A recent article about needing more workers at the Carroll County Emergency Communications Center sounds familiar to all of us business folks also looking for workers. There are several variables contributing to this challenge. Here are two: The decreasing American birth rate and the lower number of refugees admitted into our nation to help make up for the lower birth rate.

According to a study by the National Immigration Forum, “Refugee resettlement efforts peaked in 1980 when the country resettled over 200,000 refugees.” That dropped to about 85,000 in 2016, 33,000 in 2017, and to about 23,000 in 2018.


The decrease in refugee resettlement coincides with a steady decline in the U.S. birth rate. According to the World Bank, the replacement rate needed to sustain the existing American population is about 2.1 children per woman. In 1960, American women were having an average of 3.65 children. That decreased to 2.06 children by 1980 and 1.7 children in 2018.

Meanwhile, as our population ages, the need for service workers for nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, and group homes, for example, is increasing while the availability of workers is in decline. Refugees fill many of these jobs and, since around 1980, America has sustained its workforce through immigration, including refugees.

In addition to making up for some of our declining birth rates, refugees play an important role in our economic development. A 2017 study by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of financial data between 2005 and 2014 found that refugees were “net fiscal contributors” to the tune of $63 billion to the federal government and $22 billion to state and local governments.

A study by Austan Goolsbee, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, confirmed the refugee contribution and found that cuts in immigration overall placed the “long-run health of the United States economy” in “serious danger” from a “self-inflicted wound.” The Brookings Institute, for example, found that 43 percent of the companies in the 2017 Fortune 500 were started by immigrants or their children.

Petra Moser and Shmuel San looked at what happened in the 1920s when the United States instituted a national quota system based on ethnicity to preserve the “ethnic character” of our nation’s science community. Immigration was cut from 800,000 in 1921 to below 300,000 by 1925. Moser and San documented a significant reduction of scientists and inventors into the United States. Patents in the U.S. fell by almost 60 percent. They stated that “different perspectives and approaches of immigrants were actually quite important” and that “the damage that restricted immigration had on American science lasted a very long time.”

The claim that refugees are a burden to our society does not hold up against reality. According to the New American Economy, male refugees have a higher employment rate on average (67 percent) than native-born males (60 percent). For women, the employment rate is the same for refugees and native-born Americans. Almost half of the refugees find jobs in manufacturing, health care, and general services, according to the National Immigration Forum, and there are not enough native-born Americans available to fill these jobs.

The National Immigration Forum found that refugees have a significant impact “when they move into areas that were previously in decline, helping to spark community growth. In Rust Belt cities in the Midwest, for example, “refugee resettlement offers a powerful mechanism to help prevent population decline and the spread of urban decay.” As stated by Akron, Ohio Mayor Daniel Horrigan, “The foreign-born people are helping us. They want to send their kids to school, they buy houses and they pay taxes.”

The National Immigration Forum found that refugees had $56 billion in disposable income to spend in their local communities in 2015. The study found that within 25 years, refugee household income reaches parity with median U.S. households and that, over time, they surpass native-born Americans in homeownership rates.

Resettlement services for refugees are expensive. But studies have shown that when you take into account their economic benefit, net revenue increases in states with strong resettlement programs. For example, Tennessee found that while state refugee services cost the state about $753 million between 1990 and 2012, the refugees helped generated $1.3 billion in state revenue during the same time period, a net benefit to the state of $633 million. Anti-immigration politicians frequently mention the costs of refugees without discussing their net economic value.

During a recent meeting with other direct care providers, we joked about taking a bus to the Mexican border to find workers to fill our empty positions. Businesses are getting desperate and, yes, the overtime is busting all of our budgets.

Tom Zirpoli is the program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesday. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.