Six in 10 Missouri voters want to reduce legal immigration by 40 percent or more, according to a new poll by Pulse Opinion Research. Those voters aren’t all hardline conservatives. Fifty-six percent of union households hope to see these reductions. The same is true for 54 percent of liberal and moderate Republican voters.
It’s not that Missourians are xenophobic. Far from it. From 2014 to 2015, the St. Louis metro area had the fastest growing immigrant population in the nation.
Rather, they just oppose the current immigration system, which annually awards one million lifetime work permits to foreigners at a time when tens of thousands of Missourians can’t find jobs. This oversupply of workers suppresses wages and denies job opportunities to Missourians. The state’s elected lawmakers could help these workers, and win their gratitude, by supporting sensible reductions in immigration levels.
At face value, Missouri has a stellar unemployment rate of roughly 4 percent, but this statistic is misleading. It doesn’t account for discouraged workers who have left the workforce entirely. Nor does it factor in workers who are underemployed, meaning they want to work full time but can find only part-time jobs.
When considering underemployed and discouraged workers, Missouri’s unemployment rate jumps to 7.8 percent. Put differently, Missourians want to be working a lot more than they are.
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One reason for high levels of unemployment is too many workers competing for the same jobs. Since 1965, America has allowed legal immigrants to sponsor their parents, siblings and adult children for visas. Once those relatives arrive and spend a certain period of time in the United States, they can in turn sponsor more family members.
This never-ending chain of new immigrants is why annual legal immigration levels have quadrupled since 1965.
Missouri is all too familiar with immigration-fueled population growth. Between 1970 and 2010, the percentage of foreign-born state residents nearly tripled. Nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population were born abroad, the highest level since 1920.
The increase in foreign workers has created an oversaturated job market, particularly for low-skilled workers. In the past two decades, the low-skilled workforce increased by 25 percent because of immigration. As a result of the increased competition, yearly income for low-skilled workers plummeted.
In fact, Harvard economist George J. Borjas has estimated that native-born workers lose about $402 billion a year because of competition from foreign workers.
Lawmakers could eliminate the “visa lottery” — a program that randomly awards green cards to 50,000 immigrants without regard for their skill sets, education or ability to integrate into American society. The program serves no strategic purpose to boost our economy. That’s why 56 percent of Missourians support scrapping it.
Second, lawmakers could end chain migration and admit immigrants based on their skills and economic potential, not their family ties to existing U.S. residents.
Congress is already considering a bill that would accomplish both these reforms. The Senate’s RAISE Act, sponsored by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue, would reduce the overall level of legal immigration by half.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, who previously voted to end the visa lottery, would be wise to support the bill. Seven in 10 voters who backed McCaskill in 2012 but who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 support ending the lottery. When that same demographic was asked about chain migration policies, 64 percent favored limiting family immigration.
Excess workers drive down wages — that’s an ironclad law of economics. McCaskill has already demonstrated her willingness to reach across the aisle on immigration issues. If she does so again to help pass the RAISE Act, it’d spur wage growth and open job opportunities for struggling Missourians.
Stacy Washington is a decorated Air Force veteran, Emmy-nominated TV personality and host of the St. Louis-based nationally syndicated radio program “Stacy on the Right.”