Sunday, March 11, 2018

A shortage of work across small-town America, and immigration as part of the solution

I kicked off the "Working Class Whites and the Law" blog back in January with this post about the shortage of workers willing to do crappy work.  This shortage is obviously integrally linked to immigration and should inform our nation's immigration policy.  If native-born workers (of whatever color) are not available to do the work that needs to be done to keep our economy(ies) booming, then immigrant labor is a necessity if economies are to grow, or even tread water.  And growth seems to be the buzzword of the era, whether or not the growth is sustainable and whether or not such growth is good for the planet.

Never mind those concerns.   Two recent stories from two very different places--California and Missouri--illustrate the need for laborers.   

First, the California story:  well, could be any number of stories, but I'll settle on Darrell Steinberg's interview with NPR on Thursday morning, following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' speech to a group of law enforcement officers in Sacramento on Wednesday. Steinberg defended Sacramento's stance as a "sanctuary city" by noting that the municipality is standing up for immigrants who, among other things, contribute to the economy:
It's the people living in our communities that have lived here, by the way, for decades. These are people going to school, people going to college, people who are contributing to our tax base. And we have an obligation to stand up for those people. And that's exactly what we're going to do.
Here's another California story that links immigration with the economy, this one out of the town of Jacumba Hot Springs, population  561

The Missouri story is datelined Branson, Missouri, population 10,520, the self-proclaimed "live entertainment capital of the world." The headline for the Washington Post story is "Why a white town paid for a class called "Hispanics 101'," and it is fundamentally about a labor shortage in southwest Missouri, a region I've frequently written about, e.g., herehereherehere and here.  (It's a place of great interest to me because I grew up a little more than an hour away, in northwest Arkansas).   This Branson story, though by a different WaPo journalist, is somewhat similar in theme to this January report on a turkey processing plant in South Dakota recruiting Puerto Ricans to meet their labor needs.  The angle on Danielle Paquette's story out of Branson is that employers there are having to develop cultural sensitivity in order to recruit and retain Latinx workers, with a recent focus on those from Puerto Rico.  Here's an excerpt that explains that the economy depends on the success of the undertaking: 
As tourism season kicks off this month, the remote getaway known for dinner theaters, country music concerts and a museum of dinosaur replicas has 2,050 vacancies — and a lack of locals applying. 
So, like other areas with tight labor markets, Branson finds itself getting creative to fill jobs — in this case by recruiting people from a part of the United States with much higher unemployment.
But the plan to bring 1,000 workers from the island to overwhelmingly white, conservative Branson over the next three years has sparked unease, with critics saying that the newcomers will steal work from residents or drag down wages or bump up crime.
Paquette goes on to describe how desperate managers from Branson-area hotels, hospitals, hardware stores and banks have paid $50 each for the "Hispanic 101" workshop led by Miguel Joey Aviles.  Hilariously, Aviles is teaching his students--among other things--how to dance the merengue. 
Aviles advises bosses to check in often, ask about their mothers and request that grocery stores in the area sell plantains and Goya coconut water. 
“It’s not enough to invite them to the party,” Aviles said, twisting his body to the beat. “Bring them to the dance floor.”
Paquette goes on to focus on Branson's whiteness, with these details: 
[O]fficials acknowledge that some in the area, which is 92.4 percent white, are clinging to the past. Confederate flags adorn shop windows. A billboard outside town advertises “White Pride Radio.”

“We get nasty comments all the time,” said Heather Hardinger, programs director at the Taney County Partnership, which is working with the chamber on what it calls the “talent attraction” plan. 
States and companies from across the United States are competing for Puerto Rican workers, which had a jobless rate of nearly 11% in 2017, the highest in the nation. 

All of this highlights for me the gulf in understanding--broadly speaking--between California and Missouri, when it comes to the value--even necessity--of immigrant labor.  I'm also wondering how to bridge that gulf.  And I'm wondering--as I asked in that post back in early January--what happened to the good ol' working class whites who used to do jobs in places like Branson?  Have they succumbed to the meth (or other drug) epidemic (or here)?  gone soft?  moved to the city?  I'd like to know. 

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law

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