An Immigration Debate Distinct From Economic Realities
By Gerald F. Seib
The American birthrate has slowed dramatically, with the number of babies born in the U.S. last year hitting a 30-year low. At the same time, Alaska fisheries, New Hampshire restaurants and Maryland crab processors all say they are critically short of workers. Farmers say they need thousands more workers, and some production is moving overseas for lack of labor. There are 6.6 million job openings in the U.S., which means that, for the first time in history, there are enough openings to provide a job for every unemployed person in the country.
Meantime, the House of Representatives virtually ground to a halt last Friday because some Republican lawmakers are demanding a vote on a bill that would lower legal—not illegal, but legal—immigration.
If you sense a disconnect here, it is because the immigration debate of 2018 seems disconnected from economic realities.
There is a good case that America’s economy—growing and thriving—has never needed immigrant labor more than it does now. Unemployment has fallen to 3.9%, its lowest point in more than 17 years. More than a third of small businesses have job openings they can’t fill, the National Federation of Independent Business says.
When the federal government made this year’s allotment of H-2B visas for low-skilled foreign workers available in January, it instantly received thousands more applications than the 66,000 legally available. Demand was so high the visas were awarded by lottery. Now, the government will likely make an additional 15,000 H-2B visas available for the year, though businesses would like thousands more.
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