Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Immigrants - Can They Provide the Future Labor Force?

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Immigrants - Can They Provide the Future Labor Force?

Article excerpt

Many public and private sector labor economies are forecasting labor shortages for business and industry which stretch through the year 2000. This article briefly examines the demographics which underlie these "shortage" predictions, and suggests that proactive business leaders might wisely focus planning efforts on legislative reform in areas of immigrant labor. Conclusions drawn suggest that the high quality human capital which immigrants can provide supplies one leverageable human resource pool during times of labor shortage. However, current immigration policies and practices can prove an impediment to the attraction and retention of high quality immigrant labor.

Between now and the year 2000, immigrants will represent the largest share of increase in the U.S. population and workforce since World War I. (Johnston & Packer, 1987) Therefore, a closer look at the impact of immigrants and immigration policy on the workforce may provide insight into one solution to an impending domestic labor shortage.

Labor Supply

America is rapidly becoming a service economy. Service delivery has always been labor intensive and therefore vulnerable to fluctuations in labor supply. An aging population, defined and credentially restricted professional boundaries, and accelerating rates of technological change have all worked to restrict job entry and occupational mobility. A new and inescapable reality is coming upon the scene which is likely to amplify the "spot" labor shortage of the past into system-wide problems. That new reality is found in the world "demographics" and the two major demographic factors that determine labor force growth: changes and population, and changes in labor force participation rates.

Changes in population

The domestic population and workforce is growing more slowly than at any time since the 1930s effecting a net reduction in total labor supply. (Johnston and Packer, 1987) Only 21 million people will be added to the labor force in the fourteen years between 1986 and 2000 compared to 31 million added in the previous fourteen year span. (Fullerton, 1987) At the same time, the population and workforce is aging. The baby boom generation - all those born between 1946 and 1964 - which has provided American business and industry with a steady 30 year supply of quality labor is maturing. Following this baby boom comes an unavoidable trough in the labor supply curve - a "baby bust" promising labor scarcity, and sometimes severe shortages. As baby boomers move from the ages of labor force entry into the prime employment ages of 35-64, the baby bust generation of 1965-1976 will drop the number of 16-24 year-olds entering the labor force by 10 percent. (Bernstein, 1987) At the same time, the moderate growth in GNP predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Fullerton, 1985) will increase the numbers of jobs available by 10 percent. This will, in turn, increase the percentage of prime working-age civilians in the labor force from 63.8 percent in 1980 to 73 percent by 2000. (Fullerton, 1987) Simply translated, these projections forecast fewer people available for more jobs.

Changes in participation rates

Compounding labor supply problems are changes in labor force participation rates. The labor force aged 55 and over declined from 39 percent of the total in 1970 to 30 percent in 1984, and this decline is predicted to continue to 25 percent by 1995. (Fullerton, 1987) White males, who dominated the U.S. labor force prior to 1985, will only comprise 15% of new labor force entrants from 1985-2000. The remaining 85% of new workers will be comprised of: U.S. born white females, 42%; immigrants, 23% and minorities, 20%. This represents a dramatic change for immigrants whose participation rate will grow from 7% to 23% from 1985-2000. (Nussbaum, 1988)

Labor Demand

Skills paradox

Two basic trends seem evident based upon predictions for the future job market. …

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