respect the right to worship in a diverse number of ways. And we pay lip service to the idea that ethnic diversity is an integral part of our identity as a nation. But if we are to truly heed that national identity, then we must pay more than lip service. We must genuinely see the value of the contributions of those who come from around the world to join their families in the U.S., attend our schools, and work for our companies.

What is diversity, after all, but the ability to look beyond what you know, beyond your own experience, and find something that both mirrors and diverges from life as you know it? Diversity allows us to evaluate our choices outside the blanket of custom and convention, to find what we have in common with the people around us, and to identify what makes us unique. Diversity is the spark that inspires growth. It is good for communities, it is good for schools, and it is good for business.

The answer to our country’s economic woes does not lie with keeping immigrants out. That path will only take us farther down a steep decline that it will become increasingly difficult to climb out of. We need immigrants to help us generate the revenue to pay for services that we previously had the luxury of taking for granted. We need immigrants to compete with in our schools, so that the students whom we graduate will have the skills they need to successfully compete in the global marketplace. And we need to continue to welcome visitors from around the world, to encourage their interest in our country and our culture, their investments and their perspectives.

We would be foolish to close our doors so tightly against the world that the world stops knocking.