How to Fill Unpleasant Jobs in Undesirable Places: Recruit Refugees
SILVER SPRING, Md. — With forecasters expecting the unemployment rate to sink further this week, the chorus of complaints about worker shortages — from custodians to computer prodigies — has swelled.
Yet companies that turn to labor recruiters like Ray Wiley tend to have an especially tough time: The jobs they offer are in out-of-way places; the work is low-paid and disagreeable; and native-born Americans, particularly white men, are generally not interested.
“We have employers call us all the time,” said Mr. Wiley, who primarily works with meat-processing plants and lumber mills that have trouble retaining workers even when the jobless rate is well above its historically low level of 4.1 percent.
Now that the economy is on solid footing during its ninth year of recovery, even entry-level workers have more options. So in Atlanta, San Diego and other cities, Mr. Wiley’s company, East Coast Labor Solutions, finds workers, primarily refugees from war-ravaged countries who don’t speak English. Other candidates include Puerto Ricans discouraged by the island’s lack of jobs, as well as immigrants — here legally, he emphasizes — who have no problem passing a drug test.
“If you told me there’s 1,000 refugees who need work and want work, I could find them work this month,” said Mr. Wiley, whose distinctive drawl pays tribute to his Georgia roots. Employers like refugees, he said. There is no question about their legal status, he noted, and they are generally more motivated and work harder, if only because their situation is more dire.
“I’m ready to go right now,” said Ronald Johnson, 37, who showed up one afternoon with two friends at Labor Solutions’ bare, second-floor office in Silver Spring, Md. He had heard from others in his community of Sierra Leone refugees that this agency could immediately place anyone willing to move to a nearby state. “I want to go where they pay the most money and charge the least for rent.”
Within an hour, all three men agreed to move to a rural town they had never heard of, to take a job they had never done before.
Citing the need to protect national security and jobs, however, President Trump has moved to sharply limit legal immigrants and refugees, capping the number of refugees at 45,000, the lowest yearly total since the program began in 1975. The actual pace of admittance has so far fallen below that level, which could make it even harder for meat processors and similarly situated industries to fill their ranks.
“I appreciate what Trump is doing in trying to create more jobs for Americans,” Mr. Wiley said, in response to the president’s argument that immigrants are taking work from native-born Americans. “But for some lower-paid jobs that are undesirable, a lot of Americans don’t want to do those jobs.”