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The Retired Investor: Immigration Battle Facts and Fiction

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
Recently, several studies, combined with macroeconomic data in both the private and public sectors, have revealed that immigration has benefited the economy in recent years. In a politically charged election year, the facts are often ignored as hyperbole takes over. 
In my last column, I reminded readers that demonizing migrants is nothing new in American history. In a country that is constantly looking for someone to blame for their troubles, immigrants stand the test of time. One prominent candidate has even claimed that migrants are "not people in my opinion."
In a recent Wall Street Journal national poll in late February, 20 percent of voters ranked immigration as their top issue. That places immigration as the nation's No. 1 or 2 issue. But concern over an influx of immigrants predates 2024.
 Back before the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, the flow of immigrants into the U.S. was slowing. The ebb and flow of government policy changes had once again turned against immigration. It was fueled by the changing mood of a vocal minority of Americans and the executive actions of a former president that resulted in roughly 1.5 million fewer working-age immigrants entering the U.S.
At the outset of the pandemic, as the country closed its borders, the number of entries fell further creating a shortfall of well over 2 million immigrants. At the same time, the U.S. economy was in freefall, unemployment rose to double digits, and the stock market swooned. It was left to a new administration to pick up the pieces and handle the COVID crisis. Fortunately, aggressive fiscal stimulus policies, coupled with the development of vaccines, and central bank easing were enacted to jump-start the economy.
It worked. But the sudden spike in demand outpaced the economy's ability to respond. The failure of global supply chains contributed to that dilemma. The labor force was not up to the task either. Millions of Baby Boomers retired. In addition, many workers were forced to stay home to take care of children. Some simply avoided the workplace to avoid getting sick.
In times like this, the shortfall in labor would be normally filled with migrant workers but because of past policies, many entry-level jobs went unfilled. Inflation skyrocketed. The new administration did what it could by rolling back many of the former government's immigration restrictions. 
Now four years later, we have discovered from a variety of public and private sources both legal and illegal immigration not only boosted the growth of the U.S. economy but may well have played a hand in reducing the worst impacts of inflation.
March's nonfarm payrolls data released last week showed a huge gain in employment. Economists' estimates were for 200,000 jobs gain, but 303,000 jobs were reported instead. Most analysts attributed the difference to immigration hiring. At the same time wage growth slowed from 4.3 percent to 4.1 percent as many of those jobs were in entry-level positions.
This comes as no surprise to those looking at the facts. The U.S. foreign-born labor force has been growing so fast that it has practically filled the labor gap that was created by the pandemic, according to the Federal Reserve Bank. Economists at the central bank considered immigration as instrumental to the astounding growth rate of the economy. Over the last year, about half of the labor market's recent growth came from immigrants, according to federal data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute.
The Congressional Budget Office predicts the U.S. labor force will grow by 5.2 million people by 2033 due to net immigration. That surge will tack on another 2 percent of real GDP by 2034. Those immigrants will produce $7 trillion more wealth over the next decade than the country would gain without them. The data is so convincing that in a research note, Goldman Sachs recently upped its forecast for growth due to the increased number of immigrants in the labor force.
Goldman has raised its growth rate to 2.7 percent and argues that GDP was stronger in 2023 because immigration ran well above the historical average (by 1.5 million migrants) and will come in above trend in 2024 (by 1 million jobs). JP Morgan has also noticed the economic benefits of recent immigration claiming that immigration over the last two years accounted for a lot of the increase in U.S. consumption.
Of course, the benefit of immigration on the economy could reverse quickly, depending on the policies enacted after the elections in November. For example, many immigrants both legal and illegal are entering the country through an important loophole in the immigration laws. By asking for asylum, the U.S. is required to provide a form of legal protection for people who face prosecution in their home country.
There has been an enormous jump in asylum seekers since 2013 when only 76,000 migrants applied for asylum. Today, thanks to advice and instructions easily obtained through the internet and social media, more than half of the millions crossing our borders are asking for asylum. It is the migrant's "Pass Go" card into the country. Migrants are typically given the right to live and work in the country while going through the legal process of claiming persecution. The facts are that the U.S. is so swamped with applicants that a normal application could take four years to decide.
In the meantime, the migrant can work and even if his/her claim is denied, the chance of repatriation is low to non-existent. Sure, the migrant loses the right to work here but simply joins the underground economy that flourishes in every state. How is this rational?
I could go on and on. The point is that America has a long, long history of shameful and/or stupid immigration policies with a proven history of failure. From a historical perspective, when immigration policies were open, the nation prospered. When they were closed, we suffered.
What is worse, we never learn from our mistakes. So here we are once more, threatening mass repatriations, sealing borders, and building walls, with politicians on both sides of the aisle promising this century's version of eugenics to a populace looking for someone to blame.

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.



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