Texas Tribune Opinion: Immigrant workers are why my health care business has grown

At Manchester Place Care Homes and Cambridge Caregivers, two senior care businesses that I co-own and operate in Dallas, we are aggressively hiring new employees. Business is up 75% year-over-year, which is fantastic, but our growth has created a big problem: There just aren’t enough job seekers to fill the 100-plus openings we’ll have over the next year. Already, immigrants account for about 80% of our employee base, so I’m dismayed that the White House wants to cut off this essential workforce. 

We didn’t set out to hire mostly foreign-born workers, but have found that immigrants are usually the people who apply. With Dallas currently at full employment, we simply need more workers in the pipeline, and while foreign-born residents make up only 18.7% of Dallas’ overall population, they represent nearly a quarter of its working-age population, according to New American Economy (NAE). 

Yet this key population that’s helping our business thrive is already shrinking, due to recent changes in immigration policy. Since President Trump took office in 2017, legal immigration to the United States has plummeted. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of green cards issued to new arrivals fell by 13%, according to the State Department. More recently, the U.S. has dramatically reduced the number of refugees permitted to enter the country. We’re now accepting the lowest number since President Reagan signed the Refugee Act over three decades ago, and next year the Trump administration is considering cutting that number to nearly zero.

At the same time that we’re losing valuable workers, we’re facing a silver tsunami. Our average clients is 90 years old, and the number of Americans age 80 and older reached a record 12.7 million in the U.S. last year — up from 11.2 million in 2010. That’s 1.4 million additional people who could need care, a number slightly bigger than the population of Dallas. The demand for more services and staff to support this growing demographic will only increase, and that’s not even accounting for Baby Boomers, the largest generation. Boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 people a day, and have only begun to use our services. With a dwindling supply of qualified staff, our costs might rise beyond the financial means of most Boomers. 

Immigrants play an important role for positions as home health care aides in particular. The percentage of native-born aides is projected to shrink 1.5% between 2012 and 2022, while the number of available jobs is projected to increase by 48.5% over the same period. Immigrants are already twice as likely as U.S.-born workers to hold these positions; here in Texas, one-fifth of health aides were born in another country. 

Without access to an immigrant workforce, we wouldn’t be able to grow our business. In addition, filling our lower-skilled caregiver positions allows us to hire more employees in middle management — higher-skilled positions generally filled by U.S.-born workers. Essentially, immigrants fuel our growth and provide opportunities not only for other immigrants, but also for U.S.-born citizens looking for good-paying jobs. And that’s not the only way immigrants benefit our region: in North Texas alone, immigrant households earned $43.8 billion in 2017, paying $7.3 billion in federal taxes and $3.2 billion in state and local taxes, according to a new NAE report.

Any Texan with an aging relative should support the hiring of immigrants, who help make services like ours affordable. I’m grateful to have these hard-working employees. Our foreign-born staff members are compassionate caregivers and incredibly respectful of their elders. If we limit immigration, we limit our base of prospective employees, and I would hate to see a hiring shortage prevent me from serving our clients. As we look to the future, we hope to grow tenfold right here in Dallas before we expand state-wide and beyond — creating jobs and opportunity for everyone along the way.

Read the full opinion piece at tribtalk.org.