Immigrants are key to addressing America’s labor shortage, lowering inflation, and growing our economy

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The unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent this summer — the lowest level in more than 50 years. While that is good news to celebrate this Labor Day, there is another side to the nation’s historically low unemployment numbers.

Across every sector, businesses can’t find workers to fill open positions, even when they increase pay and benefits or go so far as to pay candidates to attend job interviews. There are 10.7 million job openings in the U.S., but only 5.7 million unemployed workers. Even if every unemployed American found a job, we would still have five million jobs unfilled. But for America’s broken immigration system, immigrant workers could fill many of these jobs — and it is U.S.-born citizens who would benefit the most from their contributions.

For consumers, the labor shortage means empty shelves, higher prices, and long waiting times, whether for a restaurant table or in the emergency room. The labor shortage is especially acute in services we need the most. As students return to school, the National Education Association estimates a shortage of 300,000 teachers and support staff across the nation. In a recent survey, 90 percent of nurses were considering leaving the profession in the next year. Nearly 1 million new STEM jobs will come open over the next decade, but it’s not clear that the U.S. educational system is preparing students to fill those jobs. 

In the agricultural sector, the labor shortage is causing sticker shock at the grocery store, with some families skipping meals due to inflation. Food prices are 10 percent higher than last year — the biggest increase in 40 years. At this year’s Labor Day barbecue, hamburgers will cost 36 percent more than last year, pork and beans will cost 33 percent more, and homemade potato salad 19 percent more, according to data from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Common sense immigration reforms would bring food prices down and address supply chain bottlenecks. In 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act on a bipartisan basis. Democrats and Republicans compromised on this bill to allow undocumented farmworkers to earn legal status through continued employment in the agricultural sector and expand the H-2A guest worker program to allow for the year-round hiring of temporary farmworkers. Since then, Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Mike Bennet (D-Colo.) have taken the lead on negotiating improvements on the House’s solutions and moving the process forward. Now it is up to the Senate to continue bipartisan negotiations and pass their own bill before the end of the year.

A recent study by Texas A&M International University shows how much good fixing the farm labor shortage would do for farmers, workers, and American families who need nutritious meals at affordable prices. Researchers found that more migrant and H-2A guest workers are associated with lower inflation and lower food prices, including for milk, eggs, meat, fruits, and vegetables. More migrant and H-2A guest workers are also correlated with higher wages for American workers and lower unemployment. 

The CHIPS and Science Act, which passed this summer with bipartisan support, shows that Democrats and Republicans can still get together and solve some of America’s biggest issues. This bill will help the U.S. regain a leading position in semiconductor chip manufacturing, although policymakers missed the opportunity to include immigration provisions that could have opened America’s doors to highly trained, and urgently needed, foreign-born STEM professionals.

Labor Day should be a day for recognizing the contributions of all workers, including the 11 million undocumented workers who have been contributing to our economy for years and decades. Employers need their energy, talents, and skills and they need the dignity and stability that comes with permanent legal status. From high inflation to an unprecedented labor crisis to declining global competitiveness, America faces a battery of serious challenges. The key to meeting those challenges depends on reaffirming America’s character as a beacon of hope, freedom, and opportunity for all. 

Rebecca Shi is the Executive Director of the American Business Immigration Coalition and its c4 arm ABIC Action, a diverse, bipartisan group of over 1,200 CEOs, employers, and trade associations promoting common sense immigration solutions.

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