A housing crisis is clamping down on middle-income workers—teachers like Renata Sanchez—in prosperous California
A couple of electrical circuits in the basement of my house were acting up, and the nagging reality hit me: It’s time to call an electrician. No, Joel, I argued with myself, you can do this. It’s an obvious do-it-yourself assignment. But that’s when my visiting brother-in-law settled the matter. “Joel,” he said with finality, “it’s time to call an electrician.”
Which is why, for the third or fourth time in the last couple of months, I ended up getting another mini-lecture on the whys and wherefores of the immigration crisis that’s been shaping and reshaping our nation and culture.
Why, I asked the electrician the next afternoon while he nimbly corrected the problem that had eluded my limited skill set, has it become so hard to find and contract with you fellows in the construction trades? I told him how in the last few months our 60-year-old home had cried out not just for an electrician, but also for the services of a plumber, a brick mason, an excavator, a ceramic tile setter, and a drop ceiling installer. So why, in almost every case, did my conversation with these professionals inevitably turn to a labor market twisted by immigration policies and realities?
No, my wife and I heard. Don’t blame the immigrants. Responsibility, we were told, lies at the doorstep of Americans who don’t like hard work.
Are we ultimately the victims of our own success and prosperity? Have we come to despise hard work?
We got that message repeatedly, simply, and emphatically: Americans just don’t like to work. “I spend half my time,” the owner of one small plumbing firm told me, “looking for people who are ready to help me dig a ditch or crawl under a porch to run a water line. And when I finally do find them, I know it won’t be long before someone else discovers them and can pay them a better wage.”
The lament struck a familiar chord. For several months prior to my electrical issue, I had heard the same six-word complaint from a longtime WORLD member who owns and manages a significant farming operation. “Americans just don’t like to work,” he asserted, and even invited me to come and see for myself what he was talking about. His invitation was an expression of trust—based on my agreement not to identify him, the farm, or any of the laborers I might meet during such a visit. I’m still struggling to provide you readers with a significant report on what I’m learning through that visit to the farm, but without breaking my promise. That column is probably still several issues away.
And oh, yes. That visit to the farm involved an overnight stay. And my wife and I couldn’t help noticing who at the hotel was making our bed, cleaning our room, and waiting on the breakfast tables. Almost to a person, they appeared to be relatively recent immigrants, performing jobs (admittedly, perhaps low-paying ones) that many native-born Americans seem unwilling to do.
But back to my electrician for a related and perhaps even more distressing perspective. “Let me tell you,” he reported, “about a continuing education session I attended recently—something I have to do to keep my license current. I would guess there were about 75 people in the room—all renewing their licenses. What really got my attention was when the fellow in charge asked how many of us were under the age of 40. I think only two fellows raised their hands.”
So what happens when the next generation prospers enough to be able to afford to hire an electrician—only to discover there are no electricians to hire?
Are we ultimately the victims of our own success and prosperity? Have we come to despise the hard work that has pulled millions of Americans, whether native-born or newcomer, out of poverty and dependence?
I wonder, is this what happens to all the descendants of Adam and Eve? Is it part of the Fall? Is part of the price that everyone pays that even good old hard work (do we refer to it as “the sweat of our brow”?) becomes something to be avoided?