The following is a story written by Grant Stanley and Tadd Wood previously published in the Spring 2014 issue of the UNO Magazine
To remain competitive, creativity and innovation are critical not just for businesses, but, increasingly, for countries and states.
Technology has flattened access to resources and geography. Access to capital, equipment and raw materials no longer is a competitive advantage. Even geography offers fewer protections.
The only true competitive advantage is people — their connections and creativity.
This is especially the case in Nebraska, where we never have had an advantage in technology, capital, equipment or raw materials outside of cold and corn. People have always been our advantage. For this reason, we lead the country in attracting and employing a workforce.
The future of Nebraska’s economy is dependent on its workforce present and to come. Given this importance, we set out to discover whether immigration gives Nebraska a competitive advantage.
We started by looking at data available from the census from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The data was vast and deep. To better understand the trends hidden within we created a dashboard to help explore education and employment by race from 1999 to 2012.
The dashboard (http://bit.ly/cws-analytics) explores jobs distribution, job trends, educational attainment distribution, educational attainment trends, and correlation between job types and attainment of a bachelor’s degree. All information is searchable by individual race.
Education key to upward mobility
The dashboard made it easier to answer several questions:
How many immigrants are migrating to Nebraska?
What has been the change over time?
What is their education?
What jobs are they retaining?
How do they and their
families assimilate into the Nebraskan culture?
Among the most notable findings is an especially sharp increase over the last 10 years of higher education among Hispanics. In 2012, compared to 1999, there are 188% more Hispanic employees with high school diplomas, 232% more employees with bachelor’s degrees, and 286% more employees with master’s degrees in the workforce.
The dashboard also shows that while the majority of Hispanics still are employed as Operatives (9,992), Laborers (12,694), and Service Workers (4,768), this will be changing soon. The correlation between education and job type, and the changes in trend and distribution of education, indicate that Hispanics are getting educated and moving to jobs that require more education. The differences in the degree of correlation show that there is less job growth in labor, craft workers and technicians, and that there is growth in Hispanics becoming officials and managers, professionals, sales workers, and service workers.
This doesn’t conform to how many people view immigrants — as people who move here and never assimilate, never educate, and never provide a positive gainfor the culture.
UNO Sociology Professor Lourdes Gouveia, director of UNO’s Latino/Latin American Studies of the Great Plains (OLLAS), provided much-needed insight to the data.
“To migrate is to be human,” Dr. Gouveia says.
We often think of Hispanics as immigrants that come to Nebraska to take our jobs, but we forget that all of us have immigrant roots. These are just the next wave of people merging into our society.
To boot, given technology and an ever-changing job market, many of us exhibit characteristics of immigration and migration in our daily lives. Many of us move between cities and states each year, to places we know nothing about and where we might not know a soul.
Often overlooked, says Dr. Gouveia, are the benefits of immigration. Benefits are hard to trace because children and great-grandchildren of immigrants typically are not counted as immigrants. But when those are taken into account, the costs of immigration usually are temporary, typically concentrated in the first decade of the first generation.
The benefits, though — especially when second- and third-generation population growth are taken into consideration — can last for more than 100 years.
While first-generation immigrants — those born outside the United States — tend to be less educated and struggle economically, their children and grandchildren tend to be strong contributors to society in both economics and politics. Immigrants take low-skill positions only until they have a grasp of how a society works and what they need to move upward. Their children grow up here, educate here, and eventually become the doctors, lawyers, executives and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Gouveia’s third insight is that Americans are having fewer but more educated children, and migration is a way to sustain our country’s much-needed population growth. With a robust immigration culture, the United States is avoiding a plague many other developed nations face right now — declining populations. Elsewhere, huge numbers of peoples are leaving workforces, leaving a smaller and smaller population to care for large numbers of people.
This conventionally is measured as a dependence ratio — the number of workers in the 15- to 64-year-old age group that must cover the dependent population of young and retired people. In Japan, where there is little to no immigration, the ratio is down to 1.8 working/dependent this year, with a projected ratio of one worker per dependent after 2050. If this were to
happen in the U.S., the consequences for taxes, transfers and incentives would be enormous.
Immigration is America’s greatest weapon to keeping the dependency ratio at a sustainable point.
This is not to say we should open our doors to everyone. If Nebraska only recruits low-skilled, low-paying immigrants, it will have a population that lacks the skill or income to incorporate immediately, which is important. Lengthy incorporation times have a negative drag on economies. But that can be reduced by improving education prior to immigration or shortly thereafter.
Nebraska should spend as much effort to recruit technology and professional talent as it does laborers, craft workers and technicians. Well-executed immigration is the only sustainable way to increase Nebraska’s human capital, while embracing many American’s desire to have fewer and more educated children.
The good news is that Nebraska is well ahead of other states. We currently have the highest work-force participation of any state. But more is needed. If we want successful immigration that quickly incorporates into our society, we need to attract the right people for the right reasons. We should remove some of the legal speed bumps to make immigration easier. We should help immigrants find housing, join churches and other social organizations, and to gain education.
Dr. Gouveia encourages Nebraska to provide its Hispanic workforce with more resources and support so that they can become more educated and productive quicker. To our credit, the data indicates that our immigrant, Hispanic workforce is a bonus to our state and not a drag on our economy.
Let’s not waste our demographic bonus for Nebraska, let’s protect and grow it.
Grant Stanley and Tadd Wood are co-founders of Contemporary Analysis, a predictive analytics firm in the Old Market founded in 2007. The opinions herein are not necessarily those of the University of Nebraska, the UNO Alumni Association or the University of Nebraska Foundation.