Amidst America’s multiple crises, brace yourself for another: a shortage of carnival workers.
“Save the spring and summer. Pass H-2B cap relief now!” barks CarnivalWarehouse.com.
The carnival industry is one of several low-skill sectors that subsist on cheap imported labor. Along with landscapers, forestry hands, housekeepers and meatpackers, nearly 70 percent of seasonal carnival positions are filled via H-2B guest worker visas. A new report shows that 90 percent of foreign laborers were hired with no training; 97.3 percent of the jobs had no education requirements.
Corporate demand for H-2Bs is so robust that the government website which processes certifications crashed earlier this month. More than 97,800 worker requests were pending at the time.
Carnival operators worry that prolonged budget gridlock in Washington will hurt their business, as they continue to lobby for “H-2B cap relief” that will permit them to import even more foreign laborers.
Not satisfied that America’s H-2B ranks swelled 79 percent from 2013 to 2018 (82,307 to 147,592), dependent industries seek evermore bodies. And they want them at the lowest possible cost.
H-2B workers are paid as much as 30 percent below national averages in their respective fields. At $9.94 per hour, carnival workers earn 9.6 percent less than the industry-wide mean, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
President Donald Trump praised foreign guest worker programs like H-2B during the 2016 campaign, telling business executives: “We’re gonna let them in because you need them.” He reiterated that pledge last year. (Meantime, the Department of Labor certified 14 foreign guest workers for employment at the Trump National Golf Club.)
But what’s good for country clubs and carnivals isn’t so great for working-class Americans struggling on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.
“It inevitably leads to depressed wages for U.S. workers competing for these same jobs in the same geographic area. Many of those shut out of jobs or experiencing wage depression are less educated, less skilled Americans who are already marginalized,” observes Preston Huennekens of the Center for Immigration Studies.
Instead of rubberstamping more H-2B visas, Congress ought to improve and expand the recruitment of U.S. workers.
“Labor contractors should be incentivized to find local talent or workers from within the country for employers,” Huennekens suggests. “The economic and social benefits could be truly transformative for the workers and the communities where the jobs are located.”
That may be a foreign concept to carnival operators and other bottom-feeders; it should be as American as a slice of apple pie on the midway.