Aging, Immigration And Workers

Larry Price
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Wednesday - October 01, 2008
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About 10 years ago, management guru Peter Drucker predicted that “the center of gravity in employment is moving fast from manual and clerical workers to knowledge workers.”

Now, work-force demographics are changing, making hiring good employees very difficult.

Our labor force is getting older. There are about 11 percent fewer Americans born between 1966 and 1985 than there were in the 20 years after World War II.

And there’s more. The work force is not only becoming older, it is becoming more multi-ethnic. It is estimated that in the years between 2004 and 2014, the white labor force will grow by 7 percent, compared to Asians by 32 percent and others by 30 percent. Women workers will increase to 60 percent by 2014 and by then the number of people in the labor force between the age of 55 and 64 will increase by about 7 million through 2014. Workers will forgo retirement and employers will hire back many of those who have retired. And with the economy getting tighter, it won’t be a pretty picture.


For most of the U.S., this means many employers will focus particularly on the aging of the work force. That, in turn, means more employers’ concern over the number of workers with eldercare responsibilities.

In Hawaii, this also means higher rates of immigration. We have already seen the tip of the immigration problem. Federal agents conducted a raid on a Maui condominium construction site and arrested 21 illegal immigrant workers. It is the same construction site that federal agents raided and arrested 23 workers from three different companies. Even more curious is the “illegals” came from Mexico, Brazil and Slovakia.

How do employers find workers in far-off lands?

The simple answer is they are recruited. The way it’s done now is a lot different than in the sugar plantation days. Then, they hired professional recruiters to find workers in Japan, Portugal, the Americas and the Philippines in person and bring them back on ships. Today, the Internet has made it much easier. The new technology means personnel departments have little difficulty building pools of recruits to choose from, ready and willing to seek employment in Hawaii and prosper in paradise.

It’s unlikely the government can stem the tide of “illegal” or “undocumented” workers to Hawaii. It may be a good time for the government and its industrial relations department to seek the assistance of local and national unions. The emergence of union legislation in the 1930s added the responsibilities of protecting personnel departments. This is a good suggestion, because as we have all seen in places like Samoa and Palau, the legislation also created the potential for handling and processing discrimination-related lawsuits and penalties, and general oversight about how immigrant workers should be treated.


The legislation also helps employers to comply with immigration laws. The back-to-back raids on Maui a couple of weeks apart are proof that some in charge don’t know the U.S. immigration laws apply in Hawaii. Prospective employees can prove their eligibility to work here in two ways. First is to show a document such as a U.S. passport. Second, show an alien registration card with a photograph that proves the individual’s eligibility to work in Hawaii. It’s also possible, but much harder, to obtain a person’s employment eligibility by applying for a work permit. Problem with that is a lot of them are fakes.

Those choosing to take a chance on using illegal immigrant workers should be advised that not only is it against the law with heavy fines possible, the Department of Homeland Security recently started pressing criminal charges against suspected violators. Once employers get involved in the arena, they can face some really severe penalties.

It is socially intelligent for employers to protect themselves and avoid accusations of hiring illegal workers by conducting employment verification, criminal records checks, drug screening and reference checks. An easier way is to hire someone who knows how to deal with these kinds of workers.

All of the research and literature indicate the problem of illegal immigrant workers in a global economy, especially Hawaii, is going to get much worse before it gets better.

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