This editorial appeared in the Quad-City Times on April 6.
Iowa has a population problem. And yet, this week, Gov. Kim Reynolds readied to sign legislation that explicitly warns migrants from settling here.
Incessantly, Iowans are inundated with a false narrative about a mythical “skills gap.” Its workers aren’t ready for the job market, state officials say. Bleed the four-year state universities dry so Iowa can pump another $18 million into vocational training, they decided last week.
But there is no meaningful skill gap in Iowa, The Wall Street Journal reported last week. Throughout the Midwest — where public universities are being transformed into worker preparation centers — manufacturers aren’t short on applicants because of a lack of training, said the conservative newspaper. In fact, Iowa’s community colleges are struggling to keep vocational classes filled.
Iowa just doesn’t have the people.
Unemployment rates throughout the region are the lowest in decades, according to federal data. So-called “full employment” means a given economy has reached its capacity. And Iowa might be perhaps the strongest example of the worker shortage.
Iowa’s population has remained remarkably stable for decades. It was a state of roughly three million in 1970, reported the U.S. Census. It was a state of roughly three million in 2010. It’s likely to be a state of roughly three million in 2020, say federal forecasts. In contrast, Illinois gained almost two million residents between 1970 and 2010. ‘
Iowa simply doesn’t grow. And it’s that lack of population growth — reproductive consistency almost unheard of anywhere else in the U.S. — that poses the greatest challenge to the Hawkeye State’s economy.
Cue Iowa Legislature to do something nonsensical.
This week, lawmakers adopted the not-so-lovingly dubbed “sanctuary cities” bill, legislation in search of a problem. It’s nothing but a brash bit of election-year politicking that would damage relations between local police and the communities they serve. But making Iowa’s communities less safe isn’t the only problem here.
Frankly, the legislation is downright counterproductive in a state that claims to be “open for business.” It only makes sense within a national political framework where brown migrants are scapegoated and denegrated with disturbing regularity.
The facts surrounding Iowa’s population problem are neither new nor revolutionary. Then-Gov. Tom Vilsack two decades came under heavy fire for proposing migrant outreach programs. Vilsack was operating from the very same data set Iowa faces today.
The only significant change in Iowa’s demographic constitution is found in its substantial growth in its cities. While the overall population has remained essentially steady, urban centers — particularly Des Moines — continually make up a bigger slice of the state’s stagnant overall population.
It’s Iowa’s small towns that are decaying. And it’s those very same communities about which state lawmakers claim to care. And yet, they adopt racially targeted policies that make stemming the rural out-migration even less likely.