Have shortage issues reshuffled immigration priorities?

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The global COVID-19 pandemic produced more than physical and emotional illness, suffering, and death over the last two years. The virus also brought global economic paralysis that impacted the global supply chain and created historic worker shortages.

Bloomberg last month reported that Toyota slashed September production by more than one-third from 2020 levels. That same article shared Apple’s report of $6 billion in lost sales because of supply chain issues impacting their production.

A trip to the grocery store or parents and grandparents searching for special Christmas toys know that some products — products long taken for granted as rather universally available in the U.S. — aren’t available or are in short supply. Entire product lines — cookies, crackers, etc. — disappear from the grocery shelves for undetermined periods.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Worker shortages — both in lower skill and service industry jobs and higher skill manufacturing and even some professional pursuits — have developed with people quitting their jobs over pandemic issues. Some four million Americans quit their jobs in April of this year alone.

Globally, countries are competing for immigrant workers as a means to offset worker shortages and related supply chain issues as inflation threatens to slow or stall the economic recovery from the pandemic. The U.S., Great Britain, Germany, Canada, and Japan head that list, as Foreign Policy magazine in October presented this provocative headline: “Who Will Win the Global War for Talent? After the Great Lockdown Will Come the Great Migration.”

Should the U.S., should Mississippi reconsider the question of illegal immigration less from the xenophobic standpoint of false claims that these immigrants are “taking jobs” from Mississippians who want to work and more toward having a sufficient workforce willing to work?

As we’ve watched this issue evolve over the last 40 years here, two primary truths remain on a constant collision course. First, impoverished, desperate people living in often dangerous foreign countries come to the U.S. to seek a better life. In many cases, they are willing to risk their lives in doing so illegally. Once here, they are ready to accept low-wage, low-skill jobs that many Americans refuse to do to get a start here that affords them a chance to progress.

In many cases in the poultry and timber industries, immigrant laborers were actively recruited to the U.S. by some in their industries. Labor “brokers” cropped up to meet that demand. COVID-19 has contributed to that system.

Second, there is an undeniable and ready market for immigrant labor (legal or otherwise) in this state and nation. In Mississippi, immigrants are more than willing to gut our chickens, plant our trees, process our catfish, harvest our sweet potatoes, perform the most arduous construction labor, cook our food and wash our dishes in restaurants, and clean our rooms in our hotels. The companies extending jobs to those immigrants profit from their labors.

But despite a concentration of the jobs filled by immigrants in Mississippi in the food services, hospitality, maintenance, agricultural, and construction sectors, 30 percent of those workers possess undergraduate or graduate college degrees and 49 percent have high school diplomas.

Who are these Mississippi immigrants? The American Immigration Council identifies 70,860 immigrants in Mississippi (two percent of the state’s total population) as of 2020, with 38 percent naturalized American citizens and 35 percent undocumented or otherwise illegal representing one percent of the state’s population. Countries of origin include Mexico (23 %), Guatemala (10%), India (8%), the Philippines (4%), and Vietnam (4%).

The AIC documents that as about three percent of the state’s labor force, immigrant workers generate about $1.5 billion in spending power and pay $550.6 million in federal, state, and local taxes. The opposing Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) counters that illegal immigration is by far a net fiscal drain on Mississippi taxpayers.

Yet illegal immigration and immigration issues generally are vastly overstated issues in Mississippi. Neither demographics nor fiscal reality supports the political alarm present. Globally, nations are looking to change immigration quotas, caps, and visa regulations to solve supply chain and worker shortage challenges.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.