There’s been a lot of talk about inflation these days – groceries are more expensive, gas prices are going up – but not a lot of talk about solutions. Passing commonsense immigration reform would go a long way to help address America’s labor shortage and get a handle on inflation. When businesses have the workers they need, they can meet consumers’ demands and costs go down.
I know this from 45 years in the construction industry. Labor shortages result in construction delays, higher production costs, and lower inventory levels, all of which lead to inflation. There is a talent pool of about 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S., including the so-called Dreamers, temporary protected status (TPS) holders, farmworkers, and other essential workers who could be a huge part of the solution to the twin challenges of the labor shortage and inflation, if Congress includes immigration reform in the pending reconciliation bill.
The time for action is now. Our nation has 10.4 million jobs open. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will create thousands more jobs. We will need all hands on deck to build those bridges and fix those roads. We should let immigrants who are undocumented or here with temporary permits and are contributing to our communities — who have been here on average for 20 years and many of whom have U.S.-born children — apply for permanent legalization and citizenship.
Construction sector affected
Across the country, business leaders are urging Congress to take this important step to help address the labor shortage, which will benefit consumers in the form of lower prices. The construction industry currently has a shortage of about 300,000 skilled craftworkers — and that is not even taking into account all the new jobs that will be created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. Many of these jobs could be filled by hard-working and deserving immigrants who are already part of our communities, if Congress provides them with legal status.
The construction industry also relies heavily on about 135,000 skilled trade workers that are made up of either Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or TPS-protected immigrants. These folks live from day to day not knowing whether they are going to be able to stay here or not. They are in legal jeopardy all the time. If we lost those 135,000 DACA and TPS-protected immigrants, we would be short about 25% of the workforce that’s needed to meet the current demands placed on the construction industry by our customers. The costs would be passed onto the customer. The customer is actually the loser in this process.
It’s not just the construction industry that would benefit from immigration reform.
Jon Stein, the founder of Fogtown Brewing Company in Maine, just closed his restaurant because he couldn’t find bartenders, cooks, and other employees to fill the shifts. The pattern he is seeing in Maine is repeating itself across the nation: “Without some serious changes in our labor market, our state is about to feel the pinch of what happens in a service economy when there’s no one to provide service. We’ll wait longer to get a table at our favorite restaurant; we’ll stand in longer lines at the grocery store; we’ll spend a lot more time in doctor’s office waiting rooms and struggle to get home health care. And our economy will suffer.”
In my home state, Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, has noted that all businesses are affected: “The entire nation is desperate for talent right now. Almost every sector. There are people who are blocked from working because they’re concerned about exposing (their citizenship status), and they’re very talented people that could contribute to our economy.”
It doesn’t have to be this way – for businesses, consumers or undocumented workers. Congress should provide pathways to citizenship in the budget reconciliation bill or, at a bare minimum, grant immigrants in our communities work authorizations to fill crucial roles in our labor force. A proposal now pending in Congress falls short of citizenship, but would allow an estimated seven million undocumented immigrants temporary status that protects individuals from deportation and allows them to apply for work permits.
Allowing work permits for seven million people who are eager to work legally in the U.S. and continue paying taxes would not solve the labor shortage, but it sure would help.
Immigration reform is good for business, the economy as a whole, morally right, and politically smart. Congress needs to make immigration reform happen this month, no matter what it takes.
J. Doug Pruitt is the former chairman of Sundt Construction in Arizona and a member of the bipartisan American Business Immigration Coalition, which represents 1,200 CEOs and employers promoting immigration solutions.
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