What’s the goal of economic growth?
Obviously, increasing prosperity, reducing poverty, growing the tax base and providing for our general well-being. But not all economic growth is good. Printing money, going to war, gutting environmental regulations and slave labor also will “grow the economy.” But that’s hardly the kind of growth we want.
Population growth also makes the economy grow: more workers, more consumers — cha ching, cha ching! More than 80 percent of America’s population growth in the coming decades will be driven by immigration. It’s a no-brainer: Immigration makes the economy grow. But does immigration promote the kind of growth we want? The kind that expands wages, employment, the middle class and grows the tax base?
Dr. George Borjas of Harvard described in BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal as “America’s leading immigration economist,” has studied the economic impact of immigration for decades. In a recent study, he found that immigrants add $1.6 trillion to the GDP every year, and 97 percent of this economic growth goes to the immigrants themselves in the form of wages. The remainder, called the “immigration surplus,” goes to the native born population. Lower wages account for the bulk of this surplus. American workers lose more than $400 billion dollars per year from stagnant wages, and the profit from these savings goes to employers and investors. Bottom line: The majority of Americans receive little economic benefit from immigration, and the savings from reduced wages travels upward to employers and investors. In short, immigration is predominantly a massive income redistribution policy.
Is this what we want?
If the purpose of immigration policy were to amass wealth for very few Americans at top incomes and provide employment to people from other countries, then it’s working. But if the purpose of immigration policy, such as all other public policies, were to benefit the majority of Americans, then it’s not working.
Not all economists agree. And the American economy is affected by many factors, not just immigration. However, it is undeniable that the majority of Americans have seen little economic benefit despite massive population growth from immigration.
The U.S. population has grown by 82 million since 1986, and our GDP has more than doubled. If this phenomenal economic growth had benefited the majority of Americans, then we should see wages increase, the middle class expand and decreased poverty. But that didn’t happen.
Compared with baby boomers, millennials are much less able to find good paying jobs, pay off debts, buy homes and start families. Twenty percent are living in poverty, and we’re leaving them with a $19 trillion national debt. So who got the benefit from that massive increase in GDP? Certainly not the majority of Americans.
And 82 million new people need public infrastructure. Yet stagnant wages have not generated enough tax revenue to maintain even our existing infrastructure. From roads to bridges, schools, hospitals and basic research, America is crumbling. No wonder Donald Trump can fire up the masses with the slogan “Make America Great Again.”
Despite President Barack Obama’s cheery State of the Union address, 48.8 million working-age Americans are not in the labor force and not even counted in the unemployment rate. We have the lowest labor market participation rate in thirty years. Seventy-two million Americans are either unemployed or forced to work part time. Do we need more workers?
In a clueless stupor, Congress continues expanding foreign worker visas, some with no caps and little federal oversight: H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, F-1, J-1, L1 , OPT. A mind-boggling alphabet soup of visas. In December, Congress quadrupled H-2B visas for non-agricultural workers, slipping it into the must-pass budget bill, where it wouldn’t be noticed. A routine maneuver. And Maine’s Sen. Angus King is co-sponsoring the I-Squared bill, tripling visas for foreign technology workers, while half of all American STEM graduates can’t find jobs in their field of study. Immigration legislation is totally disconnected from employment data.
What next? A new Congress could reduce immigration, choosing fewer, better-skilled immigrants and recruiting America’s workforce from within. Or, they could expand the current policies, hugely popular with Democrats, calling it “comprehensive reform” once again.
Maine is forming its own plan. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce published a comprehensive plan to grow our workforce by 65,000. Most of the plan focused on recruiting, hiring and training Mainers; building prosperity by investing in our own people; and attracting workers from other states. Adding foreign born workers was only 15 percent of the plan. Unlike Washington, Maine’s business community got their priorities right: recruiting Maine people first.
Jonette Christian of Holden is a founder of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy. She can be reached at email@example.com.