It’s in the Numbers: Our Changing Workforce and the Impact of Immigration
It’s in the Numbers: Our Changing Workforce and the Impact of Immigration- June 21st, 2012
By Matthew Gunn, Partner and Chair of the Immigration Service Team at Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, LLP
There is a crisis coming! Just how serious a cause for concern it becomes will depend in large part on how we as an American society adjust our mindsets over the next ten to fifteen years. “Immigration” is not a dirty word. Immigration may prove critical to the viability of the U.S. workforce, especially in the field of healthcare, as the crisis of the retiring baby boomer generation draws near.
Unless you have been living under a rock, the retirement of the baby boomers is not going to come as news. However, what might be surprising is the impact of continued U.S. immigration may have on this issue and the possible ameliorative impact of an enhanced, fair and prudent immigration policy.
First, a few statistics: from 2010 through 2020, employment will increase by 25.9% in healthcare practitioner and technical occupations (doctors, pharmacists, dentists, and physical therapists) and by 34.5% in healthcare support occupations (home aides, nurses aides, and medical and dental assistants). Currently, immigrants fill 14% of the practitioner and technical occupations, and 18% of the support occupations in the U.S.
The 2010 U.S. census documented an increase in the U.S. populations of 27 million people between 2000 and 2010. While the population of minority groups in the U.S. rose dramatically, blacks by 12.3% and Asians by 43.3%, the white population only rose by 1.2%. The 2009 Census American Community Survey found that 80% of the U.S. population over 70 years old was white while only 51% of children under five years old were white. Finally, it should be noted that as of 2009, 23% of all people under the age of 17 had at least one immigrant parent. These statistics serve to prove that the population of the U.S. is becoming more and more diverse as the years go by.
In addition to demonstrating the changing demographic makeup of the United States, the 2010 census documented that much of the population growth in the U.S. was due to longevity. The census showed us that the population growth in the category from ages 45-64 grew by 31.5%, ages 65 and older grew by 15.1% while the population of citizens ages 18 to 44 only grew by .6% and those under age 18 only grew by 2.6%. As we can all guess, these numbers are due to the 78 million baby boomers in the U.S. that comprise more than one quarter of the U.S. population.
Finally, we have the most shocking statistic - the number of working-age adults for every elderly person in the U.S. The Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council published an article on this topic entitled, “The Future of a Generation: How New Americans Will Help Support Retiring Baby Boomers.” The article noted that in 1900, there were 13.6 working-age adults for every elderly person. In 2000, that number had shrunk to 5 and by 2050 that number will shrink to 2.8. While this number is scary for those looking at how federal programs such as Medicare and Social Security will be funded into the future, that is not the focus here.
Our focus here is jobs: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 54.8 million job openings from 2010 to 2020. Over 21 million jobs will result from growth, while 33.7 million will arise to replace workers that have retired or moved into different occupations. So, what do all these numbers have to do with immigration? As shown in the 2010 census, the population over age 45 grew 46.6% and the population ages 18 to 44 only grew by .6%. The numbers do not lie; we will need able bodies.
Many tools will be used to alleviate the coming need to bolster the U.S. workforce. Our best and brightest engineers will come up with new automation techniques to reduce the number of workers needed. Many of those baby boomers may not retire or may be invited to stay on the job longer than expected. However, immigration is another viable option. First, children of immigrants are the fastest growing demographic group within the U.S. population. Second, immigration fuels more than 40% of all population growth in the U.S. and finally, 80% of immigrants are working age (18 to 64). The immigration of foreign nationals fills many of the needs of our aging workforce.
Much of the statistical analysis relied upon in this article comes from Ron Crouch, Director of Research and Statistics Education and Workforce Development for Kentucky, and his Fall 2011 article in Views & Visions entitled, “The Changing Face of America: Diversity and Longevity.” In his article Mr. Crouch draws several conclusions regarding educating and training the workforce and how our public dollars should be invested but his conclusion regarding immigration is right on point.
“We will need to support immigration when our real problem is not too much undocumented immigration, but not enough documented immigration,” said Crouch. “We need to bring immigrants out of the shadows. Maybe we need to hire Minutemen, not to build walls but to open up lemonade stands and hand out lemonade and cookies to attract immigrants.”
At Wyatt, we will continue to monitor the latest immigration developments and its effect on the healthcare industry. As the employment needs of the healthcare industry continue to grow and with a growing elderly population, there is a crisis coming and immigration may be the answer.
For more information about the author or Wyatt Tarrant & Combs, visit wyattfirm.com or call 502-589-5235.