For the first time in two decades, the U.S. workforce has more jobs than people willing or able to fill them. Labor shortages are impacting almost every field in the country. But employers are now struggling to find one type of worker more than others: blue-collar workers.
Analysts largely point to two reasons for this drop in available blue-collar workers. As more young people go to college, jobs that don’t require a college education are harder to fill. Fewer college graduates want these positions since they often require manual labor and pay less than white-collar jobs.
The baby boomer generation is also aging out of the workforce and retiring en masse.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s latest statistics show this shift in who wants or is eligible to take these jobs has left over one million positions open.
This has created huge gaps in the U.S. workforce. Those hit the hardest are the home health care, restaurant, and construction industries. Hotels, retail stores, nursing homes, and manufacturing are also in dire need of more workers.
Having someone to fill these jobs is critical. This is especially true for healthcare positions, as aging baby boomers will need access to more personalized care.
Increasingly, immigrants fill these rolls.
Making work permits more readily available to immigrants could help ease these shortages. Many immigration benefits, such as work permits, have experienced cuts or processing delays under the Trump administration.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the agency in charge of approving work authorization for immigrants. But due to regulatory changes, USCIS denied far more work visas between 2017 and 2018 than in previous years.
In additional foreign seasonal worker visas are also not being processed efficiently. These visas are typically awarded to at least 66,000 foreign workers during peak seasons in the crabbing, fishing, landscaping, hotel, and forestry industries to fill labor shortages.
The recent demand for these workers is so high that it led to processing and approval delays at the DOL. In 2018, for example, the seafood industry took a huge hit because the DOL failed to approve seasonal worker visas fast enough. Half of all Eastern Shore crab houses didn’t have enough workers to pick meat during their busiest season.
Shrinking the pool of workers harms blue-collar industries and Americans as a whole. The administration should recognize the needs of the U.S. workforce and economy and help support businesses searching for workers.