During a recent stay at an upscale hotel, I was advised that there would be no housekeeping service. With the nod of my head, I took my key and headed to the room, and wondered — is this the new normal? The one-two punch of the labor shortage and the impacts of Covid-19 on the workforce have reshaped expectations. It is no longer unusual to visit a store or coffee shop, only to find it closed midday, lights off with an apologetic note explaining no one showed up for work.
Make no mistake, the labor shortage is real. The US workforce will continue to shrink in the coming decade as more people retire, and less people have children. Currently there are approximately 10 million jobs, and only 8 million people looking for work. The pandemic has amplified the issue, but it has been a long-term trend and it will continue to affect every aspect of our economy over the next decade.
In the staffing industry, we feel the labor shortage impact on a daily basis. We have more clients than temporary workers and more orders than people to fill them. We struggle with I9s and E-verify, seeking to do the right thing while watching others skirt the rules. We are frustrated by the lack of lawful access to millions of undocumented workers who are forced to live in the shadows and work in the underground economy. While we see some effort being made at the federal level to help via such measures as increasing the number of H-2B visas in the coming months, those are stop-gap measures and not long-term solutions.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to solve this problem. Immigration reform is the elegant solution that will give employers across all sectors and industries access to a legal workforce with people who are ready to fill jobs that are left open because there are just not enough working Americans to fill them. Meanwhile, there are 14 million people who are already in this country, ready, willing and able to contribute but cannot legally do so.
There is a deafening silence among our nation’s leaders on this issue. Of course, Covid-19, infrastructure and voting rights are all important issues that need to be addressed. But the fact that immigration reform is not at the top of the agenda for either party is astonishing.
The business community should call upon our leaders to take up this issue and create lasting immigration reform. Now. Not after elections, not next year. We simply can’t afford to wait. And when our leaders prioritize this critical issue, political theater must be put aside. We should demand a meaningful policy debate focused on creating a path for citizenship for millions of immigrants already here. Our future depends on it.