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OM in the News: Illegal Immigrants Vacate Jobs that Americans Find Undesireable

November 15, 2011

When I was a young child, my dad proudly took me for a tour one Saturday morning of the meat processing plant, Dubuque Packing (home of the famous Dubuque ham), where he worked. Decades later, I still recall the stench, the noise from cows being slaughtered, and the massive cold and damp rooms. Jobs in slaughter houses, as are field-hand picking jobs, are unpleasant, with low pay and skimpy benefits.  As our US population has become better-educated, we seek office and manufacturing  jobs that have set hours, higher pay, and safer conditions–things we take for granted. Businessweek (Nov.10-17, 2011) tackles a tough issue of how illegal immigrants have taken over many of the dirty jobs Americans no longer aspire to.

In particular, this lengthy article deals with Alabama, which in September passed a law making it almost impossible to employ illegal immigrants, mostly Hispanic and heavily Guatemalan (the Hispanic population had grown from 1% in 1990 to 4% today). The law follows an anti-immigration sentiment throughout the country that has accompanied the recession. With 211,000 residents out of work and high unemployment rates (18% in some rural counties), the state’s ruling has resulted in an exodus of 1,000’s of  immigrant field hands, hotel housekeepers, dishwashers, and chicken plant employees.

The result:  employers trying to fill a massive number of vacant positions with Americans. But Americans are not interested in these jobs, and it’s not just because of the hard work and low pay. We have come to think of these jobs as beneath us, says a Princeton prof. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the job itself. In other countries, citizens refuse to take jobs Americans compete for. In Europe, auto manufacturing is an immigrant job category”.

Furious employers have bombarded their legislators with complaints of unpicked tomatoes, unmade beds, and uncleaned fish. This is a thoughtful article that you may want your students to read as you teach Chapter 10.

Discussion questions:

1. Why is this an important OM issue?

2. Should illegal immigrants be hired to do the jobs Americans don’t want?

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