EPI News

On keeping labor vulnerable

Expanding H-2B visas a bad idea
In Congressional testimony, EPI Vice-President Ross Eisenbrey urged representatives to rethink the rapid expansion of a visa program for foreign guest workers, which has grown from 10,000 to 130,000 workers annually in just 15 years. Speaking to an immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on April 16, Eisenbrey noted that “the H-2B non-agricultural guest worker program has been the fastest growing and most problematic immigration program in our recent history…. This expansion is alarming because the H-2B program undermines the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers; creates dependencies among businesses for docile foreign workers with no voice, no bargaining power, and few rights; and allows abuses that most Americans would denounce if they were aware of them. If our nation is to have a guest worker program for unskilled occupations–and it is far from clear that such a program is necessary or desirable–it must be reformed in significant ways.”

Eisenbrey elaborated on his concerns in a May 2 opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun and in another piece tailored to the Hamptons in Newsday. “Unemployment is rising, hundreds of thousands of families are facing foreclosures on their homes, and wages are flat-lining (especially for workers without college degrees). Yet a noisy group of Long Island businesses claims the nation needs…more workers willing to accept low wages and less likely to organize or otherwise assert their rights,” Eisenbrey wrote.

A heartbreaking example of the sort of the modern debt-peonage system that such visas make possible can be seen today in Mississippi, where Indian workers who paid $20,000 each for H-2B visas for Katrina cleanup jobs are planning a hunger strike.

Payrolls decline; hours, wages, and incomes squeezed
The April jobs report was not as bad as analysts feared, but the loss of another 20,000 jobs was hardly good news. Not only did it mark the fourth month in a row of job losses, but also showed that the weak market is translating into shrinking work hours and declining wages. For further analysis of the employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, check EPI’s Jobs Picture.

Globalization not the only factor, but a major concern
In a new Issue Brief, Trade, Jobs, and Wages, EPI economist L. Josh Bivens argues that concern about globalization’s effect on the majority of American workers is well-founded. Bivens looks specifically at two important pressures that globalization — and the trade deficits it has caused — puts on workers: job losses and downward pressure on wages.  Bivens shows how the high deficits of recent years account for an income loss of about 4% for workers without a college degree, and have greatly increased income inequality.

U.S. is miserly on maternity leave and pay
Out of 19 comparable countries, the United States does the least for new mothers in both length of leave and paid time off. While the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees eligible parents 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child, it is limited to workplaces of more than 50 employees, leaving out about 48.1 million working Americans. The United States is the only one of the 19 industrialized countries that does not guarantee paid leave at all. The analysis by Heidi Shierholz and Emily Garr is this week’s Economic Snapshot.

Unemployment insurance and other human needs
EPI was a lead organization in a new appeal for a more effective economic stimulus package that includes a needed extension of unemployment insurance. On Thursday, EPI President Lawrence Mishel joined a handful of prominent activists in a press call to publicize a letter to Congress. Read the letter [PDF] that was written and circulated by the Coalition on Human Needs.