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In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Silver Blaze” Sherlock Holmes uses the fact that a dog did not bark during the night as evidence to unravel a crime, the theft of a race horse. Holmes reasoned that the perpetrator was known to the dog since the dog failed to bark, so QED, the theft was an inside job. The phrase “the dog that did not bark” has over the years come to mean the significance of a non-event, say, an unexpected omission in an important political speech.
The current debate over immigration and illegal aliens illustrates a dog that does not bark. Specifically, newspapers like the Wall Street Journal regularly recount how businesses are desperate for employees, many of whom in the past (legally) traveled from overseas. Significantly, such stories totally side-step thousands of young, usually inner-city, African Americans who remain unemployed. This is no small matter since, at least according to some, their joblessness breeds the racial violence plaguing Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis and elsewhere.
An August 11, 2017 WSJ article (August 11, A1, A7) offers a typical account of how restaurants and hotels in upscale Martha’s Vineyard can no longer hire foreign workers with the H-2B visa program and thus must cut back business hours or reduce menu selections. In fact, managers now clean hotel rooms while restaurants use disposable cups to replace dishwashers. The problem is hardly limited to seasonal resorts. The landscaping business has been especially hurt while Alaskan fisheries have had to cut production and fishing days. One such fishery even tried to recruit some 1600 Americans from across the entire country including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (their number of H-2B employees dropped from more than 900 in 2016 to 31 in 2017). As an emergency measure businesses have recruited foreign students using J-1 cultural exchange visas or, illegally, allow H-2B workers to hold two jobs simultaneously.
Tellingly, since 2009, the need to solve seasonable labor shortage by importing workers shows no sign of abating. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of these visas jumped from 85,248 to 165,741. In July of this year Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security bumped up the H-1B supply of visas by 20% despite his anti-immigration campaign rhetoric (WSJ, Aug 9, A16).
The irony is that this worker shortage could easily be cured by recruiting inner-city blacks if business owners wanted this option. The model is the how hundreds of scattered Chinese restaurants almost effortlessly hire their cooks, waiters and dishwashers, many of whom are undocumented. Just walk the side streets near East Broadway and the Manhattan Bridge area in New York City’s Chinatown and you’ll see one tiny employment agency after the next with walls plastered in post-it notes. These are for jobs, often at a sizable distance from NYC and to travel there, the nearby neighborhood offers over a dozen cheap buses to almost every city up and down the east coast. A similar arrangement exists in Los Angeles where at least a dozen small Chinese speaking employment agencies list jobs in such faraway places such as Utah and Nebraska.
It would take little to create a similar employment network for young African Americans stuck in Baltimore, and keep in mind that these youngsters already speak English (many Chinese do not) and, best of all, all are bona fide US citizens so employers need not worry about ICE raids in the middle of the tourist season (and these recruits will not leave mid- August to return to college). Just open a Chinese-style hole-in-the-wall agency and spread the word–come get your job, and we’ll pay travel expenses. Going one step further, this arrangement can be up and running almost overnight thanks to on-line employment firms such as Monster.com which could easily organize a special division for inner-city youngsters.
In principle desperate employers would not be too worried with “school” skills given the menial nature of the work. After all, processing fish in an Alaskan salmon cannery hardly requires a high school degree and low-level skills could be taught on the job, a far superior solution than the usual (and tedious) community college sponsored job training program
Moreover, though technically menial, these jobs are the first step up the employment ladder. Doing well as a waiter on Cape Cod during the summer would probably lead to a similar job at a Vermont ski resort and with time, there would be expanded responsibilities and better pay. That the Trump administration will probably get even stingier with H-2B visas makes this employment strategy particularly attractive.
Why hasn’t this option been raised among those moaning and groaning about not being able to import Jamaicans to cook breakfast burritos for wealthy vacationers? Surly a fortune awaits entrepreneurs who could open the spigot to place thousands of American citizens in jobs that immediately need to be filled. Has anybody even tried?
One can only speculate about this silence but let me offer some explanation. First, and most politically incorrect, potential employers down deep have their doubts about the value of young workers fresh off the streets of East St. Louis. Can these teenagers be trained for even the simplest of tasks like busing tables? Will they show up on time, dress appropriately, treat customers and fellow employees with respect and avoid petty thievery, drug dealing and similar illegal behaviors? The head of a landscaping company in Denver regularly posts ads in newspapers, Craigslist and on the street for jobs that pay between $14 and $25 an hour plus healthcare and other benefits. He hires everyone who comes to the interview but he says that he is lucky if one person interviewed actually shows up for work.
No doubt, many potential employers privately believe that it may wiser to use paper plates than rely on violence-prone youngsters with iffy work habits to run an expensive dishwasher. And there’s always the risk of complaints about racial discrimination. Why else would so many employers risk hiring illegal Mexicans with limited English skills? One can imagine the outcry from Martha’s Vineyard folk if the local farm-to-table eatery imported a half dozen troubled youngsters off the streets of Detroit? Further imagine if one of these employees was arrested for mugging a summer resident? This would jeopardize the entire business!
I’d guess that if the federal government partnered with Monster.com to supply these youngsters, business would suddenly impose strict anti-drug policies and otherwise enact barriers to employing them. This would be especially true if these ghetto kids had to live overnight in tony resort like South Hampton, NY. Locals hardly want these kids to be within walking distance of their mega mansions.
Second, why should any of jobless inner-city residents leave their familiar neighborhoods to take a job for, say, $12.50 an hour (and that’s pre-tax) when they obviously can survive right at home through a combination of family welfare payment and petty crime? The recruits are not college kids who really must take a summer job for upcoming school-related expenses. Nor do kids from East St. Louis, unlike those from Guatemala, need to send $50.00 a week back to their desperately poor families (thanks to ample benefits, nobody starves if those from the hood refuses to work or just quits after a few days). In sum, short of threatening starvation, most inner-city youth will not seek out these summer jobs; many may view them with distain given the alternative of sleeping late and just hanging out.
Finally, and this especially applies to the more arduous agricultural jobs, the very idea for pushing black youngsters into the stoop labor workforce, regardless of the long-term benefits to all parties, will be loudly condemned by the liberal establishment as a modern form of coerced labor, a throwback to the Jim Crow era where blacks had no choice other than take low-paid menial jobs as cooks, waiters and maids for “the Man.” It is irrelevant that these “inside the plantation” humble jobs are sought after by needy American college students or those from European universities who want to improve their English and, perhaps, meet upscale Americans. I can already hear the cries of do-gooders that these kids should be in college learning to code and not catering to rich white folk in Aspen.
Now, what are the odds, to mix the imagery, of belling the cat? What member of Congress wants to force those inner-city kids lolling about street corners to sign up for traditional temporary summer (or winter) jobs? Recall the furor when in 1996 states were granted limited power to deny welfare benefits to those who refused enroll in school or get a job?
No doubt, resistance would not only come from the usual defenders of the welfare state but also from association representing hotels and restaurants who dread the idea of hiring undisciplined kids from the streets of Newark. This is not garden variety racism. Many business people may have already tried to hire them; a few may recall the disaster of Project 100,000 in the 1960s when the military, as part of President Johnson’s anti-poverty program, enlisted over a 100,000 troubled, school drop-outs from the streets and tried to transform them with strong dose of military discipline. It was a disaster as many soon left the military and those who were actually sent to Vietnam disproportionately died. If the military can’t do the trick why should l’étoile, a snazzyFrench bistro in the Vineyard succeed?
This silence speaks a powerful message: ignore all those “experts” who insist that jobs, jobs and more jobs are the cure for America’s race-related violence. These are the sincere folk who appear on TV after a weekend of drug-related murders in Chicago and insist that only if the gang-bankers had a job, peace would ensue. They assume that progress just requires finding employment for these anxious-to-work youngsters and the very act of work will reverse numerous bad habits. The reality is, obviously, that the market has spoken: employer by the score will knowingly suffer, even forego potential profits than try their hand at social engineering.