"Demand for [workers] willing to work 12-hour days in sometimes dangerous conditions, while living for weeks in dusty small [mining] towns, is huge.
"It's an historical shortage," says Sigurd Mareels, director of global mining for research firm McKinsey & Co. Not just in Australia, but around the world. In Canada, for example, the Mining Industry Council foresees a shortfall of 60,000 to 90,000 workers by 2017. Peru must find 40,000 new miners by the end of the decade.
Behind this need for mine workers is a construction boom in China and other emerging economies that has ramped up the demand for iron ore, used to make steel, and other metals used in construction, such as copper, typically used for wiring buildings.
The [labor] shortage is particularly acute in Australia, the world's biggest source of iron ore and the world's second-biggest gold producer. The Minerals Council of Australia estimates the country needs an additional 86,000 workers by 2020, to complement a current work force estimated at 216,000.
"It's a tight labor market and difficult cost environment," said Ian Ashby, president of BHP BillitonLtd.'s iron-ore division. To attract workers, BHP and other companies are building recreation centers, sports fields and art galleries in hardscrabble company towns."
MP: Maybe that's what will happen in places like Williston, ND?
"Alabama enacted an immigration law in September that requires police to question people they suspect might be in the U.S. illegally and punish businesses that hire them. The law, known as HB56, is intended to scare off undocumented workers, and in that regard it’s been a success. It’s also driven away legal immigrants who feared being harassed.
[There] are [now] thousands of vacant positions and hundreds of angry business owners staring at unpicked tomatoes, uncleaned fish, and unmade beds. “Somebody has to figure this out. The immigrants aren’t coming back to Alabama—they’re gone,” says Randy Rhodes, owner of Harvest Select, a catfish processing plant. “I have 158 jobs, and I need to give them to somebody.”
There’s no shortage of people he could give those jobs to. In Alabama, some 211,000 people are out of work. In rural Perry County, where Harvest Select is located, the unemployment rate is 18.2%, twice the national average. One of the big selling points of the immigration law was that it would free up jobs that Republican Governor Robert Bentley said immigrants had stolen from recession-battered Americans. Yet native Alabamians have not come running to fill these newly liberated positions.
Many employers think the law is ludicrous and fought to stop it. Immigrants aren’t stealing anything from anyone, they say. Businesses turned to foreign labor only because they couldn’t find enough Americans to take the work they were offering.
At a moment when the country is relentlessly focused on unemployment, there are still jobs that often go unfilled. These are difficult, dirty, exhausting jobs that, for previous generations, were the first rickety step on the ladder to prosperity. They still are—just not for Americans."
MP: More evidence that there's been a structural shift in the U.S. economy (especially the second story), leading to a temporary mismatch between the jobs available (which might be plentiful) and the skills and willingness of available employees to fill those jobs (which might be scarce), which is contributing to a stubbornly high jobless rate.