Immigration reform could help solve critical U.S. labor market issues

Potential impacts include rapid economic growth, increased employment and reduced federal deficits
VP, GR & Workforce Development

There’s an old joke concerning two women at a restaurant. One says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know, and such small portions.” In the joke, the two women are having vastly different experiences, but both arrive at the same point. Neither have any interest in returning to the restaurant again.

So, it is with the debate over immigration reform. The extremes on both sides have very different experiences, philosophies and outlooks. Yet, in the end, they arrive at pretty much the same place: Neither are interested in pursuing reasonable reforms that will foster a vetted and orderly system of legal immigration.

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At this point, all interested parties can agree that our current laws simply do not reflect the needs of the American economy. Millions of people reside in our nation without proper documentation. Millions more seek to enter the country lawfully only to face an incomprehensive and unworkable system.

Employers continue to face an ongoing workforce shortage, which has already cost the country over $1 trillion in lost productivity. Sensible immigration reform would not only drive significant economic benefit; it could also solve some of the critical issues facing our labor market as employers contend with a domestic U.S. labor force and the significant structural challenges therein.

They include the fact that 75 million Baby Boomers are expected to retire by 2030. In addition, teen labor force participation has dropped by 20 percentage points over the last 35 years, the labor force participation rate remains nearly a full percentage point below its pre-pandemic high, and there are currently two job openings for each unemployed person in the United States.

Fortunately, some in Congress are pushing back and trying to find centrist approaches to address these decades-old challenges. NRF applauds their efforts and stands ready to assist as they do this vital, impactful legislative work.

The closest our nation has come to comprehensive immigration reform in the 21st century was the 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. At the time, the Congressional Budget Office projected significant positive impacts, including rapid economic growth, increased employment and reduced federal deficits. A new study from the American Action Forum estimated that if the legislation were to be enacted today, over the next 10 years gross domestic product would be cumulatively $2.9 trillion higher, the labor market would see 26 million more jobs and budget deficits would be reduced by nearly $300 billion.

To quote one famous American, “We know there is broad support in our country today for fair and balanced immigration reform that will benefit both immigrant workers and their families, and employers as well. I am pleased to see labor and business, conservative and liberal groups, faith-based and secular groups … in support of comprehensive immigration reform. My hope is that we will be able to achieve lasting and long overdue reforms.”

Much has changed since Senator Edward Kennedy spoke those words on September 7, 2001. What has not changed is our nation’s need for serious legislators to address a serious problem.

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