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Posted August 4, 2017

Fewer Immigrants Mean More Jobs? Not So, Economists Say

“It’s a political myth that the principal need is for high-skilled workers"

When the federal government banned the use of farmworkers from Mexico in 1964, California’s tomato growers did not enlist Americans to harvest the fragile crop. They replaced the lost workers with tomato-picking machines.

The Trump administration on Wednesday embraced a proposal to sharply reduce legal immigration, which it said would preserve jobs and lead to higher wages — the same argument advanced by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations half a century ago.

But economists say the tomato story and a host of related evidence show that there is no clear connection between less immigration and more jobs for Americans. Rather, the prevailing view among economists is that immigration increases economic growth, improving the lives of the immigrants and the lives of the people who are already here.

“The average American worker is more likely to lose than to gain from immigration restrictions,” said Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California, Davis.

“This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first,” President Trump said.

The proposal revives elements of President George W. Bush’s effort to rewrite federal immigration law in 2007, and it appears no more likely to succeed. It already has drawn sharp opposition from Democrats and from some Senate Republicans.

Economists say that skilled immigrant workers are clearly good for the American economy. The United States could import computers; if it instead imports computer engineers, the money they earn is taxed and spent in the United States. Moreover, some of those engineers invent new products — or even entirely new technologies.

The administration says it still wants high-skilled workers, and it has described the cuts as targeted at low-skilled immigrants. It would still issue roughly 140,000 merit-based green cards each year, while sharply reducing the number of people admitted as family members of current residents.

But about one-third of those family members who received green cards since 2000 had college degrees, Mr. Peri said. “People have an outdated image” of legal immigration, he said. “It’s mostly Asian, Indian, Chinese people who are coming to do mid- and high-level professional jobs.”

George J. Borjas, the Harvard immigration economist whose work is the only evidence that the administration has cited as justifying its proposals, said in an interview on Wednesday that there was no economic justification for reducing skilled immigration.

“That is a political decision,” he said. “That is not an economic decision.”

The economic impact of low-skilled immigration is more hotly debated. Mr. Borjas is the foremost proponent of the view that low-skilled immigration reduced the incomes of American workers without high school degrees. He estimates the total impact at 3 percent to 5 percent of income over the last two decades.

Economists agree that other factors, notably technological improvements, are primarily responsible for the broader deterioration in the fortunes of the American working class.

Mr. Borjas also argues that low-skilled immigration does not produce clear benefits for the economy as a whole. He said that the benefit of low-cost labor was offset, or even slightly outweighed, by the cost of providing government services to immigrants.

“If all you care about is economics, then it’s really clear,” he said. “But do you want to live in a country that only cares about money, or do you want to live in a country that has a legacy of being generous to immigrants? Maybe you want a compromise.”

“The story that ‘when labor supplies go down, wages go up’ is a cartoon,” said Michael A. Clemens, an economist at the Center for Global Development who has studied the end of the Mexican guest-worker program, which was known as the Bracero program.

Similarly, in the present day, some American dairy farmers warn that the nation needs to continue importing farm workers or it will end up importing milk.

Low-skilled immigration can also provide a boost to the rest of the economy.

A 2011 study found that high-skilled women were more likely to work in cities with high levels of immigrants, because families could pay for child care or elder care.

The National Academy of Sciences made an ambitious effort to assess the bottom line in 2016. It concluded that the average immigrant cost state and local governments about $1,600 a year from 2011 to 2013 — but the children and grandchildren of immigrants paid far more in taxes than they consumed in public services.

More broadly, the report concluded that immigration benefited the economy.

Follow Binyamin Appelbaum on Twitter @bcappelbaum
Senior GOP Senators Serve Notice: No action on Healthcare at this Point
Posted August 1, 2017

While so many American continue to do withouth healthcare ir contine to pay rising insurance premiums, higher deductibles and co-pays, the Republicans aren't planning on anything to fix Obamacare in the short teim. Worse, there are fears they will attempt to underfund or make they will increase co-pays and premiums for Obamacare services.

With just 461 days left before the mid-term election, Americans can ill afford to be distracted by the soap opera reality show taking place in the White House.
Mainers have to line up strong behind health care candidates , particularly the U.S. Congress seat in Maine's second district.

July 31, 2017, 4:02 p.m.

Senior GOP senators serve notice: No action on healthcare at this point

David Lauter
Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah. (Associated Press)
Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah. (Associated Press)

Trump administration officials continue to push the Senate to take another run at healthcare legislation, but on Monday senior Republican senators pushed back, making clear that they're done with the topic for now.

"There's just too much animosity and we're too divided on healthcare," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the head of the Senate Finance Committee, said in an interview with Reuters.

"I think we ought to acknowledge that we can come back to healthcare afterward, but we need to move ahead on tax reform," Hatch said.

His remarks were quickly followed by others in GOP leadership positions.

"I think it's time to move on to something else," Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri told CNN. "If the question is do I think we should stay on healthcare until we get it done, I think it's time to move on to something else."

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota also chimed in. "Until someone shows us how to get that elusive 50th vote, I think it's over," he told reporters.

The remarks seemed a coordinated effort to respond to administration officials, including budget director Mick Mulvaney and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who said over the weekend that they wanted the Senate to keep working on healthcare.

Last week, the Senate defeated several different Republican plans to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act. The votes made it clear that with unified Democratic opposition to repeal, and divisions among Republicans, the campaign to overturn the law has stalled out, at least for now.

Congress faces several other pressing issues that will be demanding lawmakers' attention, including deadlines at the end of September to raise the federal debt ceiling and fund government agencies for the coming fiscal year. And the administration is eager to move on tax proposals, with officials rather optimistically saying they hope to see votes by November on a tax package that is not yet written.


Failure of ‘skinny’ ACA repeal not a fix for Maine’s insurance market

Only a bipartisan effort to repair the flawed Affordable Care Act can prevent premiums from skyrocketing, insurance providers and advocates say.

Republicans’ failure on Friday to pass a proposed “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act in the U.S. Senate staves off an immediate death spiral for Maine’s ACA insurance marketplace, but an ongoing crisis of uncertainty will continue unless a bipartisan fix to the flawed 2010 health care law is achieved.

That’s the assessment of industry and consumer advocates in Maine, who said one of the insurance industry’s fears about the latest repeal effort – dubbed “skinny” repeal because it took aim at only a few of the law’s provisions – was that it would have eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate, which penalizes taxpayers who don’t receive health insurance through the ACA marketplace or their employer.

But another looming threat still exists, they said: the loss of a subsidy that applies to deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance for poor and middle-class ACA policyholders.

All of this is playing out against a backdrop of sharply rising premiums. Average individual plan premiums in Maine have already shot up more than 50 percent since the ACA was implemented, and have doubled nationally.

“This vote alone will probably not do much to stabilize Maine’s markets,” said Steve Butterfield, policy director of the Augusta-based Consumers for Affordable Health Care Foundation, about the skinny repeal’s failure. “That’s because Congress could still come back and vote on some version of this bill. Until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell kills this bill and commits to finding bipartisan solutions through a proper hearing process, I doubt any insurance company is going to look at this and say, ‘We’re all set.’ ”

If signed into law as written, the skinny repeal would eliminate the individual mandate, and suspend for eight years enforcement of the employer mandate, which requires companies employing 50 or more workers to provide coverage. It also would eliminate ACA funding for preventive health care and prohibit Medicaid beneficiaries from being reimbursed for Planned Parenthood services for one year. In addition, it would end a 2.3 percent tax on medical device manufacturers for three years.


Friday’s vote on the measure failed, 51-49, mostly along party lines. No Democrats supported it. Among Republicans, only Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Arizona Sen. John McCain voted no.


Insurers in Maine have said that the individual mandate is essential to keeping ACA insurance premiums from skyrocketing further, because it encourages the participation of younger, healthier residents in the insurance market. That participation helps offset costs for older and more disease-prone residents, they said, which is especially important in Maine because of its relatively old population. Maine has the oldest median age in the country at 43.8 years.

Many conservatives object to the individual mandate because it was designed to coerce healthy people into buying health insurance. But supporters say it was a necessary trade-off for a provision of the ACA that guarantees insurance coverage to all Americans regardless of whether they have pre-existing medical conditions.


“My understanding is that guaranteed issue (of health insurance) without an individual mandate is a recipe for an industry death spiral, particularly in small states like Maine, where there aren’t a lot of young people to offset our older population,” said Maine Hospital Association spokeswoman Becky Schnur.

Schnur said her organization is “grateful” and “relieved” that Collins, independent Sen. Angus King and others voted to reject the skinny repeal.

Kevin Lewis, president and CEO of Lewiston-based ACA insurance co-op Community Health Options, expressed concern that the skinny repeal could have produced a cascade of negative consequences for policyholders. Several Republican senators have said they only supported the bill as a means of continuing to develop a full ACA replacement, and that they did not support congressional approval of the skinny repeal as it was written.

“We are certainly relieved that the country avoided a seemingly haphazard approach to dealing with the complicated construction of health care policy and the infrastructure of marketplace dynamics,” Lewis said. “Zeroing out the mandate or torpedoing essential health benefits without regard to the other moving pieces have broad implications that would erode the many gains we’ve witnessed in Maine, particularly the increased numbers of people with more meaningful coverage.”


But the skinny repeal’s failure did nothing to eliminate fears that the federal government will stop reimbursing insurers for cost-sharing reduction subsidies, which minimize enrollees’ out-of-pocket expenses for medical care. The subsidies apply to participants in the ACA insurance marketplace with household incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level who purchase standard “silver” tier insurance plans. ACA plans are divided into metal tiers such as bronze, silver and gold based on the quality of coverage.

Cost-sharing subsidies differ from the advance premium tax credit subsidies, which reduce the cost of premiums for ACA policyholders with household incomes up to 400 percent of the poverty level, regardless of which type of plan they purchase.

Insurance providers have said that cost-sharing subsidies make ACA coverage affordable for thousands of Mainers who otherwise would be forced to drop out of the insurance market.

“After the votes this week, Harvard Pilgrim remains convinced that it is imperative that Congress take immediate action to stabilize the individual insurance markets,” said Edward Kane, Maine vice president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. “The steps that Congress takes must provide clarity that cost-sharing reduction payments, which make health care affordable for many Maine consumers, will continue to be made.”

Maine’s three ACA insurers already are seeking double-digit average premium increases for 2018, citing uncertainty about enforcement of the individual mandate and the threat to cost-sharing subsidies as added risk factors for their operations. The rate requests are under consideration by Bureau of Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa. His spokeswoman said Friday’s vote against the skinny repeal preserves the status quo and that guidance on future rate changes would likely only come from the federal government.

Community Health Options, which has about 35,000 policyholders, is requesting a 19.7 percent average rate increase for individual plans. Harvard Pilgrim, which has about 20,000 policyholders, is seeking a 29.2 percent increase. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which has about 28,000 policyholders, is asking for a 21.2 percent increase. Anthem declined to provide a comment for this story.


According to a study released in May by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, average monthly premiums for individual plans on the ACA marketplace in Maine have increased by 55 percent since 2013, the law’s first year of implementation. During that time, the average monthly premium has increased from $335 to $518, it said. Nationally, average premiums have increased by 105 percent. Those cost increases have been offset by subsidies for most policyholders, but not all of them. Middle-class residents and small-business owners have been hit the hardest.

Butterfield, the consumer advocate, said he doesn’t regard the skinny repeal’s failure as a step toward better rates for policyholders. It was merely the latest bullet dodged in an ongoing firefight.

“This ain’t over yet. We’ve seen similar setbacks before only to watch the bill pass by a new vote days or weeks later,” he said. “Until GOP leaders kill this thing dead, we are going to be vigilant and make sure we continue to engage them on knowing the damage they could do by rushing into something similar.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:



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