Jennifer Rubin: As it turns out, our country is not all filled up

In this June 28, 2018 photo, a help wanted sign hangs outside the U.S. Steel Granite City Works facility in Granite City, Ill. President Donald Trump will visit the facility on Thursday, July 26, 2018. U.S. Steel credited Trump's plan to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum when the company announced in March it was firing up a furnace at Granite City Works that had been idled for more than two years. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

President Donald Trump's jaw-dropping falsehood that "our country is full," reveals the zero-population-growth crackpottery and Malthusian hysteria at the heart of the anti-immigration movement, as well as economic and demographic ignorance.

Beyond the obvious — we have huge stretches of land that are either unpopulated or thinly populated — the formerly pro-market conservatives who are now fact-free right-wing nationalists would have us believe that with each immigrant allowed in, a native born American loses his job (or takes a pay cut).

This is balderdash, in large part because we have a labor shortage — and not just in high-skilled jobs. The New York Times reports:

"Over the past few decades, as a manufacturing decline left homes vacant and storefronts dark, New York's upstate cities opened their doors to refugees. The influx, while modest, gave new life to neighborhoods, helped alleviate labor shortages and shored up city budgets.

"But that rejuvenating bounce for cities such as Utica, Buffalo and Syracuse ended after the Trump administration drastically cut the number of refugees allowed into the country. New York received 1,281 refugees in the last fiscal year, compared with 5,026 just two years before, according to the State Department. Officials in those cities worried they had lost a small but important bulwark against population decline."

This is not an isolated occurrence. We have 7.5 million open jobs right now, and the future looks even more problematic for employers.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found that, as The Post reported, the “total fertility rate — a theoretical figure that estimates the number of births a woman will have in her lifetime — fell by 18 percent from 2007 to 2017 in large metropolitan areas, 16 percent in smaller metro areas and 12 percent in rural areas.” With fewer people, we have fewer workers, produce less and shrink the economy. (“When too low, economies can rapidly contract, and a small working-age population has to support a large retired population. The United States is somewhat more buffered because of its relatively high levels of immigration, but if the decline in fertility continues, demographers say, the country may face an extreme population imbalance in the future.”) But Trump and other nativists want to shrink the pool of immigrants, including refugees.

Likewise, American Enterprise Institute economist Lyman Stone, in a report titled "Declining Fertility in America," found that birth rates in the United States are declining and are "soon to become the lowest ever." Additionally, he tells us, millennial women will have fewer children than previous generations had. Stone argues that "policymakers must confront the reality that all our long-term obligations will have to be financed with substantially fewer people (or perhaps substantially more immigration) than most actuarial projections assume." That might include all sorts of solutions ranging from child-care support to, yes, increased immigration.

If you said that this scenario sounds like Japan, give yourself a pat on the back. "Japanese lawmakers have passed controversial legislation expanding the number of semi-skilled foreign workers who can live and work in the notably insular nation for up to five years," NPR reported in December. "Japan has been pressed to make the change because of a critical labor shortage that results from its rapidly aging society and low birth rate." We're not Japan, but if birthrates continue to decline and right-wing nativists cut immigration, that's the direction in which we'll be heading.

Social Security actuaries are keenly aware of the problem. We have fewer workers generating revenue for each beneficiary. That portends a funding crisis, unless we get more workers to fill the Social Security coffers.

In sum, Trump and his low-information voters, many without a college education, would have us believe the latter’s economic situation is the fault of workers “stealing” their jobs or lowering income. All Americans benefit from a growing economy but, to grow, we need workers — both skilled and unskilled.

Native-born workers should receive assistance when their industry is disrupted by trade or automation. That might entail moving them to where jobs are, or incentivizing employers to move to where the workers are. It certainly requires more investment in training and education. The solution is not to whip up racial animosity and blame immigrants for Trumpers’ woes. That, however, is Trump’s political strategy to get reelected.

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.