Johnson: Immigration tied to economy

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, May 15, 2008

By Staff
Researcher believes
diversity acceptance
is required to survive
Staff Writer
Cities such as Washington must be prepared to deal with immigration if they are to survive, according to a professor who has studied the issue.
James Johnson Jr., the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discussed immigration in the state and area during a presentation at Washington’s Municipal Building on Tuesday.
The presentation, People on the Move: Implications for North Carolina’s Health and Competitiveness, suggests that “our ability to survive as a nation is based on how to transition from the ‘graying’ of America to the ‘browning,’” Johnson said.
Johnson, whose research on immigration has been cited by a number of national media outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine, warned that local governments not open to change and diversity will struggle economically.
Small cities such as Washington have to embrace the changing demographic landscape of the United States, according to Johnson.
The Washington Human Relations Council, which hosted the presentation by Johnson, is working to promote diversity acceptance in the area.
Economic growth in Washington will not happen without such acceptance, according to City Manager Jim Smith.
Johnson said his argument for diversity acceptance is based on the impact that the Baby Boomer generation will have on the economy and work force. Over 86 million workers from the that generation are set to retire within the next 10 years, he said. The Baby Bust generation, expected to fill these job openings, is only 67 million strong, according to Johnson. This will leave a 20-million-person void in the U.S. job market, and put a huge strain on those working to support Social Security for retirees, he said.
Johnson believes the only way to fill that void is through legal immigration, especially the immigration of Hispanics looking for jobs and stability in the United States.
The percentage of Hispanics in America’s population is projected to increase from 10.2 percent in 1995 to 24.5 percent in 2050, according to Johnson. The population surge of Hispanics will help support the economy and Social Security, he said.
Southern states already are reliant on the services provided by Hispanic immigrants.
Johnson described North Carolina a “new Hispanic magnet state,” explaining that Hispanic immigrants are attracted to the state because of the wealth of job opportunities.
North Carolina ranked sixth in the nation among states with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations from 2000 through 2005, according to Johnson.
Johnson, who grew up outside Greenville, said North Carolina has changed greatly since his childhood.
The most common argument against immigration is that Hispanic immigrants waste taxpayers’ money, said Johnson, who doesn’t support that argument.
In 2004, the total estimate of major public costs on Hispanics in North Carolina was $816,559,000, Johnson said. The total estimated taxes contributed to the state by Hispanics came to $755,520,000, he said. This means the net cost of Hispanics to the state was $61,039,000, according to Johnson.
Johnson cautioned that although that net cost might seem like a significant amount of money, it does not factor in consumer spending by Hispanics. Hispanics living in North Carolina spent $8.3 billion as consumers in 2004, he said. They also provided workers for 89,000 additional jobs, according to Johnson.
There would be a $10 billion negative impact on the construction trade in North Carolina if those immigrants were sent home, according to Johnson.
Before the presentation, Smith and Johnson discussed the effects immigration may have on Washington’s economy.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Johnson was asked how the council could stop discrimination against Hispanics in Washington.