From The Wall Street Journal:
As the labor market tightens and the population of undocumented immigrants shrinks, employers in low-skill industries such as hospitality, construction and agriculture scramble to fill jobs
By Miriam Jordan and Santiago Pérez | Updated Nov. 28, 2016 9:45 a.m. ET
In Dallas, the King of Texas Roofing Co. says it has turned down $20 million worth of projects in the past two years because it doesn’t have enough workers.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Joe Hargrave is expanding his successful Tacolicious chain of restaurants, but says he is building smaller ones due to “a massive shortage of restaurant workers.”
And in Florida, Steve Johnson, who harvests oranges for the citrus industry, says, “Right now, if I had 80 guys, I could put every one of them to work.”
As hiring accelerates and the labor market tightens thanks to a steady U.S. recovery, employers who need low-skilled workers are increasingly struggling to fill vacancies. One big reason: Mexican workers, who form the labor backbone of industries like hospitality, construction and agriculture, are in short supply.
When I started reading this article, my first thought was that standard economic thinking is that when the supply of workers is insufficient to meet demand, employers ought to be meeting the demand by raising wages. Then I got to these paragraphs, further down:
In 2015, the average wage for roofers was $17.65 per hour, according to the BLS. (Nelson Braddy Jr., the owner of King of Texas Roofing Co.) says he has already raised wages twice this year, putting most of his workers above $20 an hour.
We have noted previously that while the “official” U-3 unemployment rate was 4.9% in October, the real unemployment rate, U-6, stands at 9.5%. There are plenty of available American workers, but Americans don’t seem to want the jobs:
Employers say U.S.-born workers don’t want those jobs.
Of the 85 roofers on King of Texas’ payroll, two are African-Americans hired in the past year and three are Caucasians who have worked there more than 20 years, says Mr. Braddy. The rest are Hispanic, mainly from Mexico. Mr. Braddy says his human-resources office collects Social Security numbers and identification from each hire. He isn’t expected to vouch for the authenticity of documents; in fact, he could be subjected to an investigation or a charge of discrimination by the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission if he questions the bona fides of an applicant based on national origin or race, immigration attorneys say.
Well, that’s addressed easily enough: if employers were required to investigate the documents of all applicants, there would be no discrimination questions. Citizenship and Immigration Services already provides employers with the E-Verify system, and if it isn’t perfect, it’s still simple and easy to use; there is really no excuse for not using the system, unless the employer doesn’t want to discover that an applicant is ineligible to work. Mr Braddy might just have to raise wages even more if he wants to get legitimate workers; if the Trump Administration can get laws passed requiring employment eligibility verification, that could be the greatest thing he could do to increase wages for the working class in the United States.
I will be the first to admit that roofing is a hateful job. In the early 1980s, I had to put a new roof on my mother’s house, in Kentucky. My mother didn’t have the money to pay a roofing company, so my wife and my two sisters and I installed the roof ourselves. One of my sisters was able to get out on the roof with me, while my wife and other sister did the grunt work of hauling the material — shingles and roofing paper — up to the roof, carrying it up two flights of stairs and passing it out the attic dormer window. We didn’t have any ladders, and had to crawl out the dormer window ourselves. In case you think that was an easy job, the house is pictured above.¹ With the ground sloping downward, the roof was three stories above the ground in the back.
Why do I mention this? Because I do not believe that roofing work — or anything else, for that matter — is somehow beneath anyone; I’ve done those jobs myself.² It might require higher wages to get Americans to go out and do that kind of work, but those wages, coupled with a welfare reform that doesn’t allow people to just sit back and not work when they can work, would fill those jobs Mr Braddy says he cannot fill.
What the incoming President says he wants to accomplish in our economy is actually easily done, if only he has the will to do so. It will probably require Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to set the Senate rules eliminating the filibuster, period, to prevent obstruction by the Democrats, because it will be the Democrats who will object to requiring employment eligibility verification and any meaningful welfare reform, but those are the things required to help the American working class.
Cross posted on The First Street Journal.
¹ – This photo was taken by me in 2013, many years after it was sold outside the family.
² – While I did only that one roofing job, I have been a construction laborer, a concrete finisher, an electrician’s helper, and done every sort of job required at a concrete plant in my lifetime.