New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the trip to Washington yesterday to meet with members of Congress and delivered a very strong speech at a Council on Foreign Relations symposium I organized on “The Future of U.S. Immigration Policy.”
Bloomberg’s message was one that all sides in the caustic immigration debate need to hear: that in the dire economic situation this country faces, the question is no longer what the United States can do for immigrants, it’s what immigrants can do for us.
In case anyone needed reminding about the economic mess the country is in, McKinsey last week released a frightening study that showed that only under the most optimistic scenario will unemployment fall below five percent in the next decade. More realistically, the jobless rate will remain near double digits for years.
The big reason for stubbornly high unemployment since the end of the Great Recession in 2009 is not the continued loss of existing jobs but the failure to generate new ones. The unmatched flexibility of the U.S. economy has long meant that millions of jobs, and thousands of businesses, disappear each year only to be replaced by new businesses and new jobs. But the engine of job creation has stalled. According to McKinsey, since 2007 there has been a 23 per cent decline in new business startups, at a cost of nearly 2 million jobs.
The jobs crisis is moving to the center of the immigration debate, where it belongs. House Judiciary chairman Lamar Smith’s solution is a comprehensive E-Verify bill introduced this week that he claims will “free up” millions of jobs by forcing out undocumented workers. While there are many good reasons to expand E-Verify, job creation is not one of them. Some of those jobs will go underground into the cash economy; others will just go unfilled (ask the farmers in Georgia, which has emulated Arizona’s tough workplace verification rules). Some companies will go out of business – American Apparel, the Los Angeles clothing maker that was forced to fire a quarter of its workforce after an ICE-led investigation in 2009 – is now on the verge of bankruptcy. The company employs 5,000 people in that city alone. And while some jobs will certainly open up for citizens or legal immigrants as a result of E-Verify, these are hardly the sorts of jobs that will drive a U.S. recovery.
Bloomberg’s vision is a very different one, and there’s lots of evidence to back him up, including a new study that his business coalition, the Partnership for a New American Economy, released yesterday. Encouraging skilled immigrants to come to the United States is one of the easiest ways available to jumpstart job creation.
He laid out a five-point agenda for harnessing immigration to spur U.S. economic revival:
• A fast track to a green card for immigrants who graduate from advanced programs in the sciences and engineering;
• Visas for immigrant entrepreneurs, as proposed in the Startup Visa Act sponsored by Senators Lugar and Kerry;
• More visas for high-skilled workers to encourage U.S. companies to expand here (and hire more Americans as well) rather than going abroad;
• Streamlined programs to allow hiring of immigrants in tourism and agriculture where labor shortages exist; and
• Making U.S. economic needs a greater priority than family reunification in setting immigration quotas.
The speech is rich in detail and worth a careful read. There is certainly no easy way to break the current stalemate over immigration policy, but it clearly won’t be broken unless Americans understand that immigration is part of the solution to our current economic woes, not part of the problem.