Friday, October 24, 2008

Minnesota will rely more on immigrant workers

Why don't demographers, economists and politicians talk about abortion and birth control as instruments of state planning? And how 'bout family subsidies? There are hundreds of thousands of children who would be thrilled to have another brother or sister.

An aging population in Minnesota will mean more reliance on immigrant workers in the coming years, State Economist Tom Stinson said at a economic conference in St. Paul Friday.

The conference, titled “Election Year Economics,” which was held at Metropolitan State University, gave a prominent role to immigration, a subject that’s largely been overshadowed this election cycle by the nation’s larger economic woes. But Stinson said the issue would return to the spotlight, both nationwide and in Minnesota.

“We are entering a long era where the dependency ratio of the number of people being supported by people in the work force is going to increase, so this is a situation that’s of concern, especially for Minnesota because worker productivity is what we have going for us,” said Stinson, who didn’t advocate for one political party over the other. “We must make the fullest use of everyone’s talent in the economy.”

Beliefs about immigrants’ cost to society, such as the idea that they don’t pay taxes, are not supported by fact, Stinson said. Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, tend to pay their fair share of taxes, Stinson said, citing sales, property, and withheld payroll taxes as unavoidable to anyone living, working and owning property in the state.

“Everybody pays sales taxes,” Stinson said. “You’re not exempted if you’re an immigrant or if you’re undocumented.”

Historically, Minnesota has been a state of immigrants, said state demographer Tom Gillaspy. In 1910, the state had more foreign-born people, 550,000, in it than it does today, 475,000, although the current numbers are rising. And out of all the options for replacing the aging work force, Gillaspy said immigration is the most viable.

“We do believe that immigration will be an increasingly important component. That depends not only on what’s happening here, but what’s happening everywhere else. [The Minnesota of the future] is more diverse, international, global and high-tech than our world. We need to understand that difference.” Mpls-StP Business Journal

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