Next year, the number of 65-year-olds in Maine will outnumber those under 18. Maine is 15 years ahead of the rest of the nation in hitting this tipping point.
And this is a challenge, not just for Maine, but for our nation’s economy. Why? Because an older population means a slowing economy. One reason: fewer workers. The second: older workers are less productive. (Millennials, you may smile here). These are the findings of groups like the Rand Corporation and the International Monetary Fund.
Employers have been complaining about worker shortages for the past several years. But it’s not just in industries requiring more highly educated and trained workers. It’s blue-collar jobs–home health care workers (more important that ever with an aging population), restaurant employees and hotel staff. Research shows that there are even labor shortages in mining areas!
And newcomers don’t take jobs away from workers already here. Research shows those already here tend to get communication-intensive jobs, while new-comers take jobs that are more manual and routine intensive.
Just look at the construction industry. Labor shortages are so bad–80 percent of companies responding to one survey said they have positions they could not fill–that Fox Business reported the industry is asking for more immigration so companies can fill those jobs.
Tourism is a big industry in Maine and its worker shortage means restaurants are cutting back on the meal times they offer and hotels are closing some sections of their hotels they can’t get the workers they need. Enter immigrants, who include refugees and asylum seekers. Even The Wall Street Journal has criticized cutting legal immigration and deporting workers whose only offense is lack of documentation.
The reason: restrictive immigration policy The Brookings Institution pointed out five years ago that there are two ways to fill the worker-job gap: retrain American workers and bring in more immigrant workers. Immigrants are more likely to have Ph.Ds and are also less likely to finish high school, according to the report, making them complementary to U.S. workers.
These economic and demographic forces are powering the rise of business immigrant coalitions at both the state and national level. These are groups who recognize our economy needs new workers and that immigrants–who include refugees and asylum seekers–are a labor pool they need. So business leaders are getting on their soapboxes and advocating for all immigrants.
The Maine Business Immigrant Coalition supports reforms that make it easier for immigrants to get jobs and start contributing to the state’s economy.
It has just posted an action alert opposing a new rule that will make it even harder for asylum seekers to work. The rule will come at great economic cost to the nation in terms of productivity and lost taxes that these workers would have paid had they been able to work.
The Texas Business Immigration Council last summer publicized a Dallas Morning News story showing that immigrants pay $10 billion in taxes and filled half the construction jobs in the Dallas Fort Worth area alone. And 40 percent of those workers were not documented. Hmm. Sounds as though they are good for our economy!
Read that and it’s easy to understand why the Texas BIC is advocating for immigration reform that includes expanding high- and low-skilled visa programs and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here.
The American Business Immigrant Coalition represents a national movement for an immigration system that supports our economy. It’s all about policies that help our economy grow.
Maine’s outreach to asylum seekers is part of that effort.