By Robert L. Reeves and Nancy E. Miller

Demographers and labor experts say that the United States is facing a shortage of skilled workers as baby boomers begin to retire. Baby boomers are those who were born between 1946 and 1964. They make up almost one-third of the American population. They are the best educated and most skilled workforce in U.S. history. Their retirement is expected to open up nearly 1 million jobs in Los Angeles County and 3 million jobs in California over the next 10 years.

The fasted growing positions are for computer software engineers, registered nurses and customer service representatives. However, the need is also there for certified nursing assistants, licensed vocational nurses, solar-panel installers, dental assistants and many other jobs. Because native-born Americans are having fewer children, the majority of these positions will have to be filled by immigrants. Immigrants, both legal and undocumented, already constitute almost half of the work force in Los Angeles and are expected to account for nearly all the growth in the nation’s working age population by 2025. However, there is a concern that many of the workers in the current immigrant population lack sufficient skill in English and adequate education to fill the positions that will open up. The future of California’s economic vitality is at risk unless these jobs are filled by skilled personnel. Experts frame the question as “are we going to share prosperity or are we going to become a Third-World culture with an elite group on top and the majority at poverty or near poverty wages”? The ramifications of an inadequately skilled work-force are far reaching. Not only do the jobs need to be filled in order to keep the economy going, but skilled workers are needed to buy homes, purchase other items and pay taxes for (among other things) social security and Medicare retirement benefits.

Ultimately, greater investments in public education, a renewed focus on vocational education and better job training are critical to the United States’ continued prosperity. That means that immigrant workers who are already here will need to be better trained. However, since there is an acknowledged growing shortage of workers, the U.S. will need to face the fact that we need to allow more immigrants to come to the U.S. legally to provide the jobs and services that our society needs. As such, U.S. immigration laws need to be revised. Comprehensive immigration reform is not just necessary for the benefit of intending immigrants. It is essential for the aging population of legal immigrants and citizens in the United States. Our society can not function where all the available skilled worker visas are filled in one-day. Employers can not wait years for priority dates to become current so that their job openings can be filled.

Immigrants who want to come to the United States should do their research to determine where the job shortages are. This means finding out what fields need workers and where those jobs are located. They should work on their English skills and obtain necessary training in order to successfully apply for those jobs. Immigrants already in the United States should go to school to improve their skills if necessary. Employers and those concerned about U.S. economic future should contact their Congressional representatives to impress upon them the absolute necessity of reforming our immigration laws in order to ensure that our work-force is adequately supplied. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. It is not a political-party issue. It is a question of our survival as a viable culture and it is the responsibility of our government to respond accordingly.