At the Intersection of Employment Trends & Immigration

The Minneapolis Federal Reserve explored the connections between slow population growth, tight labor markets, and immigration trends across the Ninth District on November 13 at their annual Regional Economic Conditions Conference.

The half-day event combined presentations by economists and policy influencers from around the region, including keynote speaker Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin.

If you don’t have enough human capital, you’re not going to have a growing economy,” said Johnson. “No policies, no tax cuts, no deregulation is going to make up for the fact that we simply don’t have enough workers … We’re going to need a vibrant, legal immigration population.”

A series of panel discussions explored demographic trends from Montana to Michigan. Lagging fertility rates among native-born Americans and an aging population were cited as contributing factors to the stagnation of the labor force, which according to University of Minnesota Associate Professor Ryan Allen is growing at an “anemic” one half of one percent annually.

Allen stated that to keep jobs filled, Minnesota will need more than four times the number immigrants that are expected to arrive in the next three decades, according to state demographer projections.

Without increased immigration, the next-best alternative to filling jobs will be wage increases, suggested Professor David Flynn of the University of North Dakota. Another possible solution brought up by Johnson would be a responsive congressional policy giving states more power to control immigration within their borders, including the ability to adjust the levels of skilled workers admitted to address local labor force needs.

“What’s clear to me is that, in the same way that immigration has played a very large role in shaping the history of this country, it is going to do so again in the future, one way or another. The simple laws of demography and economics demand it,” said Senior Vice President and Director of Research for the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Mark Wright. “But what can’t get lost in purely thinking about the statistics, the spreadsheets, and the government budgets and how that’s affected by immigration, we also have to recognize that behind those statistics are the very real lives of many people, many families who are living in a great deal of uncertainty and great deal of difficulty right now.”

“I was pleased with the diversity of views, the quality of the data, and the thoughtful dialogue that ensued,” wrote Neel Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, following the conference.

A video of the full event is posted on Youtube. Slideshow presentations and more materials from featured speakers including Shahid Haque of the Helena, Montana Border Crossing Law Firm, Victor Macias-Gonzalez of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and Michelle Rivero of the City of Minneapolis Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, can be accessed on the Federal Reserve’s website. Find the Federal Reserve’s full followup article on the FedGazette website here.

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