Editorial: Work force needs immigrantsPublished 9:13am Thursday, August 12, 2010
Work force needs immigrants
The warning is not new: With the retirement of baby boomers, we will face a worker and skills shortage. But while the ready remedies — retention, recruitment and training — are part of the equation, they don’t speak to another threat we must face.
State Demographer Tom Gillaspy recently told a Mankato audience that within five years our area will have virtually no labor force growth, and the available work force will decline after that.
As a demographer, Gillaspy looks at trends and sees potential solutions from a demographic perspective. He sees a growth in the immigrant population. Logically, our work force will come from young immigrants. Minnesota has a large immigrant population from Africa many of whom are well educated.
The state’s labor force is about 8 percent foreign born; that percentage will grow, Gillaspy predicts.
He pointed out that a highly skilled engineer from another country may help keep a company located in Mankato. He emphasized that communities need to help train, educate and “welcome” immigrants. And he said we should look toward doing things better not cheaper.
Worthy goals. Now let’s throw in a few other realities.
We as a nation have a history of educating foreign nationals only to block them from working in the United States. They then return to their homelands to help build success there. Asian countries are reaping the benefit from our short-sightedness. Predictions are that China will supplant the United States as the No. 1 economic powerhouse, with India coming close behind.
A more recent trend shows companies emerging from a brutal recession are reluctant to add to their workforce and focusing on what work can be outsourced. This is especially true as we transition to an information economy that knows no geographical boundaries.
And while the notion of “welcoming” immigrants and refugees into our communities may be vital to our future, we are seeing a backlash against foreigners (dare we say non-white foreigners?), whether it’s English-only initiatives or state laws seeking to toughen illegal immigration. Why is there no parallel drive with equal emotion nationwide or even statewide to integrate “legal” immigration and embrace the value of diversity?
We are still a nation divided by absolutes. Some feel pro-American means anti-immigrant. With economic pressures growing these sentiments are being entertained more readily. We are clearly coming dangerously close to racial conflicts not seen since the 1960s in the South, but this time nationwide.
There may be logic in Gillaspy’s prediction and potential remedies, but we first need a fundamental shift in the way we think about immigration, inclusiveness and embracing different cultures and ideas. Or basically what it means to be American.
— The Free Press of Mankato, Aug. 5