California Forum

Dear Santa, can you please send California some more immigrants?

New U.S. citizens are sworn in during a naturalization ceremony at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, on November 20, 2017, just in time for the holidays. (Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News/TNS)
New U.S. citizens are sworn in during a naturalization ceremony at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, on November 20, 2017, just in time for the holidays. (Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News/TNS) TNS

Dear Santa,

There is no toy that I want. But there is something I need for Christmas – not for myself but for my state.

California, despite having 40 million residents, faces shortages of the kinds of people its future requires: children, farmworkers, construction workers, doctors, entrepreneurs, engineers and college graduates. (This is only a partial list. Still, check it twice.)

With your magical delivery system and your uncanny ability to slip unnoticed past U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Santa Claus is our last, best hope for getting the immigrants California needs.

The fastest way to address these shortages is by attracting more immigrants. Yes, 27 percent of Californians are foreign-born, but we’ve had so little immigration over the last decade that we face a shortage of new immigrants, too.

It’s become more difficult to attract more. While California is nice to immigrants, our federal government naughtily makes it harder for immigrants to enter the country, and engages in mass deportation.

Which is why I turn to you, St. Nick. With your magical delivery system and your uncanny ability to slip unnoticed past U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Santa Claus is our last, best hope for getting the immigrants California needs.

Can you send a million? Or 2 million?

I know media and politicians sometimes blame our country’s economic problems on excessive immigration. But that’s fake news.

We actually need many more immigrants. Nationally, the number of job openings is at an all-time record. In California, some employers are so desperate for workers that they are considering moving out of state.

This is the nasty paradox of California’s success: The state’s popularity creates shortages of people. Each year, California loses at least 50,000 more people than it gets from other states. This domestic out-migration, driven by the high cost of living, is pronounced among the younger, working-class people who should be the state’s backbone.

The result: lack of workers. With immigration’s decline, most California construction firms report shortages of workers, which – in a vicious cycle – cause costly delays that make building more expensive. The lack of immigrants has decimated the primarily foreign-born agricultural workforce. And since so many California entrepreneurs are immigrants (40 percent of L.A. business owners are foreign-born), it’s unsurprising that the state’s rate of business formation has slowed in the last decade.

Long-term, the shortage of workers is most worrisome in healthcare; currently, there aren’t enough people to take care of California’s two fastest-growing demographics, the disabled and the old. All California regions except the Bay Area and Sacramento face doctor shortages, particularly in primary care. What looks like a medical shortage is really an immigrant shortage, since more than one-third of our doctors are foreign-born. The same dynamic holds in California’s science and engineering sectors, in which 42 percent of workers are immigrants.

The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that by 2030, the state will have 1.1 million fewer college graduates than it needs. “Much larger increases in international migration will be necessary for the supply of highly educated workers to meet the demand,” PPIC concluded.

California’s most reliable method for producing more people – having more babies – isn’t working as well as it once did. The birth rate in the state is now below the replacement rate, and major coastal counties have seen steep declines in the number of children.

Now, I know that Californians need to invest more in our current residents. But that takes time and money, and the problems I’m talking about are in the here and now. I’m sure you see these shortages – everywhere I go in California these days, you’re there, talking to average people.

Santa, I realize that your sack of gifts is heavy, and that you can’t overtax your renewable fuel source, those eight tiny reindeer. But remember the story of Christmas. If you can find room on your sleigh for the people our state needs, we should make sure there’s room for them at the Hotel California.

Feliz Navidad,

Joe Mathews

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at joe@zocalopublicsquare.org.

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