Steven Camarota and Karen Zeigler showed yesterday that the Cato Institute’s estimate of 42,000 illegal alien doctors is implausibly high. You haven’t dealt with Cato’s general argument that immigration is essential to our health system, so I’ll do it here.
Legal or not, many immigrants certainly work as health professionals in the United States. That should come as no surprise in a nation where 17 percent of the workforce was born abroad. It is also not surprising that immigrants are overrepresented among doctors, as we selected them with Visa H-1B and J-1.
It does Not However, it follows that without previous immigration we would have a terrible shortage of doctors. For one thing, lower immigration would mean a smaller population, and smaller populations would need fewer doctors. More specifically, a “labor shortage” should not develop in a properly functioning labor market. With 280 million native-born people and a huge university system, there is no reason why Americans could not have met the demand for doctors who have gradually filled immigrants in recent decades.
Of course, the job market takes time to adjust. A sudden pandemic could lead to an increase in demand for doctors without an immediate response to supply. That is the premise of the proposal Resilience Act for Healthcare Workers (P.3599), which would grant permanent residence to 25,000 nurses and 15,000 doctors and their families. However, it is a solution looking for a problem because The increase in demand for healthcare workers has not occurred. On the contrary, demand appears to have decreased.
The table below shows that the unemployment rate for healthcare workers has increased since February, the last month before the Covid-19 hit. This trend is the opposite of what we would expect if more workers were urgently needed.
Employment trends for healthcare workers
|Licensed Practical /
Source: Current population survey.
At 1.4 percent, the unemployment rate for doctors is still low, but it is above of 0.4 percent, which means no defect. Registered nurses have an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent compared to 0.9 percent. The less qualified health care professions are even more affected. The unemployment rate for medical assistants rose from 1.7 percent to 13.6 percent. The Decrease in demand for health services unrelated to Covid-19 is the likely cause.
According to the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, it is unclear what positions the new doctors and nurses would fill. Even if demand grows in the near future, the Americans who have recently lost their jobs would be the obvious source of workers to draw from.
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