hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial June 2016



Why refugees from Syria might help Rutland prosper


One of the biggest fallacies being circulated in our corrosive national debate over immigration is the notion that newcomers to the United States are somehow “taking away” the jobs of people who are already here.

As we’ve pointed out before, our economy isn’t a steady-state system with only a set number of jobs. As a general rule, the economy grows better and faster when it has more people working and contributing to it.

Locally, what we’ve heard repeatedly from farmers and other employers who’ve turned to foreign workers in recent years is that they can’t find enough native-born Americans to do the work that needs to get done at wages they can afford to pay. Many American workers, it seems, feel they have better options than the low pay and hard labor required for menial jobs in agriculture, stone quarries, landscaping and so on.

So if people from Mexico, Latin America and elsewhere around the globe are willing to take on these jobs, we should welcome them and thank them for propping up our economy. And we ought to make it easy for them to enter the country and work here legally.

The idea that immigrants are likely to be an economic burden has been disproven over and over in our nation’s history; indeed, the U.S. economy grew most rapidly in the 19th century when we had few restrictions on immigration.

That lesson is worth remembering amid the current debate over a proposal to resettle 100 Syrian refugees in Rutland.

As our cover story this month details, Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras quietly volunteered his city late last year as the new home for some of the 10,000 Syrian refugees the United States has pledged to take in – a tiny portion of the 5 million who’ve fled the ongoing civil war there.

The mayor’s plan has provoked plenty of controversy in Rutland over the past month, the more so because it was crafted in near secrecy until Louras announced it as a virtual done deal at the end of April. It’s a fair question whether the mayor should have started consulting his colleagues and the public sooner. But his prediction that the refugees will be a net plus for Rutland is spot on.

Rutland has been losing population for three decades and in recent years has struggled with a wave of drug-related crime. The city has plenty of affordable housing, and its schools and infrastructure should have no trouble accommodating 100 new residents.

Given that city has been down on its luck, it’s natural to worry that the addition of 100 refugees, whose job skills and proficiency in English are unknown, might wind up adding to the city’s problems. Each refugee receives a one-time grant of just $925 from the federal government. But in other communities where the refugees have settled, the vast majority are considered self-sufficient within eight months.

In Rutland, Louras says he regularly hears from employers who can’t find workers to fill entry-level positions. The president of Rutland Regional Medical Center has said he currently has more than 100 job openings – many of them housekeeping and food service positions that might be a good fit for the refugees.

Yes, there might be some refugees from Syria who have trouble adapting to life in Vermont. But there is plenty of history to suggest that by welcoming the refugees, Rutland will be better off – and not just because it’s doing its part to alleviate an international humanitarian crisis.

June 2016 Cartoon


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