Dr. Tom Milligan: Time for serious policy approaches to employment-based immigration

This election season we’ll hear a lot about the economy, inflation, product shortages and labor shortages. We will also hear a lot about immigration in the context of border security, about the importance of stemming the flow of undocumented migrants and about a southern border that is not protected properly. The recent tragedy in Texas leading to the deaths of 53 migrant men, women and children is evidence of this.

Unfortunately, not many will see the link to a need for sensible employment-based immigration policies that can ensure an orderly flow of immigrants into the country while helping address our labor shortages — and yet they are very much linked.

Economists have been sounding the alarm for years. Dr. Rachel Sederberg of Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), a leading think tank covering the issue of labor shortages in the United States, noted in a recent article that when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in February 2020, “there were 7 million job openings and 5.9 million unemployed people in the United States. … If we want to get to an equivalent point today, and keep up with our population growth, we need another 2.9 million (workers).”

Numerous scholars point to key factors for these shortages, including the high number of baby boomers retiring, low birth rates and low labor participation. While we must, as a nation, make a supreme effort to assist in finding new employment for those who have dropped out of the workforce, we must face the fact that there are simply not enough workers to continue growing our economy successfully.

According to a May 2022 study by Kimberly Amadeo, unemployment stood at between 7% and 11% nationally during the last national high inflation period of the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Today, her study shows unemployment stands at under 4% nationally. Labor supply is what is needed now to fuel economic recovery. Employment-based immigration is an essential part of that equation.

In numerous conversations I have had with local businesspeople in my home region of West Central Ohio, responses echo this sentiment. There just are not enough people to fill the jobs that need to be filled, from the skilled to the labor intensive.

In my recently completed doctoral dissertation, “Context and Culture: A Phenomenological Study of Blue Collar Workers in Two-Multi-Cultural Workplaces,” blue-collar laborers I interviewed share this sentiment as well. Said one blue-collar worker in the study: “I do not believe there has been a single point in my career here when we have been fully staffed.” Said an immigrant worker in the same firm, “There are too many no shows at work. … Right now we lack people.”

Even in an environment where wages and salaries are increasing at unprecedented levels, there are not enough people for the economy to grow and prosper.

Employment-based immigration at all skill levels, especially given the many other labor force headwinds, is a critical component in addressing labor shortages.

Border security is a critical issue to our nation. So is having a sufficient workforce to grow our economy. We must be able to walk and chew gum when it comes to our approach to immigration reform, which is why my company joined Ohio Business for Immigration Solutions, a business coalition solely focused on educating and informing local, state and federal policy makers about the importance ofcommon-sense immigration reforms focused on improving our state’s economy and workforce.

Common-sense immigration reform is a key component of a comprehensive workforce strategy and is essential to the economic progress of our state and nation.

Dr. Tom Milligan is a business owner, college trustee and economic development leader in West Central Ohio and a recent graduate of the Doctor of Business Administration program at Franklin University in Columbus. He is a member of the Steering Committee of Ohio Business for Immigration Solutions. Reach him at [email protected]. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.