The May jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics dumbfounded economists and made Wall Street analysts look foolish. Supposed experts expected that the huge job losses reflected in the April report, 20.5 million, would continue in May to the tune of 7 million Americans sidelined. Instead, the economy added 2.5 million jobs, and the unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent from 14.7 percent.
Put aside whether those jobs are newly created or furloughed workers returning to their former positions. The BLS data raises important questions about what President Trump will do when his Executive Order that paused some immigration expires later this month.
The expansion lobby, which includes immigration advocates and lawyers, has long argued that employers face dire labor shortages in virtually every BLS occupational classification. The “Buy American, Hire American” proponents – those who want to protect American jobs through a commonsense immigration policy – face a huge problem. They don’t have congressional support. But, the expansionists do. A recent example is seen in the letters members of the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives sent to President Trump asking him to protect the H-2B visa, the vehicle used to import low-skilled, foreign-born nonagricultural workers.
The Upper Chamber wrote that “farming, forestry, packing, hospitality, healthcare, communications, and information technology rely on non-immigrant guest workers to survive.” And the House letter stated, “It is important that the H-2B program continue to be available to our seasonal employers as a fail-safe in the event that we see a rapid drop in unemployment and a return to the extremely tight labor markets of just a few months ago.”
This year, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to implement a rule that would allow an additional 35,000 H-2B visas to the existing 66,000 cap. But after a voter rebellion opposing the proposed increase, DHS backed off. Around that time, about 50 million native-born and 10.4 million foreign-born age 16 to 64 were detached from the labor force, and businesses were entering the shutdown phase.
Given the May U-6 20.7 unemployment rate, which measures individuals who want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months, the Senate and House letters are brazenly misleading. Not only are the letters deceptive, they show a cynical disregard for America’s most vulnerable workers and a sellout to the pro-business, cheap labor lobby.
Once Congress, through its expansive guest worker visa legislation, allowed employers to become dependent on foreign-born labor, those same employers stopped looking for Americans to hire. In the ag industry’s case, with an abundance of cheap labor available, thoughts of moving from stoop labor to more efficient mechanization have all but vanished.
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security granted more than 900,000 temporary work visas. In other words, the federal government allowed 900,000-plus foreign nationals to deny American workers a fair shot at available jobs.
Every year, employers allege that they’re facing a worker shortage. And every year, nonpartisan think tanks debunk the employers’ claims. Two reports from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute published in back-to-back years found “no evidence at all” of labor shortages in the top H-2B occupations. And in its editorial, the pro-immigration New York Times concluded that labor shortage claims don’t stand up. The Times, applying Econ 101 basics, wrote that when labor is scarce, unemployment falls, and wages rise. The Times noted that H-2B workers are subject to exploitation and unemployment “is high in the major H-2B fields, which include landscaping, groundskeeping, construction, hospitality and seafood processing, while wages in those fields have long been flat or declining.”
In 1986, Congress created the H-2B visa as part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. IRCA’s goal was to supplement the U.S. labor market through the H-2B when true shortages exist. But Republican and Democratic administrations abandoned the visa’s original intent. They granted H-2B visas to lifeguards, landscapers, hospitality workers, Vail ski instructors, football coaches and Cape Cod summer employees. Nobody can intelligently argue that ski resorts can’t find local instructors or that Cape Cod, surrounded by New England colleges, couldn’t find nearby workers. Giving skiing lessons in the Rocky Mountains or waiting tables on the Cape are a young person’s dream job.
The traditional solution to true job shortages, which employers refuse to adopt, is to pay higher wages, not import more pliable foreign-born workers.