by Howard Stephenson


The recent defeat of immigration legislation in the United States Senate has increased the already huge amount of discussion in our country surrounding one of America’s most urgent dilemmas.  The dilemma rests on how to ensure the nation’s economy sufficient numbers of legal guest workers without shifting hidden costs to taxpayers and at the same time providing for national security by controlling our borders.  This week we begin a series of articles co-authored by Howard Stephenson and Hinckley Institute Legislative Intern Jeffrey Adams.
Why do we have an immigration “problem?”
Immigration is an issue that impacts every American, but the serious problems that have arisen from the broken system meant to oversee and manage the inflow of individuals to this nation have not yet been solved.  Due to this great predicament, the issue has become somewhat like the blind men and the elephant, with each interest group describing the part of the issue they are touching.  Individuals with unbending opinions, claims and theories on how to best solve this gigantic mess have intensely come forth, leading to a seemingly unending debate over who is responsible for this problematic immigration situation and how it can most appropriately be fixed.

Amidst all of the deliberations over how to resolve the immigration crisis, however, an absolutely critical component of the immigration condition has been overlooked almost completely.   That component is the “why” element.  Individuals and groups with vested interests in the immigration debate rarely bring up why such massive immigration is occurring, and yet, an understanding of the “whys” concerning immigration could bring a significant level of understanding to a dispute highlighted by vicious language, inflexible demands and a severe lack of communication between the numerous parties involved.  Moreover, a knowledge of the “whys” of immigration will importantly help demonstrate that, as Utah Department of Workforce Services Senior Economist, Mark S. Knold stated, “whatever decision we do make regarding immigration, it will not be a neutral, or a ‘non-consequence’ decision.”

Utah Labor Needs Outstrip Labor Supply
Much of the reason uncontrolled and undocumented immigration is happening on such an unprecedented scale in Utah is merely a matter of numbers and demographics related to the law of supply and demand.  Contemporary research performed separately by the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) and Pamela S. Perlich, Ph.D., the Senior Research Economist at the University of Utah’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research reveal why this is the case.  First, according to Mark Knold and DWS, employment growth in Utah has risen at a rate of 4.5% throughout 2007.  That number, as indicated by DWS, keeps Utah’s economy, “as one of the best, if not the best, performing state economies in the nation.”  The 4.5% job growth rate represents approximately 54,000 new jobs that have been created in the state of Utah in the past year, and those 54,000 jobs represent, as stated by DWS in a recent news release, “about 2.8% of all the new jobs added in the United States over the past year-this from a state that comprises less than 1% of all United States jobs.”  Needless to say, Utah’s economy is healthy and growing.

The vital statistic to understand alongside this impressive growth rate is the unemployment rate in Utah.  In April and May 2007 the unemployment rate was a tiny 2.5%, representing roughly 33,100 Utahns (unemployment rates below 3% are considered full employment by many economists).  Consequently, when the two statistics are viewed in a side-by-side comparison, it is revealed that even if all 33,100 unemployed Utahns were to find jobs and become employed in Utah’s job market, Utah’s economy would still need about 20,900 workers to fill what’s left of the 54,000 jobs that are being created in Utah annually.  In other words, we do not have enough of a workforce in Utah to fill all of the jobs that our expanding economy requires.  Hence, Knold pointed out, “We are getting workers from elsewhere.”  Whether from other states or from other countries, in migration to Utah is the only answer to keep our jobs filled and our economy expanding.

The discrepancy between the unemployment rate and the job growth rate and its critical consequences are expressed further by Dr. Pamela Perlich’s significant findings about Utah’s demographics in illustrating Utah’s growing need for individuals able to labor in our work force.  Dr. Perlich has shown that despite frequent notions otherwise, from 2000-2005 Utah actually lost 33,822 people in net domestic migration within the United States.  What that figure means is that more people left Utah than came into the state during those five years on a state-to-state basis.  However, when international immigration is included in the analysis, Utah actually has a 16,173 person increase in population during the same time period.  Dr. Perlich’s studies show, therefore, that were it not for international in-migration to our state, Utah would have  suffered significant net out-migration.
Said Dr. Perlich, “Because natural increase (births minus deaths) was positive over this period, the total Utah population would have continued to grow, but at a slower rate.  And, there would have been labor shortages.”  Such a large reduction in the working age population would undoubtedly have had an economic impact on our state, but due to substantial international immigration, Utah did not face such a problem.

Dr. Perlich has also established through her research that while there will be a “boom” in the school aged children population in Utah over the next decade, the number of eighteen to twenty-four year olds in the state’s populace will be flat.  Dr. Perlich confirmed that this leveling off of the eighteen to twenty-four year old demographic in combination with the imminent retirement of the Post World War II Baby Boom generation, will certainly affect Utah, because while our job market will continue growing, our young working age population will not.  This situation, unless remedied, will lead to labor shortages.  Hence, Dr. Perlich has called our noteworthy population circumstance a “labor issue,” because again, unless workers come to Utah from outside of our state, there will not be enough people to fill all of our jobs.

As a result of the current immigration situation and Utah’s expanding job growth rate, our low unemployment rate, our need for international workers and the flat line of our eighteen to twenty-four year old demographic, Utah employers find themselves in a precarious situation.  Moreover, because the federal government has either failed to, refused to, or simply cannot (depending on one’s point of view) repair a desperately broken immigration system, states throughout our nation, including our own state, are taking upon themselves a responsibility delegated to the federal government by attempting to resolve the immigration problem themselves.   Such actions by the states, though perhaps necessary, further shove businesses into undesirable positions due to the differences in the various states’ approach to mending the immigration crisis.

Consequently, when Utah legislators begin enacting laws relating to immigration issues, it is imperative that they implement immigration laws that are in-line with the vital conclusions found in the Department of Workforce Services’ and Dr. Pamela Perlich’s research.  Any steps taken by the state and federal governments to improve the immigration dilemma must include provisions for Utah employers to find the workers they desperately need, and conversely, aid honest workers in coming to our state to acquire employment.  Whether these workers come from California, Maine, Ukraine, Mexico, Vietnam or Nigeria, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that Utah employers are able to find the workers they need fairly, straightforwardly, humanely, and legally.

Throughout this series of articles on immigration it will be demonstrated that when the immigration situation is viewed with the facts presented by the Utah Department of Workforce Services and Dr. Pamela Perlich’s research, the divisive issues that surround the immigration debate can be resolved civilly, and in a manner that mends the immigration calamity in a way that is best for our state, for our workers, for our businesses and for our country.  These articles will show that it is possible for our state and our nation to surmount this challenge and offer a future that is mutually beneficial for our producers and our consumers, is fair to our immigrant workforce, maintains a respect for our country’s laws, ends inequitable cost shifting and in due course makes our state and our nation a better place.