We Need More Low-Skilled Immigrant Labor, Not Less


Our economy is chugging along at 2% annual growth of GDP, not spectacular but not awful either. The unemployment rate has dropped to 4.3%, and low-wage earners are beginning to see decent pay raises. Furthermore there are good indications that GDP growth may rise in the near future to at least 2.5%, see here and here.
As growth increases, unemployment continues to drop, and wages increase more quickly, severe labor shortages in certain job categories are likely to develop.  As the New York Times economics reporter, Eduardo Porter, points out, “The Danger from Low-Skilled Immigrants: Not Having Them.”


  • Eight of the fifteen occupations expected to experience the fastest growth – personal care and home health aides, food preparation workers, janitors and the like – require no schooling at all.
  • Low-skilled immigration does not just knock less-educated Americans out of their jobs, it often leads to the creation of new jobs – at better wages.
  • The strawberry crop in California owes its existence to cheap immigrant pickers. They are sustaining better paid American workers in the strawberry patch to market chain who would have to find other employment if the U.S. imported the strawberries directly from Mexico.

  • The benefits of immigration come from occupational specialization. Immigrants concentrated in more manual jobs free up natives to specialize in more communication-intensive (English speaking) jobs.
  • The average American worker is more likely to lose than to gain from immigration restrictions. Halting immigration completely would reduce annual economic growth by .3%.
  • The Pew Research Center estimates that about 30,000 unauthorized immigrants work in Nebraska, 3.2% of Nebraska’s total labor force. They are heavily represented in a handful of industries, making up 18% of Nebraska’s construction workers, 9% of production workers, and 5% of farm laborers.  With an unemployment rate hovering around 3%, the Nebraska economy would be severely stressed without these immigrant workers.

Conclusion. Both in Nebraska and nationwide, the U.S. economy has a strong need for immigrant workers. An adequate guest worker visa program is badly needed to provide legal status to these workers who are so critical to the success of the U.S. economy.

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How to Achieve Sensible Tax Reform


Experts across the political spectrum agree that the U.S. tax code is a huge mess and needs to be reformed as well as simplified.  It is also generally accepted that lower tax rates will lead to faster economic growth.
As Congress turns its attention to tax reform, Senate Democrats have stated the basic principles which they would like to see included in any changes which are made:

  • Increase the wages of working families. This could be accomplished by lowering tax rates for all individuals across the board, paid for by eliminating (or at least shrinking) many of the personal deductions in the tax code. The approximately two thirds of all taxpayers who do not itemize deductions would then receive a tax cut, equivalent to a wage increase.
  • Promote domestic investment and improve middle class job growth. Lower tax rates will give businesses and entrepreneurs a bigger incentive to invest in business expansion and therefore grow the economy faster and create more new jobs.

  • Modernize our outdated business and international tax system. Our corporate tax rate at 35% is the highest in the developed world and, at the same time, produces below average revenue (see chart). Another reform would be to adopt business expensing (immediate tax write-off for new investment). Again, all such changes should be paid for by eliminating loopholes and shrinking deductions.
  • Any rewrite of the tax code must be deficit neutral. As important and valuable as tax reform is, it has to take into account our country’s most fundamental problem: our huge and rapidly growing national debt and therefore end up being deficit neutral overall.

Conclusion. The above principles, stated by the Senate Democrats, represent a sound approach to reforming the U.S. tax system. I hope that the Republicans are willing to recognize the validity of these proposals and include the Democrats in developing a bipartisan tax reform plan.

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Trump’s Economic Challenge


As I like to remind my readers from time to time, I am a non-ideological fiscal conservative. I simply want to solve our two most fundamental fiscal and economic problems:

  • Slow economic growth, averaging just 2.1% since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009,
  • Massive debt, now at 76% of GDP (for the public part on which we pay interest), the highest since the end of WWII,

by whatever means it takes.
Donald Trump won the presidential election contest because he convinced blue-collar white voters that he would do something about their declining economic prospects.  But can he actually deliver for them?
capture87Yesterday’s New York Times has an excellent analysis of this problem by the economic journalist, Eduardo Porter, “Where were Trump’s votes?  Where the jobs weren’t.”  Mr. Porter points out that, in fact, Hispanic, Black and Asian workers have all done much better than white workers since November 2007 (see above chart).
capture88He also points out that all three of these minority groups live primarily in metropolitan areas where jobs have been growing much faster than in nonmetropolitan areas (see above chart).
He further points out that while the number of manufacturing jobs has been flat since 1978, the number of service jobs has been increasing rapidly and that most of these new service jobs are in the cities where minorities are clustered (see below).
capture89The question then is what Mr. Trump (or anyone else!) can do to help his largely rural blue-collar constituency?  Mr. Porter recognizes that faster economic growth will have to come from investments in technology and human capital.  But he thinks that this will happen mostly in the cities and thus help minorities proportionally more than whites. Conclusion. Helping blue-collar whites is Mr. Trump’s fundamental economic problem.  Faster overall economic growth will help to some extent.  Trade restrictions will not help.  Immigration restrictions might help but could also hurt the overall economy if employers can’t hire enough workers. Better education and vocational training will help in the long run but not immediately.  This is a very tough problem to solve!

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What Should Brexit Mean for the U.S.?


My two main sources of information for this blog are the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. In particular I am always eager to read Eduardo Porter’s weekly column, Economic Scene, in the NYT.  He frames the issues very well, even though I often disagree with him on the details.
Capture17Yesterday’s column, “In Brexit and Trump, a Populist Farewell to Laissez-Faire Capitalism,” points out the similarities in the white working class support for both Brexit and for Donald Trump.  It then goes on to advocate for what the economist Larry Summers refers to vaguely as “responsible nationalism.”
I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Porter and Mr. Summers that we need policies to boost the fortunes of blue collar workers, and here are some good ways to do it:

  • Tax reform to put more disposable income in the pockets of middle- and lower-income workers, to support job creators, and to provide a big incentive for American multinational companies to bring their earnings back home for reinvestment.
  • Immigration Reform. The key here is a rigorous Guest Worker Visa program to provide immigrant employees for businesses who are unable to hire enough qualified domestic workers. At the same time, a strict eVerify enforcement system would also be established to catch illegal immigrants and deport them.
  • Free and Fair Trade. Free trade among nations has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty worldwide, as well as benefitting all Americans with lower prices. What we have failed to do is to adequately help displaced workers retrain for the millions of high skilled jobs available in the U.S. which go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants.

Conclusion. Our country faces severe problems. If we don’t get deficit spending under greater control, we risk a new and more severe financial crisis.  If we can’t create more and better paying jobs for the modestly educated, we will be faced with Trump-like demagogic candidates for president every four years. It will be a huge challenge for us to extricate ourselves from this mess in a peaceful manner.

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Why Is the U.S. Economy Growing So Slowly?


The U.S. economy has only been growing at the rate of 2.1% since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009, almost seven years ago. Such a slow rate of growth means millions of unemployed and underemployed workers and only small salary raises for tens of millions of others.
Capture5The New York Times economic journalist, Eduardo Porter, observes that we have “A Growth Rate Weighted Down by Inaction.”  He points out that:

  • Our economy is adversely affected by the gradual shrinkage of the work force as a share of population as baby boomers retire and the one time surge of women into the workforce in the 20th century has ended.
  • A second factor is a persistent decline in productivity growth over the last dozen years.
  • A pessimistic forecast by the Economic Cycle Research Institute foresees growth of only 1% per year for the next five years. The Congressional Budget Office projects more optimistic productivity growth at 1.5% per year, which added to workforce growth of .5% per year, would amount to total growth of 2% per year for the next ten years.

Mr. Porter goes on to say that there are concrete reasons why productivity growth is so slow:

  • Hiring is growing faster than capital investment. This is because most job growth in the last decade has been in (low productivity) services instead of (high productivity) manufacturing.
  • Too many restrictions on educated immigrants. Relaxing these restrictions would increase entrepreneurship.
  • Too many onerous regulations.
  • Under training of skilled workers. We need more vocational and career education.

Many people, including myself, have pointed out ways to alleviate these problems and speed up economic growth, for example see here. It is most unfortunate that our dysfunctional national leadership cannot figure out how to work together to get this done.

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Why Faster Economic Growth Is So Important II. Replacing Factory Jobs


Populists such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are doing so well in the 2016 presidential primaries because the middle class is suffering from the slow economic growth of the past 15 years.
Capture2My last post is based on the report of a typical victim.   Today’s post is based on an article by Eduardo Porter in yesterday’s New York Times discussing the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.  Says Mr. Porter:

  • Fifty years ago, 45,000 workers were employed in California to harvest 2.2 million tons of tomatoes. Now, with mechanization, it only requires 5000 workers to harvest 12 million tons.
  • In 1950, 24% of nonfarm jobs in the U.S. were in manufacturing. Today only 8.5% of nonfarm jobs are in manufacturing.
  • The same thing is true worldwide. Global employment in manufacturing is going down because productivity increases are exceeding increases in demand by significant amounts. The likelihood that we will get a manufacturing recovery is close to nil.
  • The U.S. has a trade surplus in manufacturing with the 20 countries with which it has trade agreements (which does not include China). We have an overall annual trade surplus in services of more than $200 billion.

In other words, an attempt to recover or save manufacturing jobs with smarter trade policies is simply impractical and will likely do more harm than good. What should be done instead is to:

  • Definitely do a better job of helping displaced manufacturing workers with Trade Adjustment Assistance and smarter job retraining programs.
  • Adopt policies to speed up overall economic growth from the anemic 2.1% annual growth rate since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. Faster growth such as the 3.5% annual average from 1971 – 2001 will do wonders in creating more jobs and better paying jobs. For how to do this see an earlier post.

Our very serious economic problems can be solved if policy makers (and presidential candidates) would only get serious about it!

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Reviving the Working Class Without Building Walls


The strangest aspect of the current presidential campaign is the staying power of the highly unconventional and controversial candidate Donald Trump. There is wide agreement that the secret of his success is his strong appeal to the members of the white working class whose incomes have been in decline for many years.
The plight of the working class is often viewed in the context of the overall increase in income inequality in the U.S.  My last two posts, here and here, are part of that discussion.
Mr. Trump appeals to these disaffected voters by vowing to wall off Mexico and cut back on foreign trade.  But it may be possible to “Revive the Working Class Without Building Walls” as Eduardo Porter suggests in the New York Times.  According to Mr. Porter, what are needed are new government programs such as wage insurance or direct government employment.
CaptureAlternatively we could meet the illegal immigration and trade protectionism problems in a much more growth oriented way as follows:

  • Immigration Reform. Set up an adequate Guest Worker program to serve only those businesses and industries which can demonstrate that they are unable to recruit enough local workers to meet their employment needs. Once the Guest Worker program is functioning properly, eVerify would be enforced to weed out unauthorized illegal workers and deport them back to their home countries. At the same time the number of H1-B visas would be expanded in order to retain more of the highly skilled foreigners getting advanced degrees in the U.S.
  • Foreign Trade. As the above chart shows, there is a close connection between world trade and world economic growth. And clearly the U.S. economy benefits from world-wide economic growth. The way to balance off job losses caused by foreign trade is with more effective trade-adjustment assistance and job retraining programs.

Whether or not Mr. Trump receives the Republican presidential nomination or is elected to be president in November, we should address the real grievances of his supporters in ways that benefit the entire economy.

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