Editorial: Immigrants key to Minnesota’s future prosperity

Published 9:43 am Friday, February 3, 2017

Restricting international immigration may be in vogue politically during these first days of the Trump administration. But economically, it’s a terrible idea for Minnesota — more so than this state’s citizens may realize.

That’s the timely word that came this week from the Office of University Economic Development at the University of Minnesota. A report commissioned by the office’s Committee on Minnesota Workforce and Immigrants advises that Minnesota is in for at least two decades of slow or no economic growth unless it can attract more immigrants and more quickly put them to work.

How many more? To maintain through 2045 the average annual 0.5 percent labor force growth rate it experienced from 2010 to 2015, Minnesota will need to more than quadruple the number of immigrants now projected to arrive in the state, the report says. Given net negative domestic migration trends since 2000, “it is likely that any additional migrants that the state attracts in the future will be disproportionately foreign born.”

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That daunting projection quantifies the implications of a longforeseen downward trend in the growth rate of the state’s native-born, working-age population. That skid is forecast to last at least until midcentury. It’s a trend that is combining in this decade with the retirement of the large baby boom generation and a plateau in the share of women participating in the workforce to create a labor shortage that’s already a drag on business expansion, the report says.

“When business owners can’t find what they need to grow in Minnesota, they are more likely than ever to look for a non-Minnesota solution,” explained Bill Blazar of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, who serves on the committee that commissioned the report. “They can’t afford to be patient in today’s economy.”

To its credit, Blazar’s organization has been a leader in calling for new federal policies that would allow the flow of newcomers into this country to grow as economic conditions warrant. This page has long called for comprehensive immigration reform that balances the needs of the country, protects U.S. citizens from illegal immigration, and offers compassion and hope. The state’s largest business organization also favors a path toward permanent status for the estimated 11 million undocumented foreign-born people in the United States.

The university’s report does not offer such specific policy recommendations. Rather, it poses a series of questions that urgently need answers. Among them: What can be done to make Minnesota a more attractive place for immigrants to live? How can Minnesota become known as a state with an inclusive culture? How can immigrants be more quickly incorporated into the state’s economy? How can disparities in education, health and economic status between native-born and immigrant Minnesotans be eliminated?

Our hunch is that many Minnesotans are not aware of the extent to which the future prosperity of their children and grandchildren depends on how well they answer those questions. Maura Donovan, executive director of University Economic Development, said her office intends to help increase awareness by convening a series of public meetings around the state in coming months.

Those conversations could provide a welcome antidote to a 2016 presidential campaign that stoked fears about immigration. Minnesotans deserve facts, not fear, as they consider the state’s looming labor challenge. It’s good that the institution to which Minnesotans have turned for 150 years for the knowledge self-governance requires is on the job, on this issue, right now.

— Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 27

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