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Zirpoli: America needs workers

From farmers to nursing homes, the shortage of workers in the United States threatens many businesses. In my field of caring for our citizens with disabilities, the need is critical. The current shortage of workers is caused by three variables.

First, the unemployment rate is low. This is a cyclical variable. When unemployment is high there are plenty of available workers to keep our economy humming. When unemployment is low, however, the applicant pool shrinks.

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Second, the current negative attitude towards immigrants, including legal immigrants, keeps many potential immigrants from seeking employment in the United States. Ask farmers, crab pickers, hotel owners, and nursing homes how the president’s attitude and policies about immigration are affecting their ability to find and recruit workers.

Third, the availability of native-born Americans for many of these jobs is shrinking. Thus, when farmers say they can’t find Americans to pick their crops, they aren’t kidding. When Maryland crabbers say they can’t find people to pick their crabs, or when builders say they can’t find construction workers, they mean it.

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Eduardo Porter, an economist, wrote about how difficult it is for builders to find construction workers. He gave the example of a building project in California where immigrants from as far away as a two to three-hour drive were being paid $25 per hour — 6 percent more than a year earlier — plus mileage, to fill the necessary construction jobs. Porter noted that many Mexicans returned home after the housing bust because of the lack of work. Now when they are needed, they don’t want to return because of the crackdown on immigration.

Meanwhile, housing starts are growing faster than the influx of workers. Phil Crone of the Dallas chapter of the National Association of Home Builders stated that the “labor bottleneck was adding about $6,000 to the cost of every home built in the area and delaying completing by two months.” One in four workers in the construction industry is an immigrant. In some construction fields, such as plastering, roofing and hanging drywall, “the share of immigrants hovers around half” according to The National Homeowners Association. The Brookings Institution found that immigrants make up one-third of the hotel industry, one out of five workers in food services, and one out of three in the direct-care industry, such as nursing homes.

For farmers, the majority of seasonal workers were born in Mexico. Only one in four was born in the United States. With the crackdown on immigration into the United States, many large farmers are moving their businesses to Mexico where they can more easily find workers. The Congressional Budget Office recently identified a shrinking workforce, now and in the foreseeable future, as the primary reason for slow economic growth in the United States compared to historic levels.

Just before her resignation as Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen announced that an additional 30,000 H-2B visas would be made available so that resorts, landscapers, and the Maryland Eastern Shore crab industry, can hire more international summer workers. Currently, only 60,000 are allowed. Many more are needed. In a letter to Secretary Nielsen, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called on the Trump administration to increase the number. According to Hogan’s letter, in 2018 “half of the processors in the state were unable to open for business or forced to reduce their operations” because of the low number of foreign workers available and this will “jeopardize our $355 million seafood industry” if this happens again in 2019.

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President Donald Trump said that “our country is full.” In fact, our population is aging and the birthrate of Americans is declining. This has led to a shrinking workforce that, according to Republican Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, is “our biggest threat” to our economy and “makes it incredibly difficult for businesses to recruit new employees and expand, harder for communities to grow and leaves fewer of us to cover the cost of state government.” Trump understands all of this, but his racism against immigrants from the southern hemisphere is blinding him from the reality of the situation.

Many of Trump’s resort workers are immigrants from dozens of different countries. Many hold temporary visas secured through the federal government’s H-2B’s visa program. Trump applies for hundreds of H-2B visas in the summer to operate his resorts because, he says, “it’s very, very hard to get people.” In the past year, many undocumented workers —who had worked for Trump for years — have been fired because they did not have official immigration papers. Most of the workers said that their status was known by Trump’s managers from the start. Last month, seven long-term Trump employees at his Mar-a-Lago resort were fired. Only one was a legal resident. They were from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

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