Cape Cod hires Serbs, Jamaicans

Summer jobs on Cape Cod are filled by college students — from Eastern Europe, writes James Kirchick in The Atlantic. A restaurant  hires Jamaicans on nine-month visas. The Massachusetts unemployment rate is 7.6 percent, but Cape businesses say they can’t find competent Americans to fill seasonal jobs.

Foreigners work harder say bosses and employees.

“They don’t ask about pay, overtime, take long breaks. They just do it,” Alexandra Ivanov, a 21-year-old Bulgarian currently spending her third summer in Provincetown working at a fudge shop and a clothing store, tells me about her fellow foreign laborers. “I don’t think Americans could do it like us.”

“We don’t see too many coming in for work,” David Oliver, owner of Cape Tip Sportswear Company, tells me when I ask him about the state’s 265,600 unemployed residents. Meanwhile, “every day, two or three” foreign students come into his shop looking to add another job to their repertoire. “In general, the foreigners work harder and are much more focused than the American ones,” he says.

The Lobster Pot restaurant in Provincetown staple employs 34 Jamaicans on the H-2B visa. (It’s a temporary visa, but workers keep coming back year after year.)

Three years ago, the last time there was a shortage of H-2B visas, he hired 30 Americans through a labor firm. On the very first day, McNulty says, he had to let four of them go because they “weren’t skilled” or “got into trouble with the cops.” That summer, the restaurant considered shutting down its lunch service due to the foreign worker shortage.

I visited Cape Cod seven or eight years ago for an economics ‘n journalism conference. All the hotel employees came from overseas; most were energetic, ambitious college students from Eastern Europe.

Unemployment was much lower then. You’d think U.S. college students — or unemployed adults — would be willing to work low-wage temporary jobs rather than sit at home.  Are the business owners unwilling to hire people who expect overtime and breaks?

A bill that would force employers to “e-verify” their workers’ legal status will drive away 70 percent of the agricultural workforce, farmers warn. Americans won’t pick crops.

Mike Carlton, director of labor relations for the Florida Fruit and Vegetables Association, . . . said his group monitored hiring by citrus growers, who are required to offer jobs to Americans before they can turn to the H-2A program for temporary foreign laborers.

In one sample, Mr. Carlton said, 344 Americans came forward to fill 1,800 pickers’ jobs; only eight were still working at the end of the two-month season.

Americans can earn the same money flipping burgers or cleaning hotel rooms, the farmers say.

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  1. I think the biggest issue is that most colleges don’t have a long enough summer break. Employers want folks who can work from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The colleges that break before Memorial Day tend to start back up again in mid-August and those that start up after Labor Day tend to break in June. So either way, the kids are missing one or the other of the “peak” weekends.

  2. Apart from the scheduling issues Crimson Wife identified, there is an almost comical emphasis on internships and activities that relate directly to one’s future career path. I think most kids would rather volunteer in their field of choice than work a “dead-end” service job.

    (Just for the record, I think there is a lot to be learned working a stressful, high-energy retail/manufacturing/service industry job, and that the focus on internships isn’t totally a positive development.)

    It could be difficult for an out-of-work adult who is actively and vigorously looking for work to take one of these jobs, too: they typically don’t offer the flexibility to take Tuesday afternoon off to go on an interview, etc. Furthermore a lot of folks might view working a minimum-wage service job as something that would hurt, not help, their standing in the eyes of prospective employees.

  3. The Commentariette says:

    The “Americans don’t work hard” is a canard. An American student benefits much less from doing exactly the same work as an overseas student.

    Consider the Serbian student in the article: The average pre-tax income in Serbia is ~500 EUR/month and unemployment is ~20%. A Serbian student working 40 hrs/week @ $6-7/hr is probably making more than his or her parents’ combined income.

    Expenses are much higher in the US, of course. But that works both ways. If a US student saves $400-500, that might cover his or her textbooks for next year (maybe). By contrast, the Serbian student is bringing home a substantial sum.

    The intangible value of the job is also quite different. For the Serbian student, an English language job and international experience are valuable resume points. For the US student, it’s a minimum wage job, with minimum resume value.

    In short, the job isn’t useful for a US student- he or she is probably better off doing an unpaid internship that leads to post-graduation employment (especially living at home). And lo! we see incredibly smart, hard-working US students competing for good internships.

    By contrast, these “Cape Cod” jobs are a great opportunity for students from Eastern Europe and with the best of them competing for these positions.

    People should push back more on the “Americans don’t work hard” notion – it’s simply not true.

  4. As someone who spends his summers managing a small business at the beach, this is something I’ve seen firsthand. Luckily, due to the nature of my business, we can get decent college aged help.

    However, other businesses (usually food-service), have horrible luck with their American employees. Serving ice cream, for example, is not a difficult job. It is hard for an employer to justify paying someone over $10 an hour to dip icecream. A lot of the US born employees just aren’t reliable at below $10 an hour. They frequently call in sick, have to be constantly micromanaged to stay on task, and often seem to think that its their right to have a job, no matter how well they do it.

    The foreign workers (mostly eastern European here), are entirely different. They work hard, show up every day, and are grateful for the job. They actually work when they’re in the business, instead of spending time trying to avoid doing work.

  5. The Commentariette says:

    Summer resort jobs are designed for students and young people and aren’t plausible for unemployed adults.

    By definition, these jobs are in non-commutable areas with very small year round populations. (Even Boston out to the outer Cape is ~2hrs by car.) That means that the summer workforce has to be imported (whether US or international) and that housing is correspondingly extremely limited. Summer workers generally stay in hostel or bunkhouse-type accommodation: One needn’t imagine Dickensian abuse to see that it’s not suitable for people with children.

    Moreover, these jobs can’t lead to continuing employment, no matter how good the employee, and resort areas tend not to have much year-round employment. So there’s no point in going there in the context of a long-term job hunt.

    That means that even someone who’s child-free (unless he or she is already couch surfing / living with parents) has to either rent/sublet his or her current place or pay for two places in order to have somewhere to return once the summer is over.

    Between the limited resume benefit of these jobs and complete lack of future job potential associated with them, as well as the lack of suitable accommodation for families, I don’t think most adults are being unreasonable for not seeking them out.

  6. This is a basic issue of supply and demand.

    Massachusettes unemployed folk are not willing to do that work in those conditions that thay level of pay. In response to that, the employer would have to raise wages (or improve working conditions) to find people willing take the jobs.

    But by being able to bring in people on these visas, the employer can find people willing to do that work in those conditions at that wage.

    Foreigners and immigrants do NOT take jobs that americans and residents want AT THAT WAGE & CONDITIONS. But the government allows employers to bypass worker demands by bringing in outsiders.

    There is no reason why employers cannot offer a better wage or working conditions. They would only have raise prices a tiny bit to raise wages substantially.

  7. There is no reason why employers cannot offer a better wage or working conditions. They would only have raise prices a tiny bit to raise wages substantially.

    Hilarious – your innumeracy and lack of business sense is astounding.

  8. Soapbox0916 says:

    Ironically I am certain that these countries have a few people that claim they have lazy people that won’t fill thier jobs back home too.

    This reminds me of an article I just read by Paul Campos called Life on the Dole. It is about a 1936 study of the Great Depression in Northern England, but it reads like something that is written today.

  9. Lots of Eastern (and Western) Europeans work the ski slopes and casinos in the Lake Tahoe area. I’m at a loss to explain why Americans won’t do *those* jobs.