Unemployment rate masks the real story of lost workers

In July, Michigan’s unemployment rate dipped to 3.7%, the state’s lowest unemployment rate since 2000. Given the economic hardship our state endured for more than 10 years, let’s acknowledge and celebrate that.

Now for the bad news: while the unemployment rate tells us that a higher percent of people who are looking for work are finding it, the labor force participation rate tells us that a lower percent of the population are working or looking for work.

More bad news: Michigan’s 2016 workforce was still 326,000 workers short of what it was in 2000. The state has not gotten back even half of the nearly half-million workers that Michigan lost between 2000 and 2012.

As this year’s Labor Day Report shows, Michigan’s workforce is graying: the share of the labor force that is age 55 or older has nearly doubled, from 11.6% of the total workforce in 2000 to 22.2% in 2016. Yet retirements don’t explain the loss of workers, because a higher percentage of Michigan residents in that age group are working than in 2000.

LDR Labor force 55+

On the contrary, it is the population age 16-24 that is less likely to work than before. The labor force participation rate of 16-24-year-olds was at 72% in 2000 (consistent with the previous two decades), dipped alarmingly to 55% by 2011 and 2012, and had risen to only 63.4% by 2016. The nonparticipation of younger Michigan residents in the workforce is a major factor in both the state’s lower labor participation rate and in the inability to replace the workers lost since 2000.

LDR Labor force by age group 450x407Much of this reflects national trends. Teenagers and young adults are not entering the labor force in the proportions that they used to, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites as possible reasons stagnant wages and competition for low-wage jobs by older unskilled workers due to the loss of higher paying jobs. The lower participation rate is true for both the population that is in school (secondary or postsecondary) and the population that is not in school.

As a state, we must address this situation. Immigration is one way for some of the lost workers to be replaced, and Governor Snyder has made it clear that Michigan is a welcoming state for immigrants. Immigrants arriving with higher skills can fill some job vacancies immediately, while those with lower skills often raise their children to become educated and skilled at a higher level than they themselves are.

For the young people already in our state who come from households with low incomes, Michigan should seek out ways to provide more access to training that leads to career-path employment—not just four-year college degrees, but “middle skills credentials” such as licenses, certificates and associate degrees. Michigan should also seek out ways to help participants in such training succeed by addressing barriers such as child care, transportation and the need for basic skills remediation.
Michigan may be rebounding, but it is obvious we still have a ways to go.

— Peter Ruark

The RAISE Act raises no one

For the past year, my 87-year-old grandmother has been studying American civics from her living room in preparation for her naturalization test. With determination and focus, she studied the story of how our nation came to be, pausing every so often to practice her pronunciation of names and events—“Abraham Lincoln,” “Martin Luther King, Jr.,” “The Vietnam War,” and so on. Last week, her efforts finally paid off when she passed her naturalization interview and became a U.S. citizen.

My grandmother’s story in this country began more than 30 years ago when she came to America from Mexico and became a permanent resident through a family-based visa category that enables U.S. citizens to petition for visas for immediate family members. Her daughter, my aunt, petitioned for my grandmother’s visa immediately after becoming a citizen herself and the two were reunited in Chicago, Illinois.

New League Policy Fellow Vikki Crouse celebrates her graduate school graduation in May 2017 with her grandmother, husband, parents, sister and aunt

New League Policy Fellow Victoria Crouse celebrates her graduate school graduation in May 2017 with her grandmother, husband, parents, sister and aunt

My grandmother’s journey is similar to that of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who apply to obtain legal residency in the United States each year and often endure long waiting periods before they are issued a visa. Unfortunately, the family-based visa categories that created a path to citizenship for my grandmother and her children are being threatened today. In the coming weeks, Congress will consider the RAISE Act, a bill that would drastically change our country’s approach to immigration and refugee resettlement. If passed, the bill would:

  • Eliminate the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program which issues 50,000 immigrant visas to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. through a lottery system annually.
  • End some family-based visa categories, and in doing so, close the door on tens of thousands of immigrants hoping to reunite with their families in the United States.
  • Cap the number of refugees who are able to resettle in the United States at 50,000 annually. The previous administration had lifted the admission ceiling to 110,000 for fiscal year 2017. This cap would drastically lower the number of refugees admitted into the country and prevent the sitting U.S. president from lifting the ceiling in response to humanitarian crises.
  • Shift away from a demand-driven model for employment-based immigration that allows employers to petition for foreign workers.
  • Introduce a points-based system that would score who is eligible to enter the country. This system would cap the number of visas issued each year at 140,000 and disproportionately exclude women, older adults, those without a formal education and those from less-developed countries.

The net effect of this legislation would be a drastic reduction of legal immigrants coming to the United States, and a long term loss for our economy and our state’s labor market. If the RAISE Act is passed, the United States would stand to lose approximately 1.3 million jobs over the next 10 years. Immigrants of all skill sets keep Michigan’s economy solvent and help to revitalize and enrich our communities. We need a system that treats people as people, values the contributions of our immigrant population and helps us maintain a strong modern economy.

My grandmother’s naturalization ceremony is just around the corner. On that day, she will wave the American flag and recite an oath of allegiance to this country. I will always remain thankful for her sacrifices. It is because of her courage and resilience that I am a first-generation college graduate. Her triumphs and struggles are part of the reason why I developed a passion for immigration policy, and why I decided to join the League as a policy fellow this year so that I could continue to advocate for the rights of all immigrants. It’s time that our members of Congress and state legislators join me and other advocates in standing up to harmful anti-immigrant proposals, and push for positive immigration reform that can deliver promise and prosperity to everyone.

— Victoria Crouse

Protecting food assistance to preserve our future

While in Washington, D.C. last month for the 2017 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference (AHPC), I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. I was particularly fascinated by the exhibit on the Inka, who developed an expansive system to store surplus food for redistribution during hard times to ensure the empire’s survival. It was a timely experience since the AHPC was bringing together more than 1,300 anti-hunger advocates from all over the country just as the federal food assistance programs that so many American families rely on to survive—programs that have traditionally had bipartisan support—have come under attack by the president and congressional Republicans.

Conference presenters outlined threats to the mainstays of federal food assistance, most notably a proposal to convert funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from an entitlement structure to a block grant. Recognizing the interconnection of hunger, health and the economy, speakers also touched on feared cuts and structural changes to Medicaid and several tax credits that encourage work and empower families with low income to achieve economic independenceThemes that came up over and over again were the disproportionate impact of poverty and hunger on children, people with disabilities and people of color, and the disturbing effect that recent hateful, dishonest rhetoric and changes in immigration enforcement policy have had on access to public benefits by eligible immigrants and their children.

Under such gloomy circumstances, what can anti-hunger advocates to do to protect the programs that have lifted so many, enabling them to contribute to the American economy and society? How can we be effective when we’re on the defensive? Conference speakers and attendees alike spoke of the power of storytelling and shared values in framing statistics in a way that humanizes the frequently maligned recipients of food assistance and connects federal policy changes to the lives of real people in our communities and neighborhoods. (Note: If you receive food assistance and would like to share your story, please email our Communications Director Alex Rossman.)

Armed with lots of new information and propelled by the energy of my fellow conference attendees, I was proud to join a well-organized group of Michigan anti-hunger advocates in visiting nearly all of the members of the Michigan congressional delegation to educate them about the impact of federal nutrition programs on their constituents’ lives and the critical need to protect the funding and structure that make these programs so effective.

As the Inka wisely recognized, a robust nutrition assistance program isn’t merely charity to people having a tough time, it’s an essential investment in the nation’s future. At this critical time in our history, it’s vital that stakeholders from all sectors, ranging from anti-hunger advocates and human service providers to the healthcare and agriculture industries, band together to defend the food programs that help today’s children grow into tomorrow’s parents, workers and leaders. To get the latest news and find out how you can get involved in the federal fight against hunger, check out the Food Research and Action Center.

— Julie Cassidy

Families left in limbo after Supreme Court ruling on immigration

The United States Supreme Court recently tied 4-4 on a long-awaited decision to allow undocumented parents of U.S. citizens a pathway to citizenship. Due to the tie vote an injunction on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) will remain in place, continuing to leave tens of thousands of parents in limbo. It is estimated that the DAPA program would have kept 43,000 children with their parents.

Children of MI immigrants graphicsThis would have been an important step forward because immigrant children live in fear of deportation of family members and friends. Under the Obama administration more immigrants have been deported than under any other president, making this fear imminent. Recent declines in deportation are attributed to fewer people illegally migrating. While the administration has stated that the focus of these policies is not intended to affect law-abiding residents, many such families have been separated in the process. (more…)

Children of Michigan immigrants are waiting for an answer

Approximately 43,000 immigrant children in Michigan are currently living in fear of their parents being deported and their families being torn apart. President Barack Obama’s executive orders Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were positive steps taken to address the large number of immigrants stuck in limbo in Michigan and around the country. (more…)

65,600 taxpayers in Michigan

Immigration reform could mean millions in new tax revenue in Michigan – more than enough to offset the modest additional health care costs that would result from reform.

Michigan is home to an estimated 65,600 undocumented families who already contribute an estimated $126 million a year in state and local taxes, a new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds. That’s expected to jump to $161 million a year should Congress finish its work on immigration reform, which has passed the U.S. Senate but is stalled in the U.S. House. (more…)

Immigration and Michigan’s economy

The positive economic impact of welcoming immigrants is echoing across the state. As a daughter of immigrant parents, I feel grateful that our governor is publicly taking a stance against any Arizona-type immigration law in Michigan and speaking on behalf of initiatives that hone in on the importance of rolling out the welcome mat. (more…)

Michigan rolls out welcome mat

During tough economic times, we must take time to celebrate any victories that come our way. Last week marked a victory for our state when Gov. Rick Snyder announced he would reject any Arizona-style immigration law in Michigan.

I feel proud to live in a state that publicly recognizes my family and me as important assets to our community and our economy. The League’s report, Good for Business: Rolling Out the Welcome Mat, outlined the economic benefits of the immigrant population and how Michigan cannot afford to roll up the welcome mat. Luckily, the facts rang true for the administration and we can now take our name off the list of states with govenors that support anti-immigrant legislation.

House Bill 4305 would require state police to enforce federal immigration laws and request immigration documents from anyone they suspect of being in the state illegally. It has become clear that immigrants are not a drain on the economy, but instead increase our state revenues, start businesses, and contribute to a better-educated workforce.

Rolling out the welcome mat in Michigan improves our state because: (more…)

The Kresge Foundation awards $300,000 grant to MLHS

Contact: Judy Putnam at (517) 487-5436
March 21, 2011

The Kresge Foundation has awarded a two-year, $300,000 grant to the Michigan League for Human Services to expand outreach and capacity of the organization. (more…)

Rolling out the welcome mat

I want to continue living in a state that welcomes me and my family; we are consumers, taxpayers, students, and business owners. As a South Asian female and daughter of immigrant parents, it struck a very personal chord with me when the governor noted the importance of welcoming immigrants to our state during his State of  the State address. I see this as the first step to rolling out the welcome mat in Michigan.

However, Michigan has been one of many states that introduced controversial anti-immigrant legislation during the last legislative session. 

Based on a similar Arizona law, the bill would have required Michigan State Police to enforce federal immigration laws and request immigration documents from anyone they suspect are living in the U.S. illegally.

Heated discussions about immigration reform have often centered on the cost to the public and the services provided to unauthorized immigrants. But what is often left out of the conversation are the many ways in which immigrants contribute to the local economy and the potential cost if an Arizona-style law was adopted in the state.

Policies are already in place to ensure immigrants wanting to migrate to this country will not be increasing costs to the public. “Public charge” is a term used in immigration law to describe legal immigrants who are unable to support themselves and who rely solely on cash assistance as their primary income. Depending on his or her immigration status, a person can be denied entry into the U.S., re-entry into the U.S., or permanent residency if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) believes an immigrant is not able to be self-supporting without these benefits in the future.

Unauthorized immigrants only account for 1.4 percent of Michigan’s population and 1.3 percent of the workforce, and do not have access to public assistance. They are only eligible for Emergency Services Only Medicaid, which is mostly funded by the federal government, and for Maternity Outpatient Medical Services (MOMS), a program providing prenatal coverage to some low-income noncitizens eligible for Emergency Services Only Medicaid. Legally residing immigrants have to be living in the states for five years and reach legal permanent resident status before they are even eligible for public assistance. Foreign students are never eligible for public assistance.

However, nationally, between one-half to three-quarters of unauthorized immigrants pay federal and state income taxes, Social Security taxes, and Medicare taxes through payroll deductions. Additionally, as consumers, renters, and homeowners, all unauthorized immigrants are subject to sales and property taxes. Nationally, undocumented immigrants contribute $8.5 billion in Social Security and Medicare funds annually and are not be able to collect the benefits. Immigrants also utilize fewer services; health care costs for the average immigrant are 55 percent less than the average native-born citizen.

Instead, they contribute to the economy by paying taxes, buying goods, going to school, and opening businesses.

For example:

• Michigan immigrants make up less than 6 percent of the population yet are responsible for more than 32 percent of all high-tech startups in the state, making Michigan 3rd in the nation for producing new high-tech business opportunities.
• Between 1996 and 2007, Michigan immigrants represented 15.8 percent of new businesses owners, making them three times more likely to start a business.
• Our state’s education system attracts many foreign students, contributing over $600 million a year to our economy.

If Michigan passed an Arizona-style law, the state could lose over $3.8 billion in economic activity, $1.7 billion in gross state product, and approximately 20,000 jobs with the removal of all unauthorized workers from the labor force.

Michigan has much to gain from welcoming immigrants. The more we understand and realize the many ways in which immigrants contribute to our state, the closer we become to being a prosperous state. If you want to learn more about the many ways immigrants benefit our state, check out our new report and executive summary.

— Anika Fassia

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