We are disappointed in the political discourse surrounding immigration.
A well–functioning immigration system is important to our current and future economic success in the region, state and nation, and despite a lot of rhetoric it’s been a long time since we had one.
Both political parties use immigration as a political football. In a perverse way, a broken immigration system enables each political party to fundraise and galvanize their bases rather than cooperating on a real solution.
One of the biggest real problems, as we’ve stated countless times in this space, is the shortage of readily available workers and more specifically workers with the skills our industries and institutions require.
We know that the number of jobs in the United States easily exceeded the number of people officially classified as unemployed. This workforce gap, according to an Oct. 16, 2018 MarketWatch article, was nearing 1 million.
Closer to home, according to Iowa Workforce Development, the labor force in the Corridor’s seven-county territory is 263,000 with an employment figure of 256,400. There are only 6,500 unemployed people in the entire region, yet there are tens of thousand of jobs currently available in the region, so even getting all the unemployed people matched with jobs will not remotely fix the problem.
Reasonable people can see we need more workers, and reasonable people understand that there are a lot of people who would like to come to work in the United States. Everyday we read about caravans of people from Central America wanting a better life in the United States. But reasonable people also understand that we should have a secure border and that we simply cannot enable everyone to enter at their pleasure.
A recent article in the New York Times said that in smaller cities and rural areas, demographic decline has become a fact of life. A recent study by the Economic Innovation Group found that 80 percent of American counties, with a combined population of 149 million, saw a decline in their number of prime working-age adults from 2007 to 2017. Iowa is part of this trend with more than 70 counties losing population out of 99.
With Iowa’s unemployment rate at a seasonally adjusted rate of 2.4 percent in February – tied for the nation’s lowest – we’re at what economists typically characterize as full employment. It’s a good problem to have for Iowa, but it isn’t sustainable for areas and businesses that want to grow.
The federal government, which controls immigration, should create more worker visas that enable these immigrants to work towards the American dream while helping existing businesses continue to experience the American dream. Providing additional training for these would-be workers will also help with the skills gap.
Fixing the immigration system isn’t that problematic once politicians fully understand that our nation’s economic future is dependent on more workers, including more international workers. Until then our economy won’t perform up to its potential.