In recent weeks media outlets in the US have been fretting over what would ordinarily be considered good news – the roaring American economy, which has brought low unemployment and, in some places, a labour shortage. Owners and managers have complained about their problems in finding people to fill low-wage positions. “Nobody wants to do manual labour any more,” as one trade association grandee told the Baltimore Sun, and so the manual labour simply goes undone.
Company bosses talk about the things they have done to fix the situation: the ads they’ve published; the guest-worker visas for which they’ve applied; how they are going into schools to encourage kids to learn construction skills or to drive trucks. The Wall Street Journal reports on the amazing perks that plumbing companies are now offering new hires: quiet rooms, jetski trips, pottery classes, free breakfast, free beer.
But nothing seems to work. Blame for the labour shortage is sprayed all over the US map: opioids are said to be the problem. And welfare, and inadequate parking spaces, and a falling birthrate, and mass incarceration, and – above all – the Trump administration’s immigration policies. But no one really knows for sure.