The Unwilling Americans

More jobs the native-born won’t do.

Last week, I wrote about the phenomenon of jobs Americans aren’t willing to do. If companies can’t hire the number of people they want to hire at the wages they want to pay, the reasoning goes, it must be because lazy, soft-handed Americans simply aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and do difficult jobs. Managing hedge funds and starring in reality TV shows? Absolutely. But, by this logic, not landscaping, picking fruits and vegetables, meat processing, manufacturing carpets, soldiering, or working in information technology.

In fact, the perceived shortages have less to do with a declining American work ethic and more to do with managerial stinginess. In many industries, employers—and, ultimately, their customers—simply aren’t willing to pay the prices that legal American labor demands in exchange for performing the work—or for going through the expense and trouble of obtaining the skills and credentials necessary to ply certain trades. In today’s Wall Street Journal,Evan Perez and Corey Dade offer support for this contention. Last September, a chicken-processing plant (one of those industries we’re told Americans reject) in Stillmore, Ga., lost three-quarters of its work force after an immigration bust. In response, the company, Crider, “suddenly raised pay at the plant” by more than a dollar per hour and began offering better benefits: “free transportation from nearby towns and free rooms in a company-owned dormitory near to the plant.” Miraculously, American workers materialized to accept the jobs.

Last week, we asked readers to send in other examples of jobs Americans apparently aren’t willing to do. (At Slate,we’re big believers in user-generated content, especially in holiday-shortened weeks.) More than one reader suggested that enforcing immigration laws is one job Americans are clearly unwilling to do. Another, noting David Beckham’s latest career move, suggested playing soccer in Los Angeles.

We received anecdotal confirmation of the trends we cited. A Los Angeles-based hiring manager in the software business reported that he had plenty of high-paying technical jobs. “Every single candidate is either an Indian national or a recent Russian immigrant,” he said. “There are no longer any American candidates for these jobs.”

Thanks to our readers, we’ve also discovered some more jobs Americans apparently don’t find attractive. A social worker for an agency in the San Jose, Calif., area that provides services to children and adults with mental retardation, autism, and cerebral palsy, reported that the region’s group homes and intermediate-care facilities “are staffed almost exclusively by Filipinos.” The same holds for many “special education teachers and school aides, nurses working with those with delays or the elderly, respite workers, day program staff.” These jobs, like many of the other jobs Americans won’t do, require a high degree of skill and dedication—and yet they don’t pay particularly well.

Transportation is another area in which demographics, the desire to hold down costs, and rising demand are combining to create a “shortage.” Two readers pointed me to a 2005 report released by the American Trucking Association and economic consulting firm Global Insight, which concludes that Americans’ unwillingness to work as long-haul truckers could have dire consequences for the U.S. economy. As the press release notes, in 2005 the United States had a shortage of 20,000 truck drivers. Given economic growth and the graying of today’s drivers, the industry will need 539,000 new drivers over the next decade. The study notes that if U.S. companies want to continue to enjoy cheap, reliable truck-based shipping, the industry will have to recruit more women and minorities, boost wages so that trucking pays more than construction, and address quality-of-life issues.

But that sort of thinking—raise wages to attract domestic workers into your field—is so last century. In today’s flat world, employers can choose from a global labor pool, apparently even for driving big rigs down I-95. Meet Gagan Global, which trains Indian drivers in India to drive American trucks in America.

How do you say “10-4, good buddy” in Hindi?