The blog below was published on The Hill's website today.
When Baltimore, Maryland and Ferguson, Missouri exploded in civil unrest the last two years, police incidents were the catalysts. But many commentators, including Pres. Obama, suggested that joblessness and economic hopelessness – especially among the young – were the fuel that sustained the street rage.
Government data reveal plenty of fuel. Nearly 40% of less-educated, working-age Millennials ages 18-29 don’t have a job. That’s more than 15 million young-adult high school grads and high school dropouts who aren’t working.
So, it was surprising to see a report last week that a bi-partisan group in Congress is laboring to add to an appropriations bill a provision to greatly expand the H-2B visa program for less-educated foreign workers. These are visas that put foreign workers into U.S. resorts, landscaping and other non-agricultural seasonal jobs. Traditionally, these are the kind of jobs that have provided important entry-level experience to help move young Americans into lives of more productive full-time employment.
Among the leaders pushing for more H-2B foreign workers are Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Missouri Republican Representative Billy Long. Despite Baltimore’s and Ferguson’s states having gigantic, largely untapped pools of young lower-skilled labor, hundreds of business organizations are reported to be persuading Mikulski, Long and other key members of Congress that they face a labor shortage without more foreign workers.
The whole scenario seems incongruous in the midst of a presidential election season in which voters of both parties have been stirred by populist passions opposing the influence of corporations at the expense of common workers.
The H-2B program is just the tip of the iceberg. Besides a long list of other temporary visa programs, federal immigration policies on auto-pilot hand out lifetime work permits to around a million foreign citizens each year.
All these foreign workers are added annually while the number of jobless working-age Americans has risen from 41 million in 2000 to 55 million at the beginning of this year. In addition, there are more than 10 million working-age immigrants who now don’t have jobs.
Of course, several millions of the 65 million non-workers are voluntarily at home caring for children, or have retired early on their own earnings. But a large percentage are people who want – or need – to be self-supporting rather than dependent upon government subsidies and the generosity of charities and family.
Something about our economic and political systems is terribly out of whack when employers with jobs at every skill and educational level are declaring a worker drought in the midst of an ocean of non-working Americans.
I reject the notion pressed by many employers that tens of millions of non-working Americans are too lazy or too incapable to fill available jobs. Other employers, however, are not so hostile to American workers. They simply have made calculations that convince them that it is easier and cheaper to import what they see as higher motivated workers from other countries than to engage in the task of creating new recruiting channels into the vast pools of jobless workers of our own country, and then to motivate, train and retain them in the labor force.
So, the potential workers of Baltimore, Ferguson and hundreds of other disadvantaged American communities remain abandoned as unneeded human capital.
Our mass immigration and guest-worker programs are a Band-Aid response that covers over serious systemic problems in our society. If Congress didn’t provide the massive foreign-worker solution to employers, their demand for labor would be strong enough that the market eventually would entice and reward entrepreneurs who creatively figure out how to match the workers in their own country with their jobs. And they would be doing this on a level playing field with their competitors.
Until they do, millions of American adults – especially the so-called Millennials -- are in danger of never moving beyond rotating cycles of work and dependence. There are plenty of indications that if people don’t assimilate to a work culture by time they are 25 or 30, they may never do so.
Federal policies opening U.S. jobs to foreign citizens are not the only or main cause of these conditions. But they are an easily preventable significant factor that also delays action on the other factors. We can’t be content with continuing to build a society in which millions of our fellow citizens are supposedly unfit to hire and therefore have to be supported by those who do work, with likely rising resentment among both groups.
ROY BECK is President & Founder of NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Jun 27th 2016 @ 12:30pm EDT