Donald Trump Has a H‑2B Guest Worker Problem

Reuters
February 16, 2020 Topic: economy Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: EmploymentWagesVisaContractTrump Administration

Donald Trump Has a H‑2B Guest Worker Problem

This administration may be reluctant to raise the cap because H‑2B workers are seen as low‐​skilled.

Employers hire H‑2B guest workers to fill seasonal or temporary jobs in nonagricultural industries. Employers face an incredibly small cap imposed by Congress of 66,000 visas—a cap which has already disappeared for 2020. While Congress has granted the authority to the Department of Homeland Security to raise the cap, it has failed to announce any increase so far.

This administration may be reluctant to raise the cap because H‑2B workers are seen as low‐​skilled. While they are certainly lower‐​skilled than physicians and computer programmers who enter under the H‑1B visa program, employers still pay wages—which the Department of Labor regulates and approves—to H‑2B workers that far exceed the low‐​end of the wage scale.

Table 1

H-2B Jobs, Wages, and State Minimum Wages by State, 2019

         
ALABAMA 2,413 $12.02 $7.25 66%
ALASKA 5,039 $11.97 $9.89 21%
ARIZONA 3,225 $12.28 $11.00 12%
ARKANSAS 2,468 $11.63 $9.25 26%
CALIFORNIA 2,978 $14.49 $11.00 32%
COLORADO 7,896 $15.34 $11.10 38%
CONNECTICUT 273 $16.98 $11.00 54%
DC   N/A $14.00  
DELAWARE 531 $13.96 $9.25 51%
FLORIDA 11,313 $11.99 $8.46 42%
GEORGIA 3,382 $12.98 $7.25 79%
Hawaii   N/A $10.10  
IDAHO 1,803 $13.25 $7.25 83%
ILLINOIS 2,026 $13.06 $8.25 58%
INDIANA 1,535 $12.85 $7.25 77%
IOWA 712 $15.32 $7.25 111%
KANSAS 1,092 $14.48 $7.25 100%
KENTUCKY 1,789 $13.91 $7.25 92%
LOUISIANA 5,593 $11.68 $7.25 61%
MAINE 2,342 $12.55 $11.00 14%
MARYLAND 4,165 $13.85 $10.10 37%
MASSACHUSETTS 3,783 $15.46 $12.00 29%
MICHIGAN 3,764 $12.09 $9.45 28%
MINNESOTA 1,469 $15.44 $9.86 57%
MISSISSIPPI 3,979 $11.63 $7.25 60%
MISSOURI 4,131 $13.81 $8.60 61%
MONTANA 644 $14.38 $8.50 69%
NEBRASKA 681 $14.14 $9.00 57%
NEVADA 262 $14.76 $8.25 79%
NEW HAMPSHIRE 660 $13.95 $7.25 92%
NEW JERSEY 2,937 $14.70 $10.00 47%
NEW MEXICO 250 $11.77 $7.50 57%
NEW YORK 4,645 $14.77 $11.10 33%
NORTH CAROLINA 5,840 $12.23 $7.25 69%
NORTH DAKOTA 733 $17.37 $7.25 140%
OHIO 4,002 $13.79 $8.55 61%
OKLAHOMA 2,059 $13.19 $7.25 82%
OREGON 2,840 $12.55 $11.25 12%
PENNSYLVANIA 5,837 $17.39 $7.25 140%
RHODE ISLAND 558 $12.82 $10.50 22%
SOUTH CAROLINA 4,215 $11.36 $7.25 57%
SOUTH DAKOTA 1,195 $12.81 $9.10 41%
TENNESSEE 2,331 $13.06 $7.25 80%
TEXAS 18,741 $13.62 $7.25 88%
UTAH 3,272 $13.70 $7.25 89%
VERMONT 644 $13.29 $10.78 23%
VIRGINIA 4,653 $13.53 $7.25 87%
WASHINGTON 1,630 $12.76 $12.00 6%
WEST VIRGINIA 247 $11.34 $8.75 30%
WISCONSIN 567 $13.14 $7.25 81%
Wyoming 621 $14.67 $7.25 102%
  H-2B Jobs H-2B Wage Minimum Wage Difference

Source: Office of Foreign Labor Certification, "Disclosure Data - H-2B"; Department of Labor, "Minimum Wages" (H-2B jobs are number of jobs certified)

 

Table 1 shows the average H‑2B wage in each state compared to the state minimum wage. In every single state in 2019, the average H‑2B workers in each state received wages that were significantly above their state’s minimum wage. Average H‑2B wages exceeded state minimum wages by 60 percent. Overall, H‑2B workers made $13.31 in 2019—84 percent above the federal minimum wage.

Figure 1 maps the percentage differences between H‑2B wages and state minimum wages by state to highlight the areas with the largest differences. The H‑2B wage exceeded the state minimum wage in every state, ranging from a low of 6 percent above in Washington to a high of 140 percent above in North Dakota.

 

The H‑2B program provides critical labor for employers that the Department of Labor determines cannot find U.S. workers to fill the jobs. Despite offering wages far above the state minimum wages, businesses still cannot obtain enough qualified candidates to take these difficult jobs in industries like landscaping, forestry, and meat packing. The Department of Homeland Security should raise the cap as much as it legally can this year to help fill these jobs.

This article was first published by the CATO Institute.

Image: Reuters