Fruit is rotting on the trees. Tech workers are “unavailable.” Such stories proliferate in coverage of immigration, as if the laws of supply and demand simply don’t work. Nobody doubts that unemployment persists at historically high levels, at least 7%. And the lower down you go in education and skills, the higher the rate is. Unemployment for high school graduates is more like 12%. And in the more sluggishly growing states in the Northeast and Midwest the rates are 3-5 points higher than that. So why do farmers say they can’t find workers to pick their fruit? Economics tells us the wage they offer must be below the market price. In my experience prosecuting RICO cases against employers of illegal workers I have run up against this attitude of entitlement to quasi-slave labor many times. Farmers interpret the non-enforcement of our immigration laws as an implicit acknowledgement that they should go right ahead and hire illegal workers at the minimum wage to do these jobs. Why do I say quasi-slave labor? Because illegal workers are second class members of society. They don’t “live in the shadows,” like fugitives, as is often reported, because the federal government has announced they will not be deported. But their wages are too low to be even working class. They are effectively modern day serfs, indentured workers tethered to their employer and unable to move.
Any employer paying the minimum wage for hard and demanding labor is violating the laws of economics. Hard and demanding jobs are harder to fill than pleasant ones such as working in a retail store. Any argument to the contrary, as is made by farmers, is economic nonsense. Those tough jobs should be paying a significant premium above minimum. If they did, there would be no labor shortage. The unemployed would line up to take them. Americans are not adverse to working nasty jobs. Sewers are operated by American citizens at market wages. We won’t tolerate anything less than functioning sewer systems staffed by English-speaking high school graduates. But we will tolerate foreigners picking our fruit trees.
If the price of labor is high, it will force employers to automate. Many sewer jobs have been replaced by machines. In the Midwest combines, giant machines, pick corn and soybeans. Yet the fruit farmers still prefer Mexicans, quasi-slaves, because they are cheaper than the research and development of machines to pick the trees. So immigration stifles innovation.
Many technology companies, from the ubiquitous Microsoft and Google to small programmers located in every major city also want more immigrants. Yet there are upwards of a million unemployed tech workers in the country. Why won’t they hire them? Their excuse is that they want the best and the brightest, as if to say the unemployed are not. This is a hard argument to sustain if you are offering a sub market wage. Why would a tech worker interview for a job paying below what other firms are paying for the same work? The federal government has extended unemployment and health benefits indefinitely, and we are told the picture is brightening. Yet the unemployment rate just lingers month after month.
The recent visa fraud scandals involving Indian consulting giant Infosys show why it is so easy to bring in foreign tech workers on H-1B visas. An employer goes to Infosys or one of its competitors, claims it cannot find “qualified” workers at the prevailing wage, and hires the Indian technology consulting company to “solve” its labor problem. As long as the U.S. increases the number of such visas, the “problem” of paying the market wage for labor can be addressed. It’s no surprise that the Senate-passed immigration bill nearly doubles the number of such visas. Doing so during a time of high unemployment is a choice to side with employers and not the unemployed. If the Senate cared about reducing unemployment it would cut the visas to zero.
If I’m wrong, I’d like to be shown a firm which claims it cannot find workers to fill its labor needs. Does anyone know of an agricultural or tech employer that can’t find workers? Would someone please send me the details. What is the name of the employer, which jobs are going unfilled and what wages are offered for the jobs? Let’s see how those numbers stack up against the market data.