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Live Mic: Fewer immigrants affect on Utah and state economies

This July 26, 2018, file photo shows people lining up to cross into the United States to begin the process of applying for asylum near the San Ysidro port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico. (Credit: Gregory Bull, AP)

Salt Lake City — The US population during the past year continued a decade of decline, slowing to the lowest rate in the past century, according to newly released estimates from the US Census Bureau.1

A higher national rate of deaths and a lower rate of births contribute to these numbers, but how have Trump administration policies on restricting immigrants entering the US affected the economy?

Gillian Friedman, an investigative reporter for the Deseret News, joined Lee Lonsberry on “Live Mic” to discuss her reporting on the effects of fewer immigrants on the national and state economies.2

“We hear a lot of rhetoric around immigrants taking American jobs,” said Friedman, “but when you really look at it, the picture is more nuanced.

“There are some positive impacts when you have fewer immigrants,” she said. “You have more competition in the labor force, which means wages can go up, and there can be more pressure to increase the minimum wage.”

But the downside to fewer immigrants is, because of current trends of a lower fertility rate, an increased death rate and more baby boomers aging out of the workforce, more workers will be needed, Friedman explained.

“There are a lot of missing workers. And we’re going to need more and more workers as a safety valve,” she said.

“Where does Utah stand among the national trends?” Lee asked.

Friedman said state economies focused on industries like agriculture, hospitality, and seasonal recreation are already seeing the effects of fewer immigrants.

Welcoming refugees

In August, the Trump administration announced the “public charge” rule that would cut the number of legal immigrants allowed to enter and stay in the country by making it easier to reject green card and visa applicants, if they’re receiving or will likely receive public benefits (such as food stamps or Medicaid).

In September, the Trump administration announced the number of refugees the U.S. will accept will be cut from the current limit of 30,000 to 18,000, including an executive order requiring state and local governments to provide written consent to receive refugees.

In October, Gov. Gary Herbert wrote President Donald Trump stating Utah was ready to settle more refugees.

As did Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, asking for more refugees to be sent to the county. The Utah County Commission unanimously requested the same.

Lee asked Friedman if Utah’s welcoming stance toward refugees might place it at an advantage over other states, which might be less so.

Friedman said Utah gained national attention after the governor sent that letter.

“Many people think, ‘Oh, Utah’s a conservative state, they won’t like immigrants,'” she said.

“But the state is incredibly welcoming to refugees. The Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] does a lot to bring refugees in and sometimes even pays their salaries.

“This state does really want to find a balance between the federal and state governments being on the same page [on immigration],” she said.

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1. https://www.npr.org/2019/12/31/792737851/u-s-population-growth-in-2019-is-slowest-in-a-century;

2. https://www.deseret.com/indepth/2020/1/6/21048887/what-do-fewer-immigrants-coming-to-the-u-s-mean-for-our-economy-and-workforce