A surplus of nonexistant workers?

Many years ago I worked in the US defense industry, in an engineering capacity.  In the mid 1990s that work declined significantly due to lack of Soviet-scale threats and I bounced around a bit before landing in consumer hand tools.  Competition for engineering positions was fierce at the time, due to so many former highly-skilled defense workers on the job market.

Simultaneously, corporate leaders were lobbying Congress for reform of H1-B visa rules.  The goal was to increase quotas of guest workers.  The argument was that there were not enough qualified native candidates, especially in IT.  Readers may recall that correcting potential “Y2K bugs” (a very real problem at the time) drove massive demand for data managers and coders.

Many of us on the working end knew the rationale for visa expansion was crap.  We were well-aware that there were plenty of unemployed and even more underemployed technical types available in the US.  We knew that some companies were abusing the non-immigrant worker system to drive salaries down and at the same time asking for more loopholes for further abuse.  And as we now suffer the throes of another devastating recession, some are calling for another look at the H1-B programStatistics from 2006 indicate that something is indeed wrong with the program.

I recently read with incredulous eyes that AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson was claiming in March 2008 that there was still a shortage of skilled workers in the US.  While the global economy had not yet tanked by that date, there were surely 3600 qualified candidates out of the 300 or so million in the general population.  What Stephenson was actually saying is that there were not 3600 people at the same pay scale as those AT&T had previously employed in India.  The CEO partially blames the high school dropout rate, but I see a direct correllation between perceived opportunities and interest of students.

I have had plenty of time to reflect on the frightening US jobs situation during my unemployment.  A few days ago I asked a fellow layoff target if he would have accepted a pay cut (of, say, 10%) in lieu of release from his position.  He readily said yes, echoing my own sentiments.  My word to those who decry such capitulation is that it is coming.  A global economy ultimately drives leveled wages.  In addition to deflation of housing values and other investments we will eventually see deflation of wages, just as happened to IT workers after the 2000 tech bust.  It is just a shame some of us will not be proactively offered the option.

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