As if the unappetizing buffet of presidential candidates isn’t troublesome enough for the Democratic Party, along came an unexpectedly strong November jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In November, the economy created 266,000 jobs, aided in part by returning GM workers, a total that easily outstripped Wall Street’s 183,000 projections. Some doomsayers wrongly predicted that the labor market was “finally starting to crack.” Not only was November robust, the September and October jobs were revised upward, adding 41,000 to the payroll totals.
Annual wage growth increased by 3.1%, with last month’s wage growth revised from 3.0% to 3.2%, suggesting employers are responding to a tight labor market. Wages for production and nonsupervisory workers rose 3.7%, the best growth since 2008. Growth was strong in most employment sectors, including the better-paying manufacturing jobs.
While Democrats are fixated on impeachment, President Trump is eager to promote his accomplishments. In a White House blog written by the Council of Economic Advisers, the president touted his record that includes 7 million jobs created and low unemployment rates among African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, the disabled and those without a high school diploma. On the 2020 campaign trail, President Trump might be forgiven if he echoed Abraham Lincoln’s proverb that now, a period of strong economic growth, is no time to swap horses.
November is especially heartening to the primary victims of cheap labor-addicted employers who have repeatedly passed over citizens in favor of pliant foreign-born workers. The University of New Hampshire, which follows national trends in disability employment, noted that working-age disabled people’s participation has increased from 30.7 percent in November 2018 to 31.2 percent in November 2019. Hispanic and black employment rates are at historic lows, 4.2 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively.
To ensure that the upward trend in U.S. employment continues and that wages improve, Congress must cut back on guest worker visas, mostly unnecessary and harmful to Americans detached from the labor market. The assumption has long been that guest workers do jobs that Americans won’t - the H-2A and the H-2B visas are designated for agriculture and non-ag seasonal summer work. The J-1 visa is for foreign exchange students.
Many of those visa holders perform jobs that Americans would eagerly do in landscaping, forestry, recreation, construction and hospitality. The number of guest workers, or temporary labor migration program (TLMP) participants, in the U.S. is estimated at about 500,000 annually, according to the Economic Policy Institute. What is clear is that TLMPs displace U.S. workers. Because employers control their workers’ visa status and often abuse that responsibility, the practice has been criticized as the new American slavery.
Despite the obvious - that the continued guest worker flow expands the labor market and therefore exerts downward pressure on wages - Congress has steadfastly for nearly three decades refused to cut back or even enter into a meaningful conversation to improve the programs and protect Americans.
Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security, which under some circumstances has the authority to increase the H-2B cap, bumped it by nearly 50 percent, an increase that benefits employers but discourages qualified U.S. workers. And Congress is considering an ag worker amnesty that would give lifetime work permits to 1.5 million temporary guest workers, and eventual citizenship. Congress should focus on promoting farm mechanization instead of encouraging more immigration with an amnesty.
Thirty years of congressional failure to reform guest worker programs have left most Americans convinced that employment advancement for foreign nationals is more important than a future for U.S. workers.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.