Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs released a memorandum which said, in short, that more immigration is the solution to the persistently low labor participation rate. For the 12 months ended September 2022, the U.S. labor force participation rate ranged between a low of 61.7 percent and a high of 62.3 percent.
Goldman theorizes that the gap between the number of available jobs and the number of available workers has contributed to the rising wage growth rate at a pace well above the Fed’s inflation goal. Less immigration, according to Goldman, is the major culprit in the worker shortage.
The memo offered numerous possible solutions for expanding immigration which echoed Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell’s May address to the media wherein he said that “reduced immigration” is a large part of the lower labor supply force. Since 2010, as laid out in Goldman’s analysis, foreign-born nationals have accounted for roughly 30 percent of U.S. population growth to 47 million, but represented nearly 60 percent of the growth in the domestic labor force. However, the foreign-born population grew by only 300,000 from 2019 to 2021, roughly 2 million below the previous decade. Goldman blamed the immigration decline on the COVID-19 pandemic and President Trump’s immigration actions, specifically “Remain in Mexico,” lower refugee caps, Title 42 and the temporary ban on immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, including the skilled H-1B and the low-skilled H-2B.
Goldman concluded that the Biden administration could increase annual legal immigration by several hundred thousand without congressional approval by using what it labeled “broader use of extraordinary authorities.” As if on cue from Goldman, the departments of Homeland Security and Labor announced a doubling of the H-2B nonagricultural jobs. The existing fiscal year H-2B visa cap is 66,000; the newly approved total will add nearly 65,000 more visas that will be used for landscaping, construction, maintenance and hospitality workers. Americans are doing those jobs today, but the Chamber of Commerce and the big business lobby prefer cheap labor even though a Government Accountability Office report found rampant fraud and abuse in the H-2B visa program which this year will reach a historic high. Moreover, an Economic Policy Institute report, based on a review of DOL statistics, uncovered that nearly $1.8 billion was stolen from U.S. and migrant workers employed in the main H-2B industries.
Adding thousands of employment-based visas would increase the labor force participation rate. But recruiting foreign-born workers should be the last option that Congress takes, not the first. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that about 12 million Americans are jobless, but, if offered fair wages and good working conditions, would be available for employment.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas boasted that his agency “is moving with unprecedented speed to meet the needs of American businesses.” But at no time have those businesses proven that they can’t find Americans. Domestic labor shortage claims don’t hold up to scrutiny. In the six major H-2B occupations, there were nearly 4.6 million unemployed American workers in February 2021, compared with 2.8 million in January 2020 when the pandemic restricted international labor inflow. In a one-year period, more than 1.7 million additional unemployed people sought work in just those six occupations.
Increasing the labor pool, as Goldman promotes and the Biden administration is determined to do, harms U.S. workers. Tight markets are workers’ best friend. The H-2B expansion is a giveaway to big business and a win for the Chamber of Commerce. The H-2B visa is a goldmine for employers who can hire cheap, exploitable laborers. But the visa is an albatross for blue-collar Americans. The program is a national embarrassment, and should be ended, not doubled.