South Dakota agriculture relies on immigrant workers to bring in the crops, cattle, and milk. Another big South Dakota industry, tourism, relies on foreign labor to cook, clean, and run the till. As Senator Rounds warned last week, some tourism businesses are having trouble recruiting their usual foreign crews for the summer rush:
The expiration of a federal law last September has reduced the number of temporary guest workers allowed into the country, and some South Dakota businesses have been unable to hire their usual crew of foreign seasonal help.
That’s a problem, especially in parts of the Black Hills where tourists arrive by the millions, local residents are counted in the hundreds and the unemployment rate is around 4 percent. Some employers in those areas are scrambling to find other workers and dreading the possibility of being understaffed when the tourist rush begins in May.
“The workers just aren’t here to be had,” said [Mike] Atkinson, whose resort is between Hill City and Keystone [Seth Tupper, “Black Hills Afflicted with Shortage of Foreign Seasonal Workers,” Rapid City Journal, 2017.03.26].
You know, I’ve heard of this thing called the free market, which clears labor shortages by raising wages. If Atkinson wants people to drive out to Palmer Gulch to scrub toilets, all he needs to do is pay folks enough to make that trip worth the scrub.
But apparently that free market is unpalatable to South Dakota businesses, who would rather seek government intervention in the form of exemptions from the H-2B visa caps to preserve the low wages Tupper reports—$9 an hour for hospitality work, $24 an hour for construction jobs.
But cheap Trump politics leads South Dakota businesses into their quandary:
But any attempt to free up more guest-worker visas this year could be fraught with political tension. Some conservatives say guest-worker programs take jobs away from Americans and give them to foreigners who are willing to work for lower wages and few benefits. Some traditionally Democratic interest groups, such as labor unions, have similar reasons for opposing guest-worker programs, and some liberals decry the entire guest-worker system as a form of indentured servitude. Those swirling political winds and a steady stream of anti-immigrant, America-first rhetoric from then-President-elect Donald Trump reportedly combined to doom the attempted renewal of the returning-worker exemption in December [Tupper, 2017.03.26].
If we’re all serious about putting Americans First, our business leaders will have to focus on hiring Americans first. And hiring Americans first means paying them competitive wages.