The nation’s economy won’t need additional immigrants for another 10 years, Rep. Paul Ryan told a friendly audience of Texas business executives.
“We will have labor shortages in — not right now — but in the near future, in, say, a decade,” he predicted during a taped appearance at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio.
Paul’s admission may be a relief for GOP legislators, who are facing conflicting pressures on immigration from voters who are worried about jobs, from business donors eager for new low-wage workers, and from the Democrats’ 2014 campaign strategy of economic populism.
The Jan. 24 forecast comes shortly before Republicans gather for a closed-door strategy meeting in Cambridge, Maryland. GOP leaders, including Ryan, are expected to pressure the caucus to support an unpopular business-backed plan that would immediately increase the flow of low-wage foreign workers — and award work permits to roughly 12 million illegal immigrants — who would compete against their voters for jobs.
Ryan is perhaps the leading GOP advocate for an immigration increase.
“We have to have a guest-worker program so that [foreign] people can come and go freely through the front door to serve our economy, to serve our needs,” Ryan said in Texas, without once mentioning the 20 million unemployed or underemployed American workers, or the 28 million Americans teenagers who will compete for jobs in a few years.
Currently, the government allows companies to annually bring in roughly 650,000 non-agriculture guest-workers, along with the inflow of roughly 800,000 immigrants.
The nation’s economy will need even more guest workers for “all sorts of industries,” Ryan claimed, even though the percentage of Americans working or seeking work has dropped to record low levels.
“We clearly have a labor surplus — Ryan ought to be figuring out a way to cut foreign labor instead of increasing it,” said Roy Beck, director of NumbersUSA, a grass-roots group seeking to reform immigration “Until he does a something to show he favors American workers, we have to oppose him,” Beck said. (RELATED: Obama can’t be trusted on immigration, Ryan admits)
Ryan said foreign workers will be needed eventually because Americans aren’t having enough babies.
“We’ve got 10,000 people retiring every day in America… and so the problem we have is our birthrates aren’t where they need to be,” he claimed. “You need to prepare for that, and you need an immigration system that is wired and ready for that,” said Ryan.
Ryan did not mention the increasing use of productivity-boosting robots and software systems, which allows fewer people to perform more work and produce more wealth. In his home state, for example, farmers are buying U.S.-made robots to milk cows. That trend is releasing low-wage migrant laborers to work in other parts of the economy.
Because of the new machinery, productivity grew by an national average of 1.8 percent from 2007 to 2012, effectively compensating for the reduced birthrate since 2007.
After the government-pumped real-estate bubble burst in 2007, the annual birth-rate per 1,000 women dropped from 69 to 63 in 2012.
The birthrate fell because high unemployment is reducing the number of Americans who can afford to get married, or have extra children.
“Since 2010, the share of young adults ages 18 to 24 currently employed (54 percent) has been its lowest since the government began collecting these data in 1948… 31 percent have postponed either getting married or having a baby,” said a 2012 report by Pew Research. The birth rate fell faster among lower-wage immigrant groups.
“Part of the problem is that there are no jobs and people are hurting economically,” said Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for the conservative Concerned Women for America.” Any increased flow of illegal workers “would make it more difficult” for families to have more kids, she told The Daily Caller.
Ryan’s cure for the unemployment-caused decline in births, however, is to increase the number of foreign workers who will compete for jobs in the United States.
Currently, the country accepts roughly 800,000 immigrants per year, and allows companies to being in roughly 650,000 guest workers, including roughly 200,000 university-trained guest-workers, per year.
A House bill passed by the judiciary committee would create a new program to allow 500,000 guest workers for the food sector. The Senate bill, passed in June, would triple legal immigration for a decade, up to roughly 30 million, and would roughly double the annual inflow of guest workers.
The Congressional Budget Office reported in June that the Senate bill would nudge down wages for at least a decade, and shift more of the nation’s income away from families to investors.
Throughout his pitch, Ryan emphasized the needs of the state, not the preference of Americans. “Successful countries and economies have immigration systems wired to give their economy the labor they need, and we need labor in all sorts of industries,” Ryan said. “It is an economic growth issue.”
The legal changes are needed, he said, to “rework our legal immigration system so that it works for America’s economy.”
During the San Antonio event, Ryan also said that Republicans “are very worried about the direction of this country [because] a lot of people are slipping through the cracks in this nation, they’re not experiencing the American dream.”
“We need to go out and just get some ideas and learn from people who are actually making a big difference,” he added.
Ryan’s support for large-scale immigration is echoed by his home-state governor, Scott Walker.
“For me, I’d open the door to making sure that people can legally come into the country,” Walker told TheDC in November. “I don’t care whether it is from Mexico, or India or Germany or Ireland or anywhere else around the world, if we have people who want to come here and work hard and live the American dream, we should embrace those people,” Walker said at a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor.
In Wisconsin, employers added 24,000 people to the workforce of 3.06 million from June 2012 to June 2013. That’s an employment growth of 1 percent, and it left roughly 200,000 people formally unemployed.
During the year, Wisconsin’s population grew by roughly 18,000 people. Also, many Wisconsinites remain on the sidelines of the economy. In November 2013, the number of residents who are working or looking for jobs remained 80,000 below its early 2009 peak of 3.14 million.
Since 2010, Wisconsin employers have also asked the federal government for permission to being in 13,500 university-trained guest workers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “four of Wisconsin’s large counties recorded wage declines greater than the national decrease of 1.1 percent from the third quarter of 2011 to the third quarter of 2012.”
“Apparently, until our median wage gets to the median wage of Egypt, Paul Ryan feels that we ought to be adding [foreign] workers,” Beck said.