The Immigration Debate: Do we Still need Latin Immigrant Workers?

According to Michael Barone’s Examiner column today about immigration brings to mind interesting points. Michael concludes:

My prediction is that we won’t ever again see the heavy Latin immigration we saw between 1983 and 2007, which averaged 300,000 legal immigrants and perhaps as many illegals annually.

Mexican and other Latin birth rates fell more than two decades ago. And Mexico, the source of 60 percent of Latin immigrants, is now a majority-middle-class country.

There are two opposing positions on the American economy’s need for immigrant workers. Some economists review the 1970s rapid growth in workers and jobs and assert that the United States faces labor shortages in the 1990s as the percentage of elderly grows, the participation of women in the work force levels off, and as the number of teenagers who enter the labor market shrinks. Other economists assert that labor-saving machinery, the growing use of part-time workers and flexible hours, later retirements, and the shifting of low-wage jobs overseas may lead to a surplus of unskilled workers. The “labor shortage” proponents believe that today’s immigrants will be tomorrow’s answer to labor shortages; while the “labor surplus” school argues that today’s immigrants will add to tomorrow’s unemployment problems.

It is very difficult to predict in the aggregate how businesses will adjust to more or to fewer workers since the decisions are made by millions of employers and supervisors.

Should Americans welcome a future with more or fewer immigrant workers? The answer depends on what kind of economy we want. With more immigrants, there will be lower wages and more jobs; fewer immigrants mean higher wages and more machines. These alternative futures involve other non-economic national concerns such as population, environmental quality, and democratic institutions. What do you think?