I predict that Florida employers will ask for more H-2B (unskilled, non-farm) alien workers because of the extensive damage done by Hurricane Ian. “We need more hands to fix houses, stores, roads, and bridges,” they will say.
Such requests should be denied, but probably won’t be, as the Biden administration goes all squishy with the mid-term elections looming.
Yes, construction firms will be hiring, but there are two hidden sources of workers highly unlikely to be discussed in the press: low-skilled workers who have lost their jobs because of the storm and a huge supply of prime-age, U.S.-born males lacking college degrees who were neither working nor seeking work even before Ian arrived.
Let’s look at these two potential labor forces in turn.
Clearly a lot of people, particularly those without college degrees, have lost their jobs because of the storm, and will be available. Think of an ocean-front restaurant, which usually had 40 people working as cooks, as wait staff, as cashiers. It was demolished by the storm, and it will take months to rebuild, if that happens at all, and in the meantime the staff members are available for other jobs.
Think of the army of orange pickers with fewer oranges to pick. According to Reuters, “Hurricane Ian is likely to have worsened what was already expected to be the smallest U.S. orange crop in 55 years.” The unemployed orange pickers are used to outdoor labor and live in the area hurt by the storm.
A more obscure, but major, source of help to fix the damage consists of, to quote the statisticians, “U.S.-born prime-age (25-54) men without a bachelor’s degree” who are not counted among the unemployed because they are not working and not seeking work, and thus are non-participants in the labor force. The labor force participation rate for this group in Florida has fallen from 94.1 percent in 1979 to 82.7 percent in 2022; the Florida rate is a couple of points below the national rate, according to Table 9 in a report by my colleagues Steven Camarota and Karen Zeigler.
And what are the characteristics of most construction workers? Well, yes, they are native-born males without college degrees, between the ages of 25 and 54.
When you add in citizen women of all ages, and men over 55 without degrees, you have quite a labor supply.
But all too many employers want to hire inexpensive, docile alien workers (such as H-2Bs) rather than Americans. And they have political influence.