Thursday, July 22, 2021

Opinion: Why rural America needs immigrants

A new opinion piece in The New York Times argues that rural America needs immigrant labor to survive and thrive.

"Rural America has a growth problem. Business and industry desperately need workers, but the domestic labor pool is shallow, and the nation’s birthrate is slowing. There’s no better place to help expand our economy than in rural communities like ours. We need smart public policy for sustained growth — and immigration reform would be a big part of it," Robert Leonard and Matt Russell write. Leonard is the author of "Deep Midwest: Midwestern Explorations." Russell co-owns Coyote Run Farm. Both live in Marion County, Iowa.

Businesses all over the country are having a hard time finding workers. Though some blame too-generous federal and state aid for the worker shortage, it was a problem before the pandemic in many rural areas, and "plenty of research shows that flexible visa programs run federally or by the states could address this problem quickly," Leonard and Russell write. 

Lack of affordable housing for new workers is a problem too, and may continue to be in rural areas since developers will likely be more attracted to higher-profit metro areas and local builders can't find enough laborers, Leonard and Russell write. They recommend that rural local governments pursue public-private partnerships to build new housing developments, possibly with some of the $213 billion President Biden earmarked for housing in his American Jobs Plan. Rural governments have pursued similar funding models for broadband expansion, another low-profit rural buildout need.

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