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A Tale of Two Secretaries

author Published by Jeremy Beck

Worker power, loose borders: pick one

(hat tip, Oren Cass)



Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich (on Substack): “Here’s the truth: There is no labor shortage. There is, however, a shortage of jobs paying sufficient wages to attract workers to fill job openings.”

Current U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh (in Davos): “One of the biggest threats to our economy is not inflation or wage growth, it’s lack of workers. And immigration reform is a key to that.”

Yahoo Finance reporter Julie Hyman spoke to Secretary Walsh at the World Economic Forum in Davos and asked him if he’d had conversations with foreign leaders about “what should be, maybe the free flow of labor across borders.”

“It came up today,” Walsh replied before stating that the United States didn’t have “a big enough pathway” to import workers for “big tech jobs” or for “working in restaurants.”

Reality Check I: The pathways

  • The United States issues more green cards than any country on Earth; over a million per year.
  • Another roughly 1 million guest worker visas are granted every year.
  • 500,000 or more people overstay their temporary visas every year.
  • 900,000 people who entered the U.S. illegally last year were released (often with work permits).
  • 600,000 more were estimated to have entered the country illegally without apprehension and blended into the underground workforce that employers exploit as there is no requirement to use the free E-Verify online system to verify work authorization.

Reality Check II: The jobs

Secretary Walsh specifically mentions labor shortages in tech and service industries.

Technology companies slashed 150,000 jobs in 2022, and another 45,000 in January alone (so far). Charlotte Trueman provides a grim timeline. Stories of American tech workers training their foreign replacements are not new.

A couple of years ago, food service industry workers were hailed as national heroes. Do you believe the U.S. is incapable of offering dignified wages to these essential workers? Are they heroes in the nation’s eyes because they serve an essential function or because they accept low wages? Stories of American food industry workers being displaced by foreign workers are not new.

Just this month, Black farm workers reached a settlement with Mississippi growers for replacing them with white guest workers from South Africa. Reacting to the news, Pamela Denise Long writes:

“I don’t know who needs to hear this but, replacing Americans with foreign workers is an egregious affront to your fellow countrymen. Americans should be insulted, whether they work for a customer service center that was outsourced overseas or are an American tech employee replaced by a foreign worker on an H-1B visa or are a descendant of U.S. slaves replaced by white South Africans here on an H-2 visa.”

Tell Congress

Reality Check III: Missing workers

“To the extent that workers are ‘missing,’ writes Dr. Steven Camarota, “it is due to the decadeslong decline in the labor force participation rate — the share working or looking for work — of the U.S.-born.”

The current and former Labor Secretaries offer distinctly different visions of the path forward. Do we give up on sidelined Americans and import workers who will gladly accept the wages and conditions that aren’t good enough to retain American labor? Or do we limit immigration to the point where American industries might have to go outside their comfort zone to re-engage the domestic workforce?

Our Asylum system, meant to provide safety to people who face political persecution, has been co-opted into a “labor importation system,” meant to provide employers with ample opportunities to bypass a domestic workforce that demands decent pay and working conditions.

The first step toward restoring our immigration system is to restore our asylum system to its true purpose. And the first step in that process is to require the government to follow the law and not release people en masse with work permits. That is the purpose of H.R. 29, the Border Safety and Security Act.

Contact Congress

JEREMY BECK is a V.P., Deputy Director for NumbersUSA

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