Where have all the workers gone?

It may be hard to imagine that a couple of letters and a couple of numbers strung together can cause the population dynamic of an entire state to shift, but that is precisely what HB56 is doing. It is nearly impossible to escape the clamor about the pending immigration law that is currently held up in court. The less obvious issue is that, despite being temporarily blocked, HB56, also known as the Beason- Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, may actually be accomplishing at least part of its goal.

In March of 2011, AL.com reported that the 2010 census numbers showed Alabama’s Hispanic population increased by 145 percent in the previous decade. This growth rate was the second highest in the country, behind South Carolina. The census does not ask about immigration status, but the Pew Research Center, which released the census numbers, estimates that approximately 120,000 unauthorized, or illegal, immigrants live in the state. Of that number, Pew estimates that around 95,000 are in the work force. That is a lot of labor.

While removing illegal immigrants from the state is precisely what the bill has been designed to do, the residual effects on the labor force and the state’s economy could have lasting repercussions as Alabama, and the nation, struggles with recession.

Aside from the broad economic impact, communities and industries that rely heavily on immigrant labor will feel the strain on a more localized level. In Tuscaloosa, where broad reconstruction will be necessary to recover from the tornadoes that ravaged the town in April, all able hands are needed. However, according to a Bloomberg.com report from June, many of those skilled hands are already fleeing, choosing to leave rather than take the chance the law passes.

With the current bill stalled in federal court, it is anyone’s guess what may or may not happen at this point. However, even from a judicial deadlock, HB56 is one powerful four-digit combination.

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