Carnival Come-On: Be Our (Guest) Workers



Amidst America’s multiple crises, brace yourself for another: a shortage of carnival workers.

“Save the spring and summer. Pass H-2B cap relief now!” barks CarnivalWarehouse.com.

The carnival industry is one of several low-skill sectors that subsist on cheap imported labor. Along with landscapers, forestry hands, housekeepers and meatpackers, nearly 70 percent of seasonal carnival positions are filled via H-2B guest worker visas. A new report shows that 90 percent of foreign laborers were hired with no training; 97.3 percent of the jobs had no education requirements.

Corporate demand for H-2Bs is so robust that the government website which processes certifications crashed earlier this month. More than 97,800 worker requests were pending at the time.

Carnival operators worry that prolonged budget gridlock in Washington will hurt their business, as they continue to lobby for “H-2B cap relief” that will permit them to import even more foreign laborers.

Not satisfied that America’s H-2B ranks swelled 79 percent from 2013 to 2018 (82,307 to 147,592), dependent industries seek evermore bodies. And they want them at the lowest possible cost.

H-2B workers are paid as much as 30 percent below national averages in their respective fields. At $9.94 per hour, carnival workers earn 9.6 percent less than the industry-wide mean, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

President Donald Trump praised foreign guest worker programs like H-2B during the 2016 campaign, telling business executives: “We’re gonna let them in because you need them.” He reiterated that pledge last year. (Meantime, the Department of Labor certified 14 foreign guest workers for employment at the Trump National Golf Club.)

But what’s good for country clubs and carnivals isn’t so great for working-class Americans struggling on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

“It inevitably leads to depressed wages for U.S. workers competing for these same jobs in the same geographic area. Many of those shut out of jobs or experiencing wage depression are less educated, less skilled Americans who are already marginalized,” observes Preston Huennekens of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Instead of rubberstamping more H-2B visas, Congress ought to improve and expand the recruitment of U.S. workers.

“Labor contractors should be incentivized to find local talent or workers from within the country for employers,” Huennekens suggests. “The economic and social benefits could be truly transformative for the workers and the communities where the jobs are located.”

That may be a foreign concept to carnival operators and other bottom-feeders; it should be as American as a slice of apple pie on the midway.

About Author

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Bob Dane, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)'s Executive Director, has been with FAIR since 2006. His deep belief is that immigration is the most transformational determinant of where we are heading as a nation and that our policies must be reformed in the public interest. Over many years on thousands of radio, TV and print interviews, Bob has made the case that unless immigration is regulated and sensibly reduced, it will be difficult for America to reduce unemployment, increase wages, improve health care and education and heighten national security. Prior to joining FAIR, Bob spent twenty years in network radio, marketing and communications after an earlier career in policy and budgeting within the Reagan Administration. Bob has a degree from George Mason University in Public Administration and Management.

10 Comments

  1. avatar

    Who Can Afford Carnival Rides Anymore?

    On $13/hr Amazon burger flipper warehouse slave wages in America now?

    Where’s the real parts processing manufacturing engineering in America to raise wages….extinct with the dinosaurs or killed off by Chinese Overlords?

  2. avatar

    I heard of Asians being educated and skillful, hope, the will open the doors more for the Asians, we need more hard worker. Make their pay at least $15 per hour. America will become great again

    • avatar

      Missy , what about Americans with no education ; they are there and in need of work . Why bring foreigner .??????????? Those uneducated Americans are that way because no funds to go to school or other reasons . They are Americans and they need help . An American can be working at 7/11 or at a motel or hotel instead of a foreigner . A foreigner is wanted because he will be happy with a minimum wage . A foreigner or illegal gets $6 per hr. and you see 8 or 10 of them in a house or apartment . Americans have a different ” Standard of Living ” ; One American family per house .
      I am positively sure that your ” Standard ” are what I explained .
      America is our Land and Americans have the Right to work . Corporate America , CEOs , Corporation do not care about Americans ; ALL they care is Low skilled foreigners at $ 6.00 per Hr. An American needs at least 3 times more , $18 per Hr. , to just survive . I hope you see my point . Thank you .

  3. avatar

    Mr. Dane

    In only 21 sentences, you managed to trip over more falsehoods than any good-faith debater could have accomplished by neglect or ignorance. Please, sir, cite your evidence, or spend a few minutes and get educated – unless, of course, facts don’t matter to a fundraising “advocate.”

  4. avatar

    What a great guess! Maybe I can speculate(without facts of course) about how you run your business.

    These “gypsy” owners you speak of attended colleges such as Duke and Northwestern, contribute to the communities they serve and are proud to have one of the best safety records of any business of its kind.

    Where do you get your information that safety is neglected? Why would your discourse sink so low that facts are completely ignored? The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports more injuries from pick-up basketball games and billiards than amusement ride injuries

    The fact of the matter is that it is very difficult to hire Americans who can pass a drug test and background check and are willing to do the hard labor the work requires. Welfare incentivized people to do nothing at all. Most carnivals I know would love to hire American citizens but they are in short supply hence the need for guest workers.

    Contrary to what the article states, the guest workers were more expensive than hiring local labor and have raised wages in the industry. Most business owners, there are good and bad in every industry, are willing to pay for good work, it’s just increasing hard to find the workers to do the job well.

    • avatar

      Ron W
      some of your points are correct ; there are lazy Americans , some on drugs and can`t pass a drug test . But not all Americans are alike . There are dependable people that need to work .
      Now : CEOs , Corporations , Corporate America , they all prefer foreigners or illegals so they pay them 1/3 of what an American needs to survive . They can bunch up 10 in a room and survive with rice and beans . We Americans have a Standard of Living that is the opposite of foreigners and illegals . Thanks for your time .

      • avatar

        Hard working dependable people don’t have a problem finding work as a carnie or otherwise. I’m a social worker in ID. I regularly see Americans living much like what’s described by the right as living conditions of migrants. Multiple families in one home only 1 or 2 working menial jobs to fill in the gaps that welfare doesn’t cover. I have a whole board full of jobs that need to be filled that pay $13 to $18 an hour. These people will take 1 referral and I wont hear from them again often until I call them to see how the interview went; and I’ll get “they want me to work on Sunday” or “they want me to buy my uniform” ect.

  5. avatar

    A lot of these gypsy “carnival” operators give rather short shrift to safety concerns as they move their equipment from one short-term location to another. Is it any wonder that they seek compliant workers who won’t ask too many questions? It’s a largely CASH business – perfect for labor exploitation and tax evasion. My guess is that they have a few “legal guest workers” as window-dressing and fill out the rest of the crew with illegal aliens.

    • avatar

      I do agree with you . Majority are Illegals working under the table and at maybe $5 per hr.
      An American can`t survive at that price . Foreigners are coming here to be Taxi Drivers , 7/11 , hotels , motels clean up crew . Why is that .??????????????????
      Corporate America , Corporations , CEOs , etc. do not give a damn about Americans ; all they look is Their Pockets and Interests . Greedy Scumbags .

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