Sunday, May 22, 2022

Fewer immigrant workers across America contributing to price rise

Just 10 miles from the Rio Grande, Mike Hale’s farm is so short of immigrant workers that he has replaced 450 acres of labor-intensive leafy greens with crops that can be harvested by machinery.

In Houston, Al Flores increased the price of his BBQ restaurant’s brisket plate because the meatpacking plants’ inability to staff entirely immigrant-heavy production lines doubled the cost of cutting. In the Dallas area, Joshua Correa raised the prices of homes built by his company by $150,000 to cover increased costs partly stemming from a shortage of immigrant workers.

After immigration to the United States during the Trump administration – then ground to a near-complete halt for 18 months during the coronavirus pandemic – the country is waking up to a lack of fuel partly from that recession.

The US has, by some estimates, 2 million fewer immigrants, if the pace remains the same, helping in a desperate scramble for workers in many sectors, from meatpacking to homebuilding, that have been plagued by supply shortages and price hikes. also contributing to ,

“These 2 million missing immigrants are part of the reason we have a labor shortage,” said Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California at Davis. “In the short term, we are going to have to accommodate these shortfalls in the labor market through increases in wages and prices.”

Labor issues are among the many contributors to the highest inflation in the United States in 40 years – from pandemic supply chains to surging energy and commodity prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Steve Camerota, a researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies who advocates for reduced immigration, believes a spike in illegal immigration under President Joe Biden will make up for whatever shortfall from the pandemic. He also argued that wage growth in low-paying sectors such as agriculture is a marginal contributor to inflation.

“I don’t think wage increases are bad for the poor, and I think it’s not mathematically possible to reduce inflation by limiting wages below that,” Kemarota told the Associated Press.

The shortage of immigrant workers comes at a time when the US political system is showing little appetite to increase immigration. Democrats – who control all branches of the federal government and until recently the party has been more friendly to immigration – have not tried to push for major legislation allowing more new residents into the country. A recent Gallup poll showed concerns about illegal immigration at a two-decade high. With a tough election for their party in November, Democrats are increasingly divided about the Biden administration’s attempt to end pandemic-related restrictions on asylum-seeking.

“At some point we decide to either become bigger and smaller or we change our immigration policy,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist and president of President George W. Bush, a former official in the administration who chairs the Center-South American Action Forum. He acknowledged that immigration policy is unlikely to change: “The bases on both sides are so closed.”

Such is certainly the case in Republican-dominated Texas, which includes the longest and busiest stretch of the southern border. In 2017 the legislature forced cities to comply with federal immigration agents looking for people who are in the US illegally. Governor Greg Abbott sent the Texas National Guard to patrol the border and recently caused traffic jams by ordering more inspections at border ports.

The turn against immigration worries some Texas business owners. “Immigration is very important to our workforce in the United States,” Correa said. “We just need it.”

He is seeing delays of two to three months in his projects as he and his subcontractors — from drywall to plumbers to electricians — struggle to field crew. Korea has raised the standard price of its homes from $500,000 to about $650,000.

Samuel, originally from Mexico and who only wanted to share his first name, relocates to Sheetrock on May 3 while working in a home under construction in Plano, Texas.

LM Otero via The Associated Press

The share of the American population born in another country – 13.5% in the latest census – is the highest since the 19th century. But even before Donald Trump promised to cut immigration in the 2016 presidential election, migration to the United States was slowing. The Great Recession dried up many jobs that attracted workers to the country, either legally or illegally. Rising standards of living in Latin America have prompted more people to stay in or return from the United States.

Flores, who runs a chain of Mexican restaurants as well as his own barbecue restaurants, said that while the COVID-19 pandemic was a major blow to his industry, the immigration slowdown has hit it hard – and not just for meatpackers who supply their restaurant’s brisket. “You have too many positions that are not being filled,” he said.

They have recently steadily increased their pay to $15 an hour. “It’s the culmination of years and years,” said Flores, who is president of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association.

Hale, who grows onions, cabbage, melons and kale outside the border town of McAllen, Texas, is also paying more to its workers, who are almost exclusively immigrants. They say that people born in America will not work in the fields regardless of the salary.

Before he could find only agricultural laborers in the area. Now he has joined a federal program to bring agricultural workers across the border. It is more costly for him, but he said it is the only way he can save his crops from getting damaged in the ground.

Hayley, 60, has cultivated the area for decades. “I live 10 miles from the Rio Grande River and I never in my life thought we would be in this situation.”

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Nation World News Desk
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