It’s impossible to deny that we have a labor shortage in South Carolina. It’s a problem that plagues many employers and I’m sure everyone could cite plenty of examples of how the shortage is affecting their daily lives. It’s the fast-food chains that haven’t reopened their restaurants because they don’t have enough workers, the 30-minute wait for an Uber ride, and stores that arbitrarily close in the middle of the day because they don’t have anyone on a shift to cover
Both the right and the left have their own unique explanations for this trend. The right tends to blame the overly generous unemployment benefits. While that explanation may have had some merit when the government handed out additional unemployment benefits during the height of COVID, it’s not very appropriate today. Leftists will say this is because workers now understand their worth and are fed up with low wages. If employers would only raise wages, the labor shortage would end. While there may be some individuals to whom this applies, with some of the highest wages in decades, this is an incomplete justification.
The main problem is pretty obvious but somehow overlooked: we’re missing real people. There are numerous reasons for this. Unfortunately, many people who had filled some positions have passed away as a result of COVID. Even more took early retirement. There is also the broader reality that our overall national birth rates are falling 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 trend as a country becomes more and more developed. Immigrants often fill this gap in the birthrate decline. However, throughout the Trump administration, especially since the outbreak of COVID, immigration has been severely restricted. Many of these restrictions, particularly at the border, have remained in place.
I work intensively with asylum seekers at the border. Watching people remain in limbo in inhumane conditions while we deny them even the right to seek asylum is morally unacceptable. However, it is also nonsensical if we only look at this from an economic or self-serving perspective. It is not self-sacrifice to let immigrants come. It is the opposite. Our nation desperately needs more immigrants for our national vitality.
Economists are aware of this, which is why both the left and the right are majority in favor of increasing immigration numbers. It’s just sensible national policy. The only reason we restrict immigrants is because, unfortunately, politicians can use xenophobia to gain popularity. They and their media counterparts are fearmongers and scapegoats for immigrants. In doing so, they not only destroy the lives of many immigrants seeking a better life in the United States, but also encourage policies that harm our nation as a whole.
It’s time South Carolina stopped the stupidity of suing the Biden administration for keeping asylum seekers out under the false premise of needing “COVID restrictions.” Our xenophobia harms our state.
Ultimately, our stance on immigration should be based on our values - particularly 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 nation. South Carolina’s economy and society can no longer afford to cling to self-destructive anti-immigrant positions.
Will McCorkle is a South Carolina educator and an immigration attorney.