The local paper had an article about the difficulty many local businesses were having in attracting labor, and their extensive use of the J1 visa program to import foreign workers. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a short-term visa mainly aimed at students. You can come here for 5 months, work for no more than 4, before returning home. There are even several agencies who specialize in providing these workers to various businesses. Over the past few years, I’ve met a number of them, and they’re all bright, intelligent, and hard-working. It’s a great opportunity for them to come here and learn about this country, and make more money than they could at home.
But what bugged me was some of the statements by some of the business owners. They read right out of a right-wing tract, and really, they should know better than to have bought into it. You’ve probably heard them: “Americans don’t want to do this job.” ; “They’d rather be on unemployment than work for $8.00 an hour.” ; “They aren’t respectful.”; and “they don’t apply.” What irritates me about it? I know the area very well. It’s a load of garbage.
You see, there are a number of issues that these business owners blithely overlook -because it doesn’t fit with their politics. First, and the biggest one, is that there aren’t enough residents – and particularly young people – around anymore. 30 years ago, the local high school had twice the number of students it does now. This town isn’t an isolated case, you can see it all around the area. Upstate New York, and in particular the Adirondacks, has had a serious loss of young people and people raising families here. What that means for businesses is that the college students back home on summer break that used to provide the majority of the seasonal labor force are in short supply.
The second reason is seasonal. You see, the jobs they’re offering are just for the summer tourist season. Late May to Labor Day. Which is why they can’t attract unemployed from outside the area to take the job. Why would anyone want to travel fairly long distances to work at a job that only lasts 3 to 4 months, and pays $8.00 an hour? After you’ve paid for gasoline, and the wear-and-tear on your vehicle, you’re talking about a cost that’s much less than $8.00 an hour.
A third reason is the change in the labor laws. I remember when most of those jobs – housekeeping, groundskeeping, street cleaning, and so on – were jobs done by high school students. I even had those jobs in school, and most of my family did. You know what? Most of them aren’t legal anymore. There are a lot of limitations on what someone under the age of 18 can do these days, so most employers don’t even bother trying.
Add together all those, and yes, you will have a labor shortage. Put that together with crappy working conditions and minimal pay – which were also mentioned in the article – and it’s no surprise that you have trouble getting people to work for you. But it couldn’t be that, could it? It must be because Americans don’t want to work.