Our History Tells the Power of Immigrants

By: Rick Schiming

While Donald Trump is wrong about almost everything, he is especially mistaken about the role of immigrants in our economy.


            Immigrants are not “poisoning the blood of our country”. Rather they are a needed transfusion of youth and vitality into our economy and labor force.  Our history tells the power of immigrants.  The US became the world’s major economic power in large part due to the waves of immigrants arriving on our shores and going to work.  


            Immigrants make us a younger nation especially compared to the major industrial nations in the G7.  Among those nations, the US has the youngest median population age of 38.8 years with the average of 45 years of those other nations.


Locally, Talbot County’s median age is 51.1 years, making us the oldest county in Maryland.  Most other counties in Maryland have a median age between 35 and 42 years.   Four of the five next oldest counties are also located on the Eastern Shore.  Increased immigration would lower the median age and give our county and the Eastern Shore a boost of increased demographic and economic vitality.


            Immigrants are not “animals”. Each additional person entering our labor force whether native or foreign born expands our production possibilities, enabling us to produce more goods and services for the whole economy.  In a very real sense, immigrants provide us with a gift of years and years of productive labor and entrepreneurship that we should be grateful to receive.  Much of our high-tech industry and Silicon Valley is already populated by immigrants. Who knows what gifts new immigrants may yet give us in the future?


            Do we have room for all these immigrants in our nation and economy?  The answer is clearly yes.  In US labor market, there are currently about 9 million unfilled jobs, jobs where employers are often desperately seeking workers but unable to find them.   Filling those jobs would reduce inflationary pressure. Locally, crab packers end up begging every year for more immigrant crab pickers.  One can only wonder how two of the Eastern Shore’s iconic industries, poultry and seafood, would survive without the contributions of immigrants.

             Immigrants provide an opportunity to repopulate those rural areas of our country with slow growing or declining populations and economies.  We have plenty of room for immigrants. In terms of population density, the US has fewer people per square mile than all the other G7 nations besides Canada.  If we had the same population density as the average of the other nations in the G7, we would have room for nearly 2 billion people. Talbot County’s population density is even less than that of the US, so we have even more room.


            Immigrants are not “parasites”.   They benefit our economy in many ways. Just as one example, by paying into Medicare and Social Security, they extend the lifetime of these two vital programs.  Undocumented immigrants alone contribute over $10 billion into the Social Security trust fund and $3 billion into Medicare trust fund every year. Younger immigrant workers are essential in maintaining the health of Social Security and Medicare since they pay into the trust fund for many years before they start receiving any benefits. Other industrial nations with a higher median age population are finding their social safety net for older citizens to be much more at risk. 


            Immigrants are not “destroying the fabric of our country”. Foreign born adults in the US have a higher labor force participation rate,  a greater percentage of prime working age adults, and start more businesses than native born Americans.  45% of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.


            Immigrants also provide the economic benefit of increased local spending. A dollar of spending by an immigrant at Lowe’s or Giant or any other business in Talbot County has exactly the same economic impact as a dollar spent by a lifelong resident of the Eastern Shore. 


While immigration provides many benefits, it does not come without some costs.  For example, to turn those increased production possibilities into actual production requires some additional efforts in education and assimilation.  (For those worried about the costs of undocumented immigrants and border security, Congress has a bipartisan bill already drafted that addresses those concerns if Donald Trump wants to fix immigration now.) But the basic rule of economics still applies:  as long as the benefits of any action (immigration) exceed its costs, the society should welcome more of that activity.


            The bottom line as reported by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is that immigration will add $7 trillion in economic activity for the US in the next 10 years. The benefits of immigration clearly exceed the costs and we should welcome immigrants to our shores.  Immigration is a gift that keeps on giving.


Rick Schiming is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum and lives in Easton.




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