7.10.2008

IMMIGRANTS AND JOBS, NOT ONE OR THE OTHER

When I saw the headline - "Philadelphia's Population Shrinking, Though Region's is Growing" - I wondered aloud how long into the article before they named the reason for the decline. Answer: about nine-tenths of the way into the article, they finally mentioned the relatively low inflow of immigrants. Demographically, all cities have lost residents; the ones that have been able to not lose population are those that offset that loss with new, mostly immigrant residents.

Ironically and deliciously, what was talked about in the first nine-tenths of the article was the other major driver of population: jobs. To be sure, you can't grow in size if you don't keep adding jobs. But we like to pit immigrants versus jobs, as in - "We don't want 'those people' taking 'our' jobs." In addition to being xenophobic, that's a zero-sum mentality: that there's a static amount of jobs in the economy, and any additional labor supply just means more competition for me.

But the economy and jobs are never static: countries, cities, and companies are constantly adding and shedding workers. Being immigrant-friendly usually translates into a net gain in the number of jobs, since it usually means a region that is open to change, innovation, and growth.

To be sure, there is real competition for jobs, and countless situations in which an incoming immigrant takes a specific job that could've been filled by a non-immigrant, longer-time resident. And, in some cases, that longer-time resident may be out of luck for the foreseeable future, if his or her job skills are not easily transferable to another company or industry. Which is why workforce development initiatives are such an important component of a vibrant, fluid region. Better that than a stagnant system in which no one on the outside is let in.
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