The national unemployment rate is 8.9 percent and even higher in places like Cambridge, Md. So you might find it strange to see NBC advocating an expansion of legal migrant labor when so many Americans are struggling.
Nonetheless, former "NBC Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw did just that in the first part of a new series called "American Character." The former anchor will travel U.S. Highway 50 from coast to coast to report on people struggling in this economy. On "Nightly News" May 27, Brokaw visited a crab picking house in Cambridge, Md. that's suffering from a shortage of workers.
"Jack Brooks runs J.M. Clayton's, one of the oldest crab processors in the area," Brokaw said. "He's got all the crabs he can handle. What he doesn't have, even in this brutal economy, is enough workers to pick them."
According to Brokaw, the county of Brooks' business is suffering from an 11.5 percent unemployment rate. But Brooks claimed he's unable to get people to work for him under the current conditions:
BROKAW: Jack, you've got 11-and-a-half percent unemployment in the county here. I would think you'd have people lined up out the door willing to help you pick.
BROOKS: I would think so, too.
BROKAW: Why not?
BROOKS: That's a good question. I don't know if it's the seasonality of the business. Have a look, it's tough work. We just had a job fair. We had seven companies participating in the job fair and we got eight applicants, eight applicants.
According to a couple of current employees, Brooks' troubles were a symptom of the current culture - that "young people" aren't into work. But Brokaw's segment argued the only solution was relaxing immigrant worker visa rules rather than making it more lucrative for employees to work for him in some way. No other view was expressed in the segment.
"With so few Americans willing to do this hard work, Brooks depends on seasonal workers, mostly from Mexico here legally under a visa program called H2V," Brokaw said. "The government has capped that program at 66,000. That's not nearly enough workers for the thousands of seasonal businesses and American workers who rely on them."
Brokaw also interviewed Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who has a track record of supporting relaxation of immigration laws across the board. According to Mikulski, she is championing this cause for businesses like Brooks' crab picking house and others like it.
"I am fighting for a policy that says if you come into America and work in a seasonal industry and go back home, you can come back in again, work for the same employer without touching an immigration cap," Mikulski said. "[T]he sensible center is having a comprehensive immigration policy, actually set caps on the number of people who come in, but reward the people who come in and return home by giving them an exemption from the cap and also reward the employer who goes by the rules."