On March 16, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged over 3,000 points – the worst drop in the index’s history aside from 1987’s Black Monday. The White House warned that the economy was inching dangerously close to recession as government authorities cautioned Americans to avoid bars, restaurants, and public places. Consumer spending on goods and services drives our country’s economy. When people suddenly stop doing that, everyone suffers. Yet avoiding public places (and thus spending) is one of the only ways to contain the dangerous COVID-19 virus.
Despite their necessity, quarantines hurt workers in the restaurant, tourism, and service industries. Most of these workers earn hourly wages, not annual salaries. They cannot telework as white-collar workers can. They and their employers rely on everyday spending to survive.
President Trump understands the unique predicament that the service industry faces as the coronavirus crisis grows. On March 17, the president met with executives from the restaurant and tourism industries to discuss the country’s response to the virus, including the president’s call for billions of dollars in stimulus spending to rescue the economy from the brink of recession.
The President can take other measures to protect these workers – namely, he can stop the release of extra H-2B visas.
Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chad Wolf announced earlier this month that DHS plans to make available 35,000 additional H-2B visas for seasonal employers, many of whom work in the service industry. This would be a disaster for working-class Americans who face serious economic turmoil because of the coronavirus’s impact on their jobs. How in good conscience could this government important cheap foreign labor at a time when service workers are struggling to make ends meet? Many of these businesses are closing in response to the coronavirus to save money. Why do they need more workers at a time like this?
Importing cheap foreign labor is always a bad idea, considering that employers pay H-2B workers less than their American counterparts, to begin with. But in the midst of an actual economic crisis with no clear end in sight, it becomes clear that this is the last thing our government should be doing. President Trump needs to stand with these workers who are at real danger of falling victim to the coronavirus’s economic destruction, to say nothing of the actual disease itself.
The President should tell the restaurant and tourism executives that they should focus on supporting their own workers first before even thinking of importing cheap foreign labor. Then, he should pick up the phone and call acting secretary Chad Wolf and tell him to rescind the planned H-2B cap supplement.