Reports: Immigrants vital to state’s economy

If Oklahoma were to be successful in forcing every undocumented worker living here to leave, the state’s economy could see a loss of more than $580 million in economic activity, a recent study shows. Immigrants – both documented and undocumented – studies show, are vital to the state and the nation’s economy. (M. Scott Carter)

Editor’s Note: Journal Record reporter M. Scott Carter was part of a group of journalists from across the country who spent a week studying immigration policy in Oklahoma and Texas with the Institute for Justice and Journalism.

By M. Scott Carter
The Journal Record
Posted: 09:54 PM Wednesday, June 15, 2011

DALLAS – Oklahoma’s immigrants – both documented and undocumented – make significant contributions to the state and national economy and are not a financial drain on the state’s budget, new studies show.

With debate continuing to rage over federal immigration policy and what role states should play, a report released by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank said that immigrants have a vital role in the U.S. economy and are an important factor in the nation’s growth.

This year Republican members of the Oklahoma Legislature pushed for revisions in the state’s anti-immigration laws. In March, state Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, claimed undocumented immigrants were costing the state millions of dollars, forcing wages down and causing many Oklahomans to lose their jobs.

“I want these people to know that we don’t want them here,” Shortey said.

But while Shortey and other lawmakers said undocumented workers are a drain on the state’s economy, several studies say those same workers are vital for growth and economic development.

A 2010 Dallas Federal Reserve study said immigrants are necessary for the country’s growth. Entitled From Brawn to Brains, How Immigration Works for America, the bank’s examination of the nation’s immigrant population said that immigrants represent about one of every six workers in the country.

“Because of accelerated immigration and slowing U.S. population growth, foreign-born workers accounted for almost half of labor force growth over the past 15 years,” the report said.

And though public attention has focused mainly on the large number of low-skilled immigrant workers in the United States, the number of highly skilled immigrants actually grew faster during the period.

“Highly educated immigrants filled critical jobs in the science, engineering, information technology and health care sectors as well as fostered innovation and created high-tech businesses,” the report said.

Immigrants also help increase the country’s gross domestic product and in some ways, actually help increase the supply of native-born labor.

“Research shows the immigration-induced decline in the cost of child care and housekeeping has significantly increased the labor supply of skilled native women,” the report said.

That data doesn’t surprise many immigration experts.

“For the vast majority of people, no matter what their jobs might be – a hairdresser or a stockbroker – they benefit (from immigration) because now the work is slightly cheaper,” said Edward Schumacher-Matos, a professor at Harvard University. “With all of this economic activity created by the extra workers coming in, the whole economy has grown a little bit.”

A separate study, released by Americans for Immigration Reform, underscores the Dallas report. Titled Analysis of Economic Impact of Undocumented Workers on Business Activity, the report estimates that the United States would see a loss of more than $651 billion in annual output if its 8 million undocumented workers were forced to leave.

“The immediate negative effect of eliminating the undocumented workforce would include an estimated $1.757 trillion in annual lost spending,” the report said.

In Oklahoma, immigrants – both legal and undocumented – make up almost 7 percent of the state’s workforce. And, according to a study by the Perryman Group, if all the state’s undocumented workers were removed, the state would see a drop of $258 million in gross state product and lose more than $580 million in economic activity.

“Immigrants are integral to Oklahoma’s economy as workers and taxpayers,” the Perryman report said.

And, the study said, some industries would face substantial workforce shortages.

“If all undocumented workers were removed from the workforce, a number of industries would face substantial shortages of workers, and Americans would have to be induced into the labor pool or provided incentives to take jobs far below their current education and skill levels,” the report said. “For this phenomenon to occur to a meaningful extent, substantial wage escalation would likely be necessary, thus eroding competitiveness in global markets.”

M. Scott Carter,
Capitol Bureau Reporter
The Journal Record
(405) 278-2838 – Downtown
(405) 524-7777 – Capitol bureau

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