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St. Louis is not ‘FULL!,’ two UMSL professors say to president

SKINKER-DEBALIVIERE – The president says the country’s “FULL!” and tells immigrants to go away. But two political science professors at the University of Missouri-St. Louis say cities like St. Louis could use a lot more.

The two, Adriano Udani and Todd Swanstrom, agreed that an influx of thousands of immigrants into the city might be just what the underpopulated city would need.

In a recent tweet, President Donald Trump wrote “..Mexico must apprehend all illegals and not let them make the long march up to the United States, or we will have no other choice than to Close the Border and/or institute Tariffs. Our Country is FULL!”

But Udani and Swanstrom had different ideas. So do others who have studied the issue.

“We’re not full. We could use more immigrants,” said Swanstrom, the Des Lee Professor in Community Collaboration and Public Policy at UMSL.

“We have room for half a million more,” said Swanstrom, noting the city’s population slid from an all-time high of 856,796 in 1950 to 302,838 for 2018 in the most recently-released estimate. That estimate for 2018 was down 5.1 percent from the 2010 census figure of 319,275. “Bosnian immigrants played a major role in the City of St. Louis.”

Swanstrom said research shows immigrants show positive behavior in a number of areas. Among other things, they commit crime less and start up more businesses.

Udani, who specializes in political attitudes toward immigrants, said there is now a need for highly skilled and low skilled immigrants. “The president’s comments that we’re full and we don’t need any more is a bit short sighted,” he said.

One problem, Swanstrom and Udani noted, was the need for services for immigrants.

In the latest issue of Missouri Policy Journal, Udani argued for keeping workers at both levels.

“In spite of political rhetoric condemning immigrants’ contributions to the United States, scholars have persistently demonstrated positive social and economic contributions of immigrants. Studies such as these pose important policy implications for Missouri,” Udani wrote.

Udani found that lower skilled foreign workers with temporary labor visas for jobs in such positions as forestry, hospitality, construction, outdoor amusement, gardening, landscaping and housekeeping were highly sought after in areas with more diverse economies like St. Louis and Kansas City.  Higher skilled foreign workers also are sought in those areas.

“Studies overwhelmingly show that an increase in the number of immigrants is associated with an increase in economic growth,” Udani wrote. A big focus is on getting high-skilled immigrants, he contends. But low-skilled foreign workers can help by driving down the costs of such things as housekeeping, gardening, landscaping, personal care, and services for buildings and dwellings, he said.

The foreign workers also can help stop the shrinking of workforces in communities throughout the country, according to a recent article in The New York Times, entitled “Trump Says the U.S. Is ‘Full.’ Much of the Nation Has the Opposite Problem.”

The article claimed that an aging population and a declining birthrate is decreasing the native-born workforce. “The Congressional Budget Office foresees the American labor force rising by only 0.5 percent a year over the coming decade, about one-third as fast as from 1950 to 2007,” it said.

The article also quoted a study by the Economic Innovation Group that showed 80 percent of American counties had a decline in the number of adults from 25 to 64 from 2007 to 2017. Together, their population totaled 149 million.

The group’s report spoke in favor of visas for skilled foreign workers who would work in areas that need more people.   

“Place-based visas would create a new pathway for skilled immigrants to intentionally connect with heartland communities facing chronically slow or negative population growth in a way that our current employer-based programs do not,” the report said. “If this policy succeeds alongside related policy measures aimed at revitalizing local economies, communities that today export their home-grown talent may once again be able to retain it.”

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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