Postcards from America’s Great Labor Shortage: A couple arrives at Seattle airport after a five-hour flight and waits in line at the rental car counter. People are angry. In the office sits a harassed employee explaining that he simply has no car to rent. Nothing. Why? There are not enough employees to vacuum, wash, fuel and treat the cars.
Another snapshot. A couple has been driving for several hours and needs a restroom stop. They walk into a Burger King. The doors are locked. The only service is at the drive. Why? Lack of employees.
Have you stayed in a hotel recently? Housekeeping and room service are sparse. If hotels offer these services, they are only available on request. About 25% of restaurant and hotel employees are immigrants. What could be going on here?
Politico reports that hospitals in 40 states have reported critical staff shortages — orderlies and janitors, yes, but also nurses, doctors and medical technicians. One in five nurses and one in four nursing assistants were born abroad. Twenty-eight percent of physicians are immigrants.
That dining room set you’ve been waiting for to get delivered? A shortage of port workers and truckers slows everything down. No more airline delays. Fewer varieties of food in supermarkets. Shortages of wood, cars and consumer electronics.
And, as you may have noticed, everything is much more expensive.
The reasons for this are multifactorial. Falling demand for cars during the pandemic, for example, prompted the industry to slow production. It takes time to come back up. The inflation we are experiencing is partly the result of the government pumping too much money into people’s accounts, compounded by COVID-induced supply chain shocks and disruptions caused by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
But the one factor we discuss too little of is immigration – or rather, we emphasize the wrong aspect. Republicans are obsessed with the southern border and the dreaded waves of people (or sometimes “caravans”) trying to enter. But we’ve had people crowding the Mexican border for a long time. What we haven’t seen in many decades is a serious drop in the number of legal immigrants — a drop that’s a big factor in everything Americans don’t like about the way things are going. are happening right now. If an immigration advocate had wanted to concoct a scenario to show Americans how much their lives would be diminished with fewer immigrants, they could not have devised a better scheme than the combination of the Trump administration and the pandemic.
Trump began his push on immigrants in 2017 with a ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and followed with drastic reductions in the number of green cards issued, the number of refugees admitted (a shameful political choice) and the number of legal immigrants. treaty. A Government Accountability Office review found that the Citizenship and Immigration Service had increased its processing time for immigration applications sixfold between 2015 and 2020. Trump officials threw sand in the gears. They increased the fees for naturalization applications from $620 to $1,160 and added onerous and burdensome requirements. A 2019 rule, for example, required immigrants to refile forms if they left a blank, even if the question did not apply to them. The interviews were blocked and they deprived the agencies concerned of funding.
Where is the outrage that we are turning away highly skilled immigrants who could make a difference in our competition with China? Wouldn’t an “America First” policy capitalize on our desirability as a destination for talent instead of slamming our doors? Wouldn’t we welcome those who will create the key technologies of the future, such as artificial intelligence?
Before Trump, Republicans used to point out that they were all for legal immigration but only opposed the illegal variety, but that has all changed now. In fact, as Alex Nowrasteh of the CATO Institute argues, Trump failed to budge the number of illegal immigrants in the United States, but drastically decreased the number of legal immigrants. Senator Tom Cotton and other Republicans have now declared themselves in favor of less legal immigration. By some estimates, if the immigration rate had remained unchanged during Trump’s tenure, we would now have nearly 2 million more prime-age workers.
These workers would drive trucks, administer IVs in hospitals, clean hotel rooms, pick vegetables and design software. They would start businesses (immigrants are 80% more likely to do this than the native-born), pay taxes and care for the elderly. And, by the way, they would help to lower the general price level.
But Trump has twisted the Republican Party into a narrow-minded, xenophobic cult that mistakenly sees immigrants as a drain instead of a boon.
So the question Republicans need to answer today is: How do you like this immigrant-starved America? Do you like shortages, inflation and bad service? Because that’s what comes from nativism.
Mona Charen is the editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her most recent book is “Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense”.