It has become impossible to deny that we have a labor shortage in South Carolina. It’s an issue that stresses out many employers, and I’m sure everyone could give a plethora of examples of how the shortage is affecting their daily lives. It’s the fast-food chains that haven’t reopened their food court spaces because they don’t have enough workers, the 30-minute wait for an Uber ride, and the stores that are randomly closed in the middle. day because they have no one to cover a shift.
Both right and left have their own unique explanations for this trend. Those on the right tend to blame it on overly generous unemployment benefits. While this explanation may have had some merit when the government was providing additional unemployment benefits at the height of COVID, it is not very adequate today. Those on the left will say it’s because workers now understand their value and are fed up with low wages. If employers simply raised wages, they say, the labor shortage would end. While that may be true for some people, with some of the highest salaries in decades, it’s an incomplete rationale.
The main problem is quite obvious but somehow overlooked: we lack real people. There are many reasons for this. Unfortunately, many people who had held certain positions have died due to COVID. Even more took early retirements. There is also the larger reality that our overall national birth rates are dropping quite dramatically.
The fertility rate – the estimated average number of children a woman will have – was 3.65 in 1960, 2.12 in 2009 and 1.7 in 2019. This is a natural tendency to as a country develops. Often, immigrants fill this declining birthrate gap. However, throughout the Trump administration, especially since the onset of COVID, immigration was very restricted. Many of these restrictions, particularly at the border, have remained in place.
I work a lot with asylum seekers at the border. Watching people have to stay in inhumane conditions in limbo while we are denied even the right to seek asylum is morally unacceptable. However, it is also counterproductive if we only look at it from an economic or self-interest point of view. It is not a self-sacrifice to “allow” immigrants to come. It’s the contrary. Our nation desperately needs more immigrants for our national vitality.
Economists realize this, which is why the majority, on the right and on the left, are in favor of increasing the number of immigrants. It is simply sound national policy. The only reason we restrict immigrants is because unfortunately politicians can use xenophobia to gain popularity. They and their media counterparts are fear mongering immigrants and scapegoats. In doing so, they not only destroy the lives of many immigrants seeking a better life in the United States, but they also promote policies that harm our nation as a whole.
It’s time for South Carolina to end the folly of suing the Biden administration to block asylum seekers from entering under the false premise of needing “COVID restrictions.” Our xenophobia harms our state.
Ultimately, our position on immigration should be based on our values – especially the ideals of freedom and human rights. However, if that is too much to ask, we should at least start accepting more immigrants for the vitality of our state and our nation. South Carolina’s economy and society can no longer afford to maintain self-destructive anti-immigrant stances.
Will McCorkle is a South Carolina educator and immigration advocate.