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April 2018, Volume 24, Number 2

Labor, H-1B

The US added 313,000 jobs in February 2018, but only 103,000 in March 2018; the unemployment rate was 4.1 percent after 90 consecutive months of job growth. California added 14,000 jobs and had a 4.3 percent unemployment rate. The unemployment rate is based on a survey of 60,000 households, while the number of jobs created and average hourly earnings are from a survey of 200,000 employers.

President Trump and many Republicans want to expand the type of career and technical training that grants certificates to graduates who fill jobs that do not require a college degree. The federal Higher Education Act, which is being reauthorized, currently limits federal assistance to students who pursue certificates rather than degrees. Democrats who oppose the Trump plan to support certificate programs warn that more federal assistance would open the door to shoddy for-profit programs.

Some 1,600 community colleges offer career and technical training in health science, information technology, business management and other fields that result in certificates of accomplishment.

Whites received 65 percent of the college bachelor's degrees granted in 2015-16; Blacks 11 percent; Hispanics 13 percent; and Asians eight percent. Whites received 53 percent of the skill certificates granted in 2015-16; Blacks 18 percent; Hispanics 21 percent; and Asians five percent.

About 70 percent of high-school graduates were enrolled in two- or four-year colleges in 2017-18, up from 50 percent in 1980. However, ever-smaller cohorts of high school graduates are forcing some smaller and less highly rated liberal arts colleges to close.

DOL wants to allow employers to require tipped employees to pool and share tips, a step that worker advocates say could lead to employers taking some tips for themselves. DOL counters that the result could be higher wages for kitchen staff who do not receive tips. The National Restaurant Association supports tip sharing.

Amazon has over 125,000 workers in its US warehouses fulfilling customer orders. In February 2018, Amazon received a patent for a wristband that collects detailed information on the wearer, including where they are in the warehouse and how fast they move. The wristband can vibrate to guide workers and collect the data that could lead replacing people with robots.

Shipping firms say there are too few big-rig drivers. A third of the 1.7 million US commercial truck drivers are long-haul drivers who drive up to 11 hours a day; a 2010 federal survey found that 70 percent were obese. Driving schools train about 50,000 drivers a year at a cost of about $5,000, but the workforce is aging; the average age is approaching 50.

H-1B. The H-1B program allows for-profit employers to recruit 85,000 foreigners each year to fill US jobs for up to six years, including 20,000 for foreigners who earned Master's or PhD degrees from US universities. The cap on H-1B visas is usually reached within a week of employers being allowed to apply, which is April 1 for the fiscal year that begins the following October 1.

Employers requested 199,000 H-1B visas for FY18 during the first week of April 2018, down from 236,000 in FY17.

Some 2.5 million new H-1B visas were issued between 1990 and 2017, with the number ranging from 77,000 to 137,000 a year. Almost two-thirds of H-1B visas are for IT occupations, and two-thirds go to Indians. The 15,000-member American Immigration Lawyers Association in March 2018 complained that USCIS is slowing approvals of H-1B visas by requesting more evidence from employers.

In FY16, some 114,5000 H-1B visas were issued, including 60 percent to foreigners with master's degrees or more. The average salary of H-1B visa holders in 2016 was $90,000, about the same as the average $88,000 for all workers in computer-related occupations.

About 20 US firms, led by IT outsourcers who take over a firm's technology work, receive a third of H-1B visas. The Trump administration may end the distribution of H-4 work visas for spouses of H-1Bs.

Some employers are using NAFTA-TN visas to hire Canadian and Mexican professionals. TN-visas allow an unlimited number of Canadian and Mexican professionals to work in the US indefinitely. DHS recorded 674,000 TN visa crossings in FY16; if the same person entered the US several times, each entry is counted as a crossing. Mexicans obtain TN visas from Department of State, which issued 14,600 TN visas to Mexicans in FY16 and 16,000 in FY17.

DOS issued 393,600 F-1 visas to foreign students in FY17, down 40 percent from the peak in FY15. The number of Chinese and Indian students, the two largest sources, fell over 20 percent. The drop in foreign students is greatest for second- and third-tier US universities.

Medicaid. The Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health care, usually at no cost, to poor people. In some states, there is at least one person enrolled in Medicaid for every person required to get health insurance under the ACA but not receiving federal subsidies.

Kentucky and Indiana have waivers to require "able-bodied" recipients of Medicaid health care to work at least 20 hours a week. There is no standard definition of able-bodied, but most definitions exclude persons who are blind, disabled, elderly, or pregnant. England's 1601 poor law required local communities to collect taxes to provide aid to the "impotent poor." The "able-bodied" poor were required to work, and local leaders decided who was in each group.

In many states, Medicaid uses an income test to decide who is eligible for free or subsidized health care, a trend encouraged by the Affordable Care Act. The purpose of imposing work requirements and requiring the able-bodied poor to pay premiums is to keep "free riders" out of safety net programs.