Chris Clark is president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Santiago Marquez is CEO of the Latin American Association.
It has been clear from the start of the pandemic that this is not simply a public health crisis. Businesses of all sizes were negatively impacted and, much like the rest of the country, Georgia’s economy took a hit.
Fortunately, Georgia has already begun economic recovery efforts due to our state’s earlier re-opening leading to a 4.8% unemployment rate as opposed to the national rate of 6.2%.
The reality is, recovery will take time, especially as Georgia continues to address pre-pandemic labor issues, such as tackling our skills gaps and filling workforce shortages. We need feasible solutions that will kickstart the economy and strengthen our business environment for generations to come.
Thankfully, lawmakers in Congress are working to do just that by ensuring more individuals can participate in our nation’s workforce, including our nation’s immigrants. This includes the recent passage of the American Dream and Promise Act that will establish a pathway to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and DACA-eligible individuals.
Today, Georgia is home to more than 20,600 DACA recipients, otherwise known as Dreamers, who are important to the well-being of our state’s workforce and economy. Annually, they contribute $285.3 million in federal, state and local taxes and hold an estimated spending power of $802.7 million. Aside from their economic contributions, Georgia Dreamers are also working on the frontlines of our COVID-19 response efforts.
Out of an estimated 170,000 immigrants skilled as essential workers in Georgia, about 5,600 are DACA recipients, filling essential roles including health care, education, farming and agriculture, and sanitation jobs. These are jobs that need to be occupied to continue our state’s most basic functions and sending so many willing workers away would be disastrous. While a strenuous application process allows Dreamers to legally live, work and go to school in the only state they have ever known as home, they live in a constant state of legal limbo. Legislative action to provide certainty for Dreamers would be a positive step in addressing Georgia’s workforce needs as we continue to recover and plan for long-term resiliency.
Fortunately, the American Dream and Promise Act, as well as the Dream Act in the Senate, aim to provide these hardworking Dreamers with a clear pathway to legal citizenship. With a path in place, Georgia Dreamers and others across the country can continue building up our workforce and fighting the pandemic together.
At the end of the day, Georgians overwhelmingly agree that immigrants are a critical part of our nation’s past and future and action should be taken to ensure their long term economic mobility.
The Georgia Chamber launched the Global Talent Initiative in partnership with the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to take a deeper dive into barriers that exist for legal immigrants at the federal and state levels. Over 83% of foreign-born individuals in Georgia are of working age; however, 25% have less than a high school diploma and more than 38% have a high school degree or some college. Georgia already needed more skilled workers in the state prior to the pandemic to meet the growing needs of industry. As our economy evolves and adapts to accelerating innovations, it is essential that more individuals pursue technical college or a four-year path to develop a workforce of the future. Reforms should be pursued to accommodate this growth, including those that allow immigrants to fully participate in Georgia’s workforce.
We urge lawmakers in Washington to do what is best for our economy and support Georgia’s immigrant community, starting with getting a solution for Dreamers onto the President’s desk. This accomplishment will help all reach their full potential and expand economic prosperity across our state.