For many years, immigration has played a huge part in the building of our country. The 1880 industrial boom brought the first big wave of immigrants to the United States. The wave continues today, with people seeking opportunity and the desire to have the “American Dream.” Work and schooling provide that opportunity.
Many Americans today believe immigrants take away jobs from their citizens. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed there were 58 million working-age, native-born Americans not working. It was also reported the total number of working-age immigrants holding a job increased 5.7 million from the first quarter of 2000 to the first quarter of 2014, while declining 127,000 for natives. It is the least-educated native-born who are most likely in competition with the immigrants. As of January 2015, the above statistics cannot be taken at face value. The debate should not center on replacement but on displacement.
Historically, as Americans have become more educated, they have evacuated minimal levels of employment. Ironically, the early millennials who are non-college or vocational educated, refuse to fill this minimal level of employment; this leaves open opportunities for immigrants. Examples include seasonal farm workers, fast food, domestic help, landscaping and hotel workers.
The ethnic food industry is on the rise. Small-business employers from foreign countries are offering alternatives in our culture’s eating opportunities. These small businesses are helping to grow our economy; many of their workers are best suited and best trained for these cultural businesses.
At the other end of the spectrum, studies have been done on the connection between immigration and innovation. Vivek Wadhwa, who is a senior research associate at the Labor and Worklife Program at the Harvard Law School, says, “America is suffering the first brain drain in its history and doesn’t know it. Immigrants are critical to our long-term economic health. Immigrants represent 12 percent of the U.S. population, they have started 52 percent of Silicon Valley’s tech companies and contributed to more than 25 percent of U.S. global patents.” In the conducted survey, it was found that Chinese and Indian immigrants returned home to their countries after receiving schooling. The vast majority were young, earned advanced degrees and were finding continued success at home.
There are many factors that affect the equalization of employment. A renovation of our education system on a federal and state level, lower college tuition costs, more on-the-job training opportunities, environmental economic changes and technological advancements that replace the human worker are just some of the problems society faces.
From the national best-seller “That Used to Be Us” by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, I quote, “Immigration reform that better secures the borders, establishes a legal pathway toward citizenship for the roughly twelve million illegal immigrants who are here, and enables, even recruits, high-skilled immigrants to become citizens is much more urgent than most of us realize.”
Immigrants from both the highly educated background and the lower class are needed in our society. They bring diversity and vibrancy to the American economy. America needs and can be well-served by both.
Kenlee Hess is a freshman at Weber State University.