Increasing Labor Force Participation Is Better than Increasing Immigration

By David North on December 20, 2022

My colleague Steven Camarota, who keeps track of such things for us at CIS, frequently mentions that the long-term drop in labor force participation, particularly among males with only a high school degree or less, could, if reversed, be an excellent potential source of additional workers. He argues that if we could simply restore the labor force participation rate to that of earlier years, we would get millions more workers, without having to bring in additional migrants. He is right.

Let me stress two of the differences between getting these people to go to work and bringing in new workers, legal or not, from overseas. They relate to the environment and the infrastructure.

One of the problems with bringing in new people is that while their negative impact on the environment is minimal in their home contries, after they arrive they start acting like Americans, driving cars, using fossil fuels, and thus damaging the environment just like Americans do.

This is essentially a population argument. If you fill that job with a former coal miner, not now participating in the labor market, rather than with a newly arrived alien, you minimize the impact on the environment. That ex-coal miner is already here doing whatever damage he can to the air and the water resources; why add a new consumer when you do not have to do so?

Further, getting that worker back into the labor market might, in many instances, relieve some of the pressures on our Social Security and welfare systems.

Meanwhile, the same argument can be made about the infrastructure. In general terms, we are adding more population at a much higher rate than we are adding to (or fixing) the infrastructure. More people simply add more burdens to our roads, railroads, bridges, and schools. Why not try to dust off the former worker, who is already making his impact on the infrastructure, rather than bringing in a newcomer, who will cause additional burdens on those bridges and schools?

The problem is that this is a fairly abstract argument; the unnoticing beneficiaries are all of us, not just a loud and selfish few who benefit, generally indirectly, from straining the infrastructure. One fanciful solution to this would be to turn the nation’s clock back by over 200 years, and keep the capital in New York City, where it once was. Then mandate that the members of the House and Senate must commute by using that city’s over-populated subway system, and that they must live in the city, not the suburbs.

Soon it would become much easier to argue that more international migrants stress the nation’s, and the city’s, infrastructure in a needless manner.

But currently the Haves can buy their way out of these impacts, they can avoid the subways and the crowds of the inner cities, and they can call for more migration without personally feeling the impacts of it.