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OTHER VOICES: Numbers prove value of immigration to Nebraska

January 5, 2019

Math isn’t always hard.

Few subjects make that as clear as immigration. Crunching the numbers, in terms of both demographic and economic trends, paints a picture of how Nebraska benefits from people who came to the state from other countries.

New Census figures recently released show that Nebraska inched up to just shy of 1.93 million residents. That growth, however, would have been a decline without immigration.

Between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018, 3,314 more people moved out of Nebraska than into it, driven largely by corporate office closures of major employers such as Cabela’s in Sidney and ConAgra in Omaha. Over that same period, though, the number of people who moved to Nebraska from other countries was high enough to land the state with a net gain of 11,693.

Don’t let this narrative become a false horror story of immigrants overrunning the Good Life. Instead, immigrants enhance the state’s economic viability and culture.

Even as unemployment remains near record low levels for the Lincoln metropolitan area and the number of jobs and workers reached an all-time high, certain industries are grappling with a well-documented scarcity of employees. In many cases, immigrants can help ease the labor shortages.

The largest shortfalls, both in Lincoln and Nebraska as a whole, fall in blue-collar industries. A University of Nebraska-Lincoln survey this summer documented that the capital city had fewer total workers than jobs in industries that didn’t necessarily require college degrees.

Federal immigration policy, meanwhile, fails to reflect the economic reality in states such as Nebraska. While a border wall was front and center in the government shutdown, prioritizing higher-skilled foreign workers at the expense of lower-skilled individuals has manifested itself closer to home through these shortages.

Speaking of Washington, losing a representative in the U.S. House has generated concerns about diminishing Nebraska’s clout in Congress. That’s seemingly been a ritual since it lost its fourth seat following the 1960 Census.

Without immigration, Nebraska would have endured a net population loss. Had that decline been realized, the Cornhusker State may have seen its congressional delegation shrunk from five members to four following the 2010 Census. With immigration, though, the state is all but guaranteed to maintain its representation, according to University of Nebraska at Omaha demographer David Drozd.

In fact, Nebraska is clocking in ahead of both the averages in neighboring states – only Colorado and South Dakota saw their populations increase at higher rates – and the nation as a whole.

When it comes to growing the state, both in terms of population and economic impact, immigration will continue to remain a critical element. The math on this topic is easy to understand – and further hammers home that point.

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