- - Monday, July 6, 2020

President Trump just suspended nearly all guest-worker programs for the rest of the year. This historic executive order will open up more than 500,000 jobs to Americans — and it’ll disproportionately help Black citizens.

These reforms aren’t mere rhetoric. They’re tangible proof that Donald Trump believes Black workers matter. 

The order could not have come at a better time. About 45 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began.  

And the crisis is disproportionately hurting minorities and other vulnerable workers. In May, the unemployment rate for those with only a high school diploma was 15.3 percent, compared with just 7.4 percent for college graduates. The unemployment rate for Hispanics was 40 percent higher than for Whites. For Blacks, that gap was 30 percent.

Those disparities are likely to remain in the coming months. Recovery from the COVID-19 shutdown could take years. The percentage of working-age people in the labor force — those working or looking for work — is still well below what it was before the Great Recession. And with the country enmeshed in economic and social turmoil, can anyone be confident that the labor market is going to “bounce back,” especially for those who have struggled even in the best of times?

To reduce pressure on jobseekers, the Trump administration stopped issuing green cards — which give lifetime work privileges to permanent immigrants — to individuals not already in the United States in April. But until Monday, the president hadn’t stopped his administration from processing up to 1 million temporary guest-worker visas that corporations use to hire foreign laborers for at least 7 percent less pay than Americans.

By suspending these guest-worker programs, President Trump rejected the demands of Big Business and stood up for the “forgotten men and women” that politicians in both parties have ignored for decades.

The United States hands out 1 million green cards a year. On top of that, every year we admit about 750,000 guest workers who we are told are necessary to do jobs Americans won’t. But that isn’t true. These guest workers displace Americans and drive down wages for all workers in those occupations.

In 2019, 188,000 foreign workers came to the United States on H-1B visas — and mostly took entry-level tech jobs. That same year 98,000 came on H-2B visas to take construction, landscaping and other manual-labor jobs. An unlimited number can come on H-2A farmworker visas. And almost 150,000 found employment through the OPT program, which lets foreigners who graduate from U.S. colleges stay and work for up to three years, despite there being no law on the books allowing this.

Many of these foreign workers are hard-working folks who have no ill intentions toward the American people. But there’s no need to bring in foreign competition when so many qualified Americans are desperate for jobs.

Big Business lobbyists claim we need these guest workers because Americans won’t do hard, dirty jobs like meatpacking or landscaping. That’s nonsense. Consider that 62.5 percent of workers in the animal slaughtering and processing industry — a dirty job by anyone’s standards — were born here in America. Only 37.5 percent were born abroad. In fact, there’s not a single industry where foreign-born workers outnumber native-born ones, according to Brookings.

The influx of foreign labor depresses Americans’ wages, according to more than a dozen studies reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. And less-advantaged Americans, particularly minorities, suffer the biggest losses in earnings — since they compete most directly with foreigners.

Even prior to the pandemic, minority communities struggled with higher rates of unemployment. Last year, the Black jobless rate was twice as high as the White unemployment rate in 14 states, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

This chronic joblessness causes poverty, which in turn affects everything from social mobility to the quality of public schools.

Poverty even affects people’s health. Black and Hispanic Americans suffer far higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases than Whites, largely because they have less access to good nutrition and quality medical care. Just 8 percent of Blacks live in Census tracts that contain supermarkets, compared to 31 percent of White Americans, according to an analysis from Teaching Tolerance.

President Trump stood up for Black and Hispanic Americans by suspending guest-worker visas.

It was a politically smart move. More than six in 10 non-White voters favor “temporarily blocking nearly all immigration into the United States during the coronavirus outbreak,” according to a recent Washington Post poll.  

But more importantly, it was the right thing to do. At a time of record unemployment, there’s simply no reason to import guest workers for jobs that Americans are able and willing to do.

• Tom Broadwater is president of Americans4Work, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates on behalf of American minority, veteran, youth and disabled workers.

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