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Jan Lee headshot

Want a Big Boost in GDP? Bring in Immigrants

By Jan Lee

President Trump made an enduring campaign out of his views on immigration. From his proposal to build a 30-foot wide "border wall" at the boundary with Mexico, to his controversial and often chaotic legal battles over immigration bans, his administration has set a seemingly intractable line when it comes to welcoming visitors and immigrants to this country.

But what if immigrants are actually good for the economy? What if we could"make America great" by welcoming immigrants?

A new report published by ProPublica suggests that Trump's vision of a resilient economy that thrives on a 3-4 percent growth (a dream, some analysts say, that may be unrealistic according to the Congressional Budget Office's own projections) would only be possible with a clear-sighted plan that supports immigration.

The nonprofit journalism outlet had Moody's Analytics check the numbers and found that there is a correlation between increased immigration and a rise in the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For every 1 percent increase in immigrants to the U.S., the country's GDP rises 1.25 percent.

"So a simple way to get to Trump’s 4 percent GDP bump?," suggest the writers, "Take in about eight million net immigrants per year."

To demonstrate that point, Propublica created an interactive tool that allows the reader to explore outcomes if, say, all immigration to the U.S. ceased -- and conversely, what would happen if the U.S. were to open its doors to three million immigrants per year. At the present time, the two percent growth rate is supported by the influx of one million immigrants. Based on that level of immigration, say analysts, by 2030 the U.S. should see a GDP growth of $24.6 trillion.

However, welcoming an additional two million immigrants would put the Trump administration more on track to reach its economic goals. We would see a 2.6 percent increase in GDP growth, or a cumulative growth of $15.2 trillion over the next 14 years.

Researchers also calculated what would happen if all 11 million unauthorized immigrants were deported. ProPublica estimates that GDP would drop $7.9 trillion cumulatively over the next 14 years. The economy would stagnate with GDP plummeting to 1.8 percent per year.

Of course, immigration is not a new topic for this country. There have been plenty of studies and stories done about the economic benefits of both legal and undocumented immigrants. Our story last February about the potential impact of an immigration ban highlighted several cities in which immigration has actually benefited the economy.

It's a story that is still being played out in fact, through towns across the U.S. In Storm Lake, IA, immigrants are what keep its businesses, and the town, alive. The old union jobs at a meat processing plant are long gone, replaced by open positions that immigrants from across the world willingly fill. More than half of the 11,000 residents that make up this lakeside town are from immigrant families; a dramatic contrast to the largely white demographics of Iowa.

And on the other side of the picture are the businesses that now worry they won't have the workers to harvest their crops. In Florida, famous for its low-paying tomato industry, workers calculate the risks of going to work with the increased risk of deportation. In California as well, where undocumented immigrants make up about 10 percent of the population and agricultural industries rely on immigrant workers, the claim that immigrants are robbing citizens of jobs doesn't seem to pan out, according to research done by PRI.

“Sometimes some people apply, but almost never do any of them stay.” said Ellen Brokaw, a ranch owner in Ventura County who said she's tried to hire U.S.-born workers, but finds they won't stay.

California state comptroller Betty Yee reported she found the same thing. "This is a workforce, a supply of labor from our undocumented workforce, that actually does provide just the basic foundations of these sectors and industries of being able to succeed and thrive."

And so has ProPublica, which also calculated what would happen if the federal government were to legalize all undocumented immigrants and allow them to stay. Could GDP grow?

Yes. slightly. Legalizing the country's undocumented immigrant population would bump the GDP up by a tenth of a percent. It obviously wouldn't be a magic bullet, but a $1.8 trillion cumulative gain over the next 14 years is nothing to sneeze at.

But it does point to the fact that the Trump administration's ongoing rhetoric that immigration is bad for the U.S. economy and bad for businesses is not only out of out of sync with recent studies but U.S. history. As growth in cities like New York demonstrated during the 1830s and later again in the 1990s, immigrants have always played a key role in America's ability to flourish. They continue to be the key to a resilient and growing economy.

Flickr images: Elvert Barnes; Elvert Barnes; Mike G

Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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