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More immigration means gains for U.S. economy, CBO says

David Brancaccio, Chris Farrell, and Alex Schroeder Apr 10, 2024
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Immigrants have filled jobs that employers had struggled to find workers for, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

More immigration means gains for U.S. economy, CBO says

David Brancaccio, Chris Farrell, and Alex Schroeder Apr 10, 2024
Heard on:
Immigrants have filled jobs that employers had struggled to find workers for, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Immigration is a hot, often divisive, topic with many sides to it, including the costs to states and cities of accommodating new arrivals. But there are benefits to the economy as well.

The Congressional Budget Office recently looked at the uptick in immigration, and found that immigrants have been crucial to filling jobs that employers have been struggling to fill. Marketplace senior economics contributor Chris Farrell looked closely at the analysis and discussed it with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Chris Farrell: The CBO ran some updated numbers. And the agency’s economists now estimate that immigrants will add $7 trillion to gross domestic product over the next decade. Federal tax revenues will be greater by about $1 trillion than previously expected.

David Brancaccio: Now one industry where the impact of immigrant workers is particularly significant right now is health care, right? The health care field has a current and even future shortage of doctors and nurses.

Farrell: You’re absolutely right, David. So there are nearly 2.8 million immigrants and they were employed as health care workers in 2021. And that makes up about 18% of those employed in health care occupations. This data comes from the Migration Policy Institute. So foreign-born health care workers, they come here through a variety of legal mechanisms. And odds are the role of immigrants in health care will only expand in coming years and decades, largely thanks to the combination of low fertility rates in the U.S. and an aging population.

Brancaccio: And staying on health care, what else stood out for you looking at the data?

Farrell: Let’s look at the role of foreign-born physicians and surgeons. These are high-skilled immigrants, and they account for about 26% of their professional occupation nationwide. Now, places that rely heavily on foreign-born physicians and surgeons include New Jersey at 37%, Florida at 35%, New York 33%. And, you know, perhaps these figures aren’t all that surprising, since these are traditional gateway states. But the numbers in North Dakota essentially match the national average.

Brancaccio: Well that’s interesting. North Dakota doesn’t have a particularly large immigrant population in general, does it?

Farrell: No, not these days. I mean, only about 5% of North Dakotans were born in another country. Immigrant health care workers have been critical to a state that is grappling with labor shortages. So looking at physicians, Joshua Wynne — he’s dean of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences — he says foreign-born physicians and native-born people who get their medical degree from a non-U.S. institution, they have really helped to fill primary care, internal medicine and family medicine positions.

Brancaccio: Yet there are native-born job applicants — they’re vying for a job and they’re worried that skilled immigrants will get the jobs and they won’t.

Farrell: You know, this is always a concern. But immigrant employment isn’t a zero-sum game. Dean Wynne notes the benefits of international medical school graduates. But, at the same time, he quickly adds North Dakota has also succeeded in training more of its own and improved retention among medical school graduates in the state. And his experience reinforces an economic study by three economists. Their bottom line: “An increase in the supply of foreign physicians derived from a more flexible migration policy had no detectable effect on the employment of U.S.-trained doctors.” That works for me.

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