Young Immigrants Can Meet the U.S. Need for Skilled Workers

An American Apparel factory

An American Apparel factory in Los Angeles. (Photo: Alossix/flickr)

The Labor Department reported that 227,000 new jobs were created last month.

The improving economic outlook has been good for U.S. manufacturers who were responsible for 31,000 of the new hires. And they say they intend to employ many more people in the coming months.

There is, however, a shortage of qualified American workers. According to CNN Money, the lack of machinists, tool and die makers, computer-controlled machine programmers, and operators have left businesses little choice but to look abroad.

U.S. manufacturers have increasingly leveraged H-1B visas, which allow high-skilled foreign individuals to work up to six years in the country, to fill these positions. In 2011, the Labor Department certified 39,551 H-1B visas for manufacturing positions, a 14 percent increase from the previous year. Yet less than 100 of these visas were for core factory jobs. A majority were for architecture, engineering and other non-production related jobs.

Gardner Carrick, the Manufacturing Institute’s Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives told CNN Money that “H-1B is never going to be the answer to the skills shortage in production jobs in manufacturing.”

“The H-1B certainly isn’t the best long-term solution,” he added. “We have to grow this talent at home.”

With the unemployment rate hovering at 8 percent, we do need to train U.S. workers, both native-born and immigrant, with the skills to work in our factories.

“These jobs are the backbone of manufacturing,” said Carrick. “These are good quality middle-class jobs that Americans should be training for.”

We should also be looking at DREAMers, undocumented youth who grew up in the United States and in whom we have already invested much through our education and other support systems. These are young, motivated Americans who want nothing more than the opportunity to contribute and be productive members of our society. They are lobbying for the DREAM Act so that they can go to college and get skills in order to work and contribute to the U.S. economy.

We are starting to climb out of the Great Recession and we should call on our elected officials and other policymakers to craft smart policy that will bring our economy back to full health, create more jobs, and lift all. The DREAM Act must be part of it.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, March 12, 2012.

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PILOTs: A symptom of changing nonprofit-government relations

The finances of U.S. cities and municipalities are getting squeezed by decreasing state and federal funding, leaving elected officials little choice but to scrounge for new revenue sources. During the past year, a steadily increasing number of municipalities have turned to neighborhood nonprofits and negotiated “voluntary payments”– payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) – to help pay for public services. It’s time, local governments say, for these tax-exempt organizations to do their fair share.

Local governments have mainly targeted “eds and meds,” larger nonprofit universities and medical institutions. Last fall, the city of Worcester negotiated agreements with area colleges, and Clark University signed on to pay the city $6.7 million over 20 years, the Worcester Telegram reported. In New York, Syracuse University agreed earlier this summer to help out its struggling hometown with a $2.5 million payment over the next five years, according to the local press.

PILOTs aren’t new. By Lincoln Institute of Land Policy calculations, these arrangements have been already used in at least 117 municipalities in 18 states over the last decade. In Boston, nonprofit organizations have been making these payments of their own volition for decades. In April however, the city officially asked 40 major hospitals, universities and cultural centers to pay up to 25 percent of what they would owe if their properties weren’t tax-exempt. The task force that came up with the idea also suggested that all nonprofits with properties worth $15 million or more contribute as well.

Some municipalities however are beginning to eye smaller nonprofits with little or no taxable properties. In May, the town manager of Palmer, Mass., goaded by budget shortfalls and Boston’s lead, asked 25 nonprofits, including churches and a youth summer camp, to chip in annual payments. The amounts requested ranged from $75.95 from the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce to $115,572.90 from Wing Memorial Hospital, according to The Springfield Republican. Essentially requiring payments that have until now been voluntary, as Boston has done, raises the question of what is happening to the implicit compact between nonprofits and governments. By some lights, tax exemptions are what nonprofits get in exchange for delivering public goods and services that governments can’t or won’t provide.

But when nearly 33,000 human service nonprofits across the country have government contracts and grants, and government funding accounts for more than 65 percent of total revenue of human service nonprofits — totaling more than $100 billion nationally, as it now does according to a study done by the Urban Institute — isn’t the partnership between nonprofits and governments changing?

Is a paradigm shift afoot? Or are steps toward a new grand bargain merely a product of difficult economic times?

Either way, taking PILOTs this far into nonprofit territory opens flood gates that will drain the coffers of smaller, struggling community-based organizations – roughly 75 percent of all charities – that lack the capacity and resources of larger nonprofits.

What will happen to nonprofits like these that serve the unemployed, homeless, poor and hungry but that run on very tight margins themselves? Payments in exchange for their tax-exempt status will likely put some over the edge. In 2009, 82 percent of small human service nonprofits in Massachusetts reported deficits. Half froze or cut employee salaries while a third drew on scant reserves. Another 28 percent reduced programs and services, according to survey results collected by the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy for its National Study of Nonprofit-Government Contracting.

As the head of an association of community-based health and human services put it in a recent discussion on PILOTs: “Which of our clients should we stop serving? Which of your taxpayers do you want us to fire?”

Which indeed?

Originally published in The Provider, Vol. 32, No. 7, Summer 2011.

Georgia’s Immigration Law Hurts Farms and the State Economy

Georgia’s draconian immigration law took effect Friday and it is now a felony in the state to present false documents when applying for a job.

Parts of the law were blocked by a U.S. district judge last week–but not all.

The new measure, like those passed in Arizona as well as Utah, North Carolina, Indiana, Alabama and South Carolina, primarily seeks to stanch what lawmakers see as the biggest immigration threat facing the nation, unauthorized immigrants. The problem with these policies is that they were crafted by legislators wearing such huge blinders that they and the constituencies who spurred them on failed to consider the implications.

Georgia farmers, for one, are already feeling the adverse effect of the newly minted law. CBS reports many Latino farmworkers are staying away, fearful of raids and crackdowns. The owner of a family-owned blueberry farm laments the loss of twenty acres worth of fruit that will rot away unpicked and cost him $200,000. He is also worrying about 600 acres of grapes that will be ready for harvest next month.

It’s clear the revenue loss at farms and other businesses that depend on immigrant labor will negatively impact Georgia’s economy and other states that tell undocumented immigrants to stay away. These policies will affect the lives and well-being of ordinary citizens who have allowed their fears about growing immigrant populations in their midst to cloud better judgment.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal does not worry about the loss of immigrant labor. He proposes that ex-convicts fill the jobs abandoned by Latino laborers. Farmers have not embraced Deal’s solution, however. “Let them in the governor’s mansion to be cooks and I’ll let them on my farm. I want my family to be as safe as the governor’s,” sixth-generation farmer Gary Paulk told Time.

Georgians would have been better served by their governor and lawmakers had they not honed in solely on undocumented immigrants with the intent of driving them out. These policymakers could have taken a broader view and carefully accounted for the economic implications of enacting such measures. Better still, they could have left it to the U.S. government to sort out the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, July 7, 2011.