Associate Professor of the Practice of International and Public Affairs Dany Bahar recently co-authored a report published in Brookings titled "A roadmap for immigration reform: Identifying weak links in the labor supply chain."
The last time the U.S. enacted major immigration reform was the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. Since then, little has been done to fix what has become a broken system despite heated debate at the national, state, and local levels.
Unfortunately, the immigration debate has also become increasingly disconnected from the exigencies of the U.S. economy, even in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic in which worker shortages and labor market dysfunction have become increasingly glaring. Worse still, the aging U.S. workforce and structural shifts toward a more service-oriented economy will likely deepen much of this dysfunction unless policymakers can agree to major reforms to shore up the U.S. workforce.
This report aims to support these necessary reforms by highlighting the areas of the economy that are most in need of workers. Importantly, our approach not only highlights occupations that are—and will continue to be—in greatest demand, but also the occupations that are most complementary to the existing workforce, ensuring that efforts to meet these labor market needs will support all workers. At the core is a framework that we call the Occupational Opportunity Network, which identifies strategic occupations that will be in high demand for the next decade; are historically immigrant intensive; and have a high degree of complementarity with other occupations. In short, we define highly complementary occupations as those that are central to the U.S. workforce in the sense that they are used as inputs to many different industries and, within those industries, tend to augment the employment of other workers.