Valdez: 4 overlooked jobs most impacted by an immigrant labor shortage
Linda Valdez: Americans don't want to do these jobs. And a shrinking pool of immigrants will only make the labor shortage worse.
A shortage of immigrant workers will be felt in non-immigrant homes across America.
That’s not because immigrant workers are taking all our jobs. They aren’t. In fact, their numbers are surprisingly small considering the amount of political rhetoric aimed at them.
And that’s the problem. Here are four often overlooked – but important – jobs that already are facing worker shortages, immigrant or not. Without them, who will care for our elderly, grow our food and build our homes?
Job 1: In-home caregiver
Direct caregivers help the elderly and disabled remain at home. They also deliver in care in long-term facilities, like nursing homes.
Nationally, immigrants made up 24 percent of these workers in 2015 and the number is rising, according to research from the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute.
In some states – like Arizona – it’s higher.
“Sixty percent of our workforce is now immigrants,” says Judy Clinco, CEO of Catalina In-Home Services, Inc. in Tucson and founder of the CareGiver Training Institute, which trains workers.
Her workers come from all over the world – Africa, the Middle Ease, Mexico, China and the Philippines – and provide a “tremendous resource in terms of quality people who are committed to doing a quality job.”
How a caregiver shortage impacts you
She only hires immigrants who are legally authorized to work, but she says there is also a “gray market” for undocumented workers who are hired directly by individuals to provide care in private homes.
Undocumented immigrants work for lower wages, meeting the needs of those who can’t afford or don’t want to pay the higher rates associated with going through an agency, she says.
As baby boomers age, there is a “critical” shortage of caregivers, she says. “The silver tsunami is upon us. Demand is outstripping supply.”
Without immigrant labor: There will be fewer options. Prices will go up. It will be harder to get the intensive one-on-one care that lets people stay in their homes. Nursing homes and other care facilities may stop taking clients or shut down because they can’t find workers, according to reporting in The New York Times.
Job 2: Milk production worker
Dairy farmers say they could not survive without the immigrants that milk the cows. John Zamora/USA Today Network Michael Zamora/USA Today Network
Immigrants make up more than 60 percent of the milk production workers in this country, according C. Parr Rosson, head of the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University.
His research, cited in the online trade journal Agri-Pulse, found the U.S. dairy industry would suffer $5.8 billion a year in lost milk sales if half of those workers were removed by immigration authorities.
The American Farm Bureau Federation – which looks at the entire agriculture industry -- says on its website that “increasing immigration enforcement without also reforming our worker visa program could cost America $60 billion in agricultural production.”
Why temporary workers don’t work
Steve Ammerman of the New York Farm Bureau said by email that farmers have a “real struggle to find local people who are willing and able to work hard on a farm.”
Applications for immigrant farm laborers through the federal H2A temporary worker program are up more than 100 percent in the last five years, according to the American Farm Bureau. But farmers still have trouble getting enough workers.
When it comes to milk, it gets more complicated. Not only is the H2A program “costly and cumbersome,” says Ammerman, it is also not right for dairy farms because it brings in only seasonal workers.
Cows need to be milked year round.
Job 3: Apple picker
Tanimura & Antle, a big agriculture company in Salinas Valley seeks automation and robotics to address the severe labor shortage, which is hitting growers locally, nationally and globally. Amy Wu
Without immigrants, farms will become more mechanized, furthering the industrialization of our food production. Ammerman says more farms are turning to robotics, which “eliminates the need to have staff in the milking parlor or to push feed in the barn. . . Before we know it, it may not be uncommon to see robots picking apples.”
That’s because the H2A program is not just insufficient for dairy farmers. It also provides too few workers to harvest crops, and the workers often don’t arrive on time, the Farm Bureau says.
What’s more, the agriculture group estimates that 50 to 70 percent of farm workers unauthorized – which means they are risk of being deported or may simply decide not to stay.
How the shortage hurts cities
Increased opportunity in Mexico and lower birthrates make it more attractive for Mexican workers to stay at home, which Agri-Pulse suggests may mean the end of cheap labor from south of the border.
As labor shortages force farmers to go out of business, relocate in Mexico or mechanize, farm communities will be hurt.
After all, migrant workers buy food and rent homes. Robots don't.
Job 4: Construction worker
Home builders face a “chronic shortage of residential construction workers,” and immigrants are increasingly filling those jobs, says the National Home Builders Association.
“Immigrants account for 30 percent of all workers in construction trades,” according to an analysis released in January by NAHB.
“Their presence is particularly large among construction occupations needed to build a home, such as carpenters, laborers, painters, roofers, brick masons, drywall/ceiling tile installers,” the analysis found.
Pew Research found that 59 percent of plasters and stucco masons were immigrants in 2014, with undocumented workers making up 36 percent of that number.
Immigrants are a workforce minority
Immigrants only made up 17 percent of the total U.S. workforce in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
How it breaks down:
About 12 percent of that total consists of immigrants who are legally authorized to work in this country.
About 5 percent are undocumented immigrants, who entered the country illegally or entered legally but overstayed their visas.
So 17 percent. Not much.
But Americans don’t want these jobs
The NAHB says it is actively trying to recruit American-born workers through its Home Builders Institute, which offers training programs and apprenticeships.
Yet there has been “a slow, delayed and reluctant post-recession return of native-born workers” to construction, the report says. This “underlies the shift towards the higher reliance on immigrants in the construction work force.”
Without immigrants? Labor shortages “quickly rise on the list of the top impediments to housing recovery,” NAHB report says.
Who told Congress migrants were the enemy?
The lack of workers in these and other areas will get more severe if politicians continue to get elected by pounding on people who want to do our tough jobs.
So ask yourself: Who does Congress serve by pretending needed workers are the enemy?
Reach Valdez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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