Florida progressives made many dire predictions before the state’s tough new immigration law took effect on July 1, 2023. They claimed that critical industries would face massive labor shortfalls, bringing soaring prices and perhaps even food shortages. Left-wing think tanks warned that Florida’s workforce would plummet by as much as 10 percent, with fearful immigrants fleeing the state. Some predicted that Florida’s economy would crater by $13 billion per year. More than half a year later, none of these predictions has materialized. If anything, the results so far show the opposite.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 1718 into law in May 2023. Among other provisions, the new law invalidated out-of-state driver’s licenses given to illegal immigrants, required hospitals to quantify uncompensated care given to them, and, perhaps most controversially, compelled employers with at least 25 employees to use E-Verify to check new hires’ legal status. Local and national media sowed panic about the law, which they almost uniformly labeled an “anti-immigration crackdown” rather than an illegal-immigration crackdown. Some outlets highlighted video clips of empty store shelves in Florida supermarkets, which went viral after truckers promised a boycott of the state that never materialized. CBS fact-checkers confirmed that the empty shelves depicted were unrelated to the boycott or the law, but this hardly mattered to those in the media keen to condemn the law.
State politicians and advocacy organizations offered similarly grim forecasts. Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried warned last May that “Ron’s ‘woke’ war will cause prices to increase on all goods and services,” adding that DeSantis was “tanking Florida’s economy and creating inflation.” Denise Negron, executive director of the Farmworkers Coordinating Council of Palm Beach County, said last summer that the bill could cause food shortages. The Florida Policy Institute cautioned that the new measure could result in a net economic loss of $13 billion per year and cut 10 percent of the state’s total workforce. Even Republican state representative Rick Roth, who voted for the bill, lamented how fearful illegal-immigrant farmworkers were leaving the state because of the bill. “I’m a farmer, and the farmers are mad as hell,” he said.
What happened after the law took effect on July 1? Well, Florida’s economy grew by 6.1 percent in the third quarter of 2023, seventh-best in the nation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the state’s civilian labor force ticked up from about 11 million workers in July to 11.1 million in December. Despite all the hype about labor shortages, the state’s unemployment rate rose during that period, from 2.7 percent to 3 percent.
While the media hyped alleged incidents of empty construction sites supposedly caused by employers unable to find workers, in the first six months after the law went into effect, the number of Floridians employed in construction rose from 610,600 to 622,600. The number of statewide job openings remained about on par with pre-July figures, with the slight dip in July matching the national trend. By October 2023, the state had roughly 574,000 job openings, compared with 570,000 in July and 569,000 the previous October.
There’s also no evidence that workers in fled the state in great numbers, or that companies had to announce mass layoffs because of employees lacking legal status. According to the BLS, 363,000 separations (employees and employers parting ways) occurred in July, 348,000 in August, and 386,000 in October; the previous October, Florida recorded 399,000 separations. According to the Census Bureau, Florida last year was the nation’s second fastest-growing state, behind South Carolina, at 1.6 percent population growth in 2023. Population growth in the state last year was “the highest number it’s ever been,” said Stefan Rayer, population program director with the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.
Food shortages never materialized; nor did soaring food prices. For example, the December 2023 BLS consumer price index report for the Miami–Fort Lauderdale metro area—the metro with, by far, the most illegal immigrants in the state—found that the food-at-home price index in the region fell 1.9 percent between October and December last year, with declines in five of the six major grocery-store food-group indexes including meats, poultry, fish, and eggs.
Critics of the new law will likely contend that six months isn’t enough time to assess the legislation’s impact. Perhaps not. But the fact that every relevant data point refutes their contentions so far shows that employers are likely a lot more resilient and resourceful than they thought. Of course, given the choice, most employers want the widest possible labor pool—one that includes illegal immigrants. But when a state chooses to enforce the law, businesses can adapt and still thrive.
How did Florida employers cope? It appears as though some, including Rep. Roth, used the numerically unlimited H-2A agricultural guestworker program, which lets farmers employ foreign guest workers for up to three years at a time if they’re able to navigate the program’s red tape. Outside the agriculture industry, employers likely increased their use of other guest-worker visas, such as the H-2B, while others may have raised wages and hired locally, or hired workers illegally and paid them under the table. Other employers are probably still using illegal labor—after all, the law applied only to new hires, not existing workers, a fact that progressive critics mostly obscured.
There will be plenty of talk about immigration reform at the national level as election season heats up. The Left doubtless will claim that the American economy will tank if E-Verify and other law-enforcement mechanisms get implemented more broadly. Florida, however, is proving that we can enact common-sense measures to combat illegal immigration and maintain a healthy economy.
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