Teens to flip Jack in the Box burgers gone

Scholarships and dope

"The farmworker population has pretty much aged out.”
  • "The farmworker population has pretty much aged out.”
  • Getty Images

"If you want to work, there is no excuse for not getting into the job market now,” says Phil Blair, executive owner of Manpower San Diego. Blair, the local employment guru, is talking about the labor shortage crippling local companies and their industries. “I keep waiting for people to get off the couch, get in the job market now, build skills, build their résumés.”

Phil Blair says there are openings at the University of California at San Diego, Northrop Grumman, and General Atomics.

Phil Blair says there are openings at the University of California at San Diego, Northrop Grumman, and General Atomics.

In July, the county’s unemployment rate was only 3.5 percent. The nation’s was 4.1 percent. That means San Diego’s labor shortage is worse than the nation’s. “Anything under 4 percent suggests a labor shortage,” says Kelly Cunningham, economist for the San Diego Institute for Economic Research.

Bob Rauch. Wages at his hotels have gone up 44 percent.

Bob Rauch. Wages at his hotels have gone up 44 percent.


The bottom line is that employers need you so badly that in many cases they will raise salaries and even take a bite out of their profits to get you. Manpower clients who used to demand five or ten years of experience now say, “We hire for attitude; we will train for the skills. We just want a positive attitude and a smile on their faces,” says Blair.

The Conference Board, an organization that does research for business, writes, “The retirement of baby boomers will create a shortage of skilled workers in mature economies worldwide, leading to higher wages and lower profits for the next 15 years.” (Italics mine.)

Yahoo! For about four decades, companies have been picking their employees’ pockets — that is, our pockets. Middle-class incomes stayed stagnant while upper-class incomes and corporate profits zoomed upward. Capital got everything and labor got nothing. Finally, companies need us little folks again. For the first time in at least two decades, there are now more job openings than people to fill them.

The Conference Board’s prediction applies to skilled labor, but people in unskilled jobs can take advantage of a tight labor market, particularly by job-hopping to higher and higher pay. That is definitely true in fast-food restaurants, hotels and motels, and retailing. Agriculture has special problems of its own, greatly related to immigration restrictions.

Last year, 37 percent of National Restaurant Association members said labor recruitment was their biggest problem, up from 15 percent in 2015, according to the New York Times. Restaurants are reimbursing chefs for their culinary school tuition, hiring former prisoners as kitchen assistants, and hiring people competitors have fired. The association says it needs a temporary visa program for low-skilled workers, such as the H-1B program for skilled workers that has generated so much controversy.

A big problem for fast-food outlets: there are far fewer teenagers in the labor force than there were 25 years ago, says the Times. In the year 2000, about 45 percent of young people between 16 and 19 years of age had a job. That’s now down to 30 percent. Why are fewer teens working? A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded that increasing emphasis on education, such as getting scholarships, had contributed to the decline. Also, companies’ refusal to employ young people who use marijuana could reduce the worker supply.

“It’s a tough environment. Everyone in our industry is experiencing difficulties,” says Brian Luscomb, spokesman for San Diego–based Jack in the Box, one of the largest fast-food chains. “With unemployment low, workers have a lot more opportunities for going to other jobs” at higher wages.

Some fast-food chains have been forced to raise wages to attract workers. This may mean higher product prices, and that may force down profits. Jack in the Box has not done that yet, says Luscomb, noting that its competitors are in the same boat. “We’re in a low-margin business. We are hesitant when it comes to raising prices.”

The hotel/motel industry is hurting for labor, notes Blair. “It’s gotten tougher and tougher,” says Bob Rauch, chief executive of RAR Hospitality, which owns and manages 18 hotels, 11 in San Diego. Wages at his hotels have gone up 44 percent in recent years, in line with increases in the minimum wage. (The City of San Diego minimum wage is now $11.50 an hour, with future increases tied to the cost of living. For other cities in the county, the statewide minimum wage is $10.50 an hour for employers with 25 employees or fewer and $11 for those with 26 or more. In 2022, it will be $14 and $15, respectively.) But housing costs are less affordable in San Diego County than just about anywhere in the nation. Thus, employees making the minimum wage, such as housekeepers, are mercilessly squeezed. “A lot of single moms have to work two jobs,” says Rauch. But there can be upward mobility: some who begin as housekeepers can work up to $60,000 to $80,000 jobs, he says.

Employers in some cases pay above the minimum wage rate for unskilled people “just to retain new workers,” says Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Point Loma Nazarene University. In some competitive markets and industries, “It’s difficult to raise prices” to offset the effect of shortage-induced wage bumps, she says. Thus, “Employers are trying to improve productivity and efficiency.” But you can only squeeze so much juice from an orange.

In the area of skilled jobs, Reaser says hospitals are short of nurses (true throughout the U.S. for a long time) “and technology companies are trying to recruit software engineers.” Blair says there are openings at the University of California at San Diego, Northrop Grumman, and General Atomics.

“There have not been new agricultural visas available for several decades, and consequently, the farmworker population has pretty much aged out,” says Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. “With the current federal policies on folks coming from Mexico, there is a rapidly shrinking labor supply of people who come here legally.” For farmers, “It’s not wise to hire people who are not properly papered. Labor enforcement people can walk onto a farm anytime and demand” to see workers’ legalization papers.

Unlike retailers or manufacturers, farmers can’t hold on to their inventory until prices are favorable. “The grower can’t charge $2 for avocados when they are coming in from Mexico for $1,” he says, and most ag products can’t sit on the shelf until they are purchased. However, the politicians in Washington, D.C., “have no appetite for immigration reform to get people from Mexico to come here” and relieve the labor shortage, which is complicated by farmers’ difficulties meeting housing and transportation requirements.

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Unskilled labor is really not unskilled. You want proof? Find what you think is an unskilled job and try to do it. For all too long employers have used minimum wage as not a floor but a ceiling. For decades employers have filled the so-called unskilled jobs with people who needed work and were afraid to ask for a raise or even stand up for their rights. Employers have cheated them of overtime, failed to pay for all hours worked, required kick backs or used brokers to get workers not to mention using illegal immigrants to fill positions. Most employers of the kind mention in the article whine about regulations or labor laws or having to offer benefits beyond the wage itself. Most of the employers of "unskilled" and low skilled workers have relied on the largess of the taxpayer to provide for their workers what they themselves should have. I have no sympathy for the crybaby employers who have to pay above minimum wage just to attract a worker. I find it funny that these wealthy business people, labor brokers and know-it-all economists bemoan the fact that people are tired of working for poverty wages. Time to pay up.

AlexClarke: There is no question many employers cheat employees of overtime pay. That was going on at the Union-Tribune in the 30 years I was there. Also, employers known for scandalously low wages, such as Walmart, arrange worker schedules so that the workers cannot hold two jobs. As we have discussed here many times, the company that pays extremely low wages, requiring workers to get welfare, are stealing from the government. Best, Don Bauder

It's good to point out that the labor shortage has more to do with skilled workers than unskilled. A good example of that is when Phil Blair says there are openings at General Atomics, etc.. Any random person trying to apply at General Atomics will not even have their application considered because they most likely will not have the training/experience required for any of their jobs, which all have specific requirements for education, skills and experience. Any random person applying to a fast food restaurant or retail store will have their application considered because the job probably doesn't require much skill and can be learned by just about anyone after hire. But that doesn't mean such people have a good chance of getting hired. Compare the chances of a fully qualified person applying to General Atomics getting hired vs. any random person applying to a random fast food restaurant or retail store. Which one has a better chance of getting hired from that one job application? It's not as easy to get unskilled work as people might think. I know people who have applied to dozens of retail and fast food jobs and never got so much as an email or phone call in response.

Jefferson1776: My interviews indicate that there is a labor shortage of unskilled and low-skilled people. Some employers are finding it so hard to get workers that they are raising pay. However, interviews suggest that is the exception rather than the rule.

You are correct that the major labor shortage is among skilled workers, particularly in electronics. A few years ago, I wrote a lot about companies like Qualcomm bring in H-1Bs from overseas, particularly India, to do skilled work. But in my opinion, that was a ploy to lower wages of engineers, mathematicians and the like. Long-time engineers would be forced to train H-1Bs for their jobs. Then the long-time folks got laid off. Best, Don Bauder

Something's very wrong. I'm a Systems Engineer who has worked in the Information Technology field for thirty-years. I have numerous accomplishments and references, and no criminal record. Within the last seven-months or so, I have applied to more than forty open positions for which I’m qualified.

Each resume that I submit is highly customized to the job description and is accompanied by a custom cover letter. I am told by peers that my resume is well done (concise and free from error). I have yet to receive a response.

Jobs that are posted to LinkedIn will often show how many others have applied and their education level. Half of the jobs that I have applied for, pay as little as $20/hr to $25/hr, but are being perused by applicants that have a master’s degree in Business Administration or Engineering (I do not). Why are MBA’s applying for $20/hr jobs?

During my entire career I have not had as much difficulty as I have had this year. Also, I have a friend who has five-years in I.T. and has recently had similar difficulties. I find it hard to believe that there are currently more jobs than workers.

SystemsEngneer: I find this hard to believe, too. Could it be that employers are prejudiced against you because of something they don't want to discuss: racism, medical history, ageism, detectable marijuana use, for example? I would go to Manpower, quoted herein, and present your credentials and tell your story. Then come back here and tell me what you are told. I would like to hear from your friends who have experienced the same treatment, too. Best, Don Bauder

Your self-description has a tacit clue. You're experienced (aka "old"). Or as the quote from Mr Blair puts it, you've already have valuable (wage valuable) "skills" which actually are part of "attitude." Employers want robots that don't have ideas about what they expect in schedules and benefits, do things neither the right way nor the wrong way but the company way and most important of all, aren't as old as their parents. But you already know that. It's the unfairness and, more to the point as an engineer, counter-productivity you can't accept.

rehftmann: Yes, I think SystemsEngineer is experienced, but not necessarily old. You may have a point. Those of us who are old may not perform like robots: we may challenge our bosses, challenge a routine that has been in force for decades. Bosses don't like that. I've always thought that is one thing companies like about H-1Bs: they are thrilled to be in the U.S. and don't challenge the bosses. Best, Don Bauder

Stephen Merrill: From an economics perspective, you are right. In a labor shortage, wages should go up. They are creeping up now, but not going up adjusted for inflation. Thus, workers do not have more purchasing power. Also, when wages rise, the Federal Reserve historically worries about inflation and hikes interest rates. In our debt-laden society, higher rates may have an effect similar to inflation. Best, Don Bauder

Stephen Merrill: We experienced no multiple posts. Best, Don Bauder

Multiple posts are a good thing when you're putting up a fence!

dwbat: Multiple posts are embodied in the definition of a fence, it would seem to me. Best, Don Bauder

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