(CNN) As one of the largest employers in the border town of Laredo, Texas, I don’t need to read the newspapers to tell me our country has a labor shortage problem. I know it from the hundreds of jobs I have been trying to fill for years.
Unfortunately, it’s not just me. Other employers are having a hard time finding the right candidates to fill vacancies at all skill and experience levels. And as if this weren’t bad enough, the US Census Bureau just reported that for the first time in our country’s history, people over 65 will outnumber children by 2035.
In fact, the number of children women are having in their lifetime — or the total fertility rate — has declined in recent years from 2.12 in 2007 to 1.77 last fall. This number falls under the required replacement rate of 2.1 births to maintain a population.
A shrinking workforce and an aging society are recipes for a stagnating economy — just ask Japan.
What are we to do?
There are a number of ideas worth considering, but here’s one thing we cannot do: Slam the door in the face of immigrants who want to work in our country.
Yes, part of welcoming newcomers into the fold is about honoring our immigrant heritage. But just as important is understanding that immigration has been mitigating the effects of our shrinking workforce, a lower birthrate and an aging society.
Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas economists estimate that immigrants and their children comprised more than half of the US workforce growth in the last 20 years and expect this group to make up an even larger percentage over the next 20 years. And, according to Pew Research Center, without a steady stream of a total of 18 million immigrants between now and 2035, the share of the US working-age population could decrease to 166 million.
We can see the positive effects of immigration in my home state of Texas. Research collected by the Dallas Federal Reserve showed that immigrants living in the Lone Star state help grow the economy by allowing native-born workers to specialize in communication-intensive jobs, while the foreign-born population is able to fill jobs that often require more manual labor or higher-skilled quantitative-based jobs.
By Dennis E. Nixon for CNN
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