Low tide for summer wages

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Some days I read the paper, and some days I just whap myself upside the head with it. This is one of my whapping days.

It's a story in USA Today about how there's such a shortage of summer workers this year that amusement parks, fast-food chains, bars and other summer tourist businesses are desperate for hired help. How desperate? So desperate, says the newspaper, that they've recruited workers from Slovakia, Lithuania, Spain, Macedonia and other exotic places to take summer jobs in America's beach towns and recreation parks.

Wait a minute. They have to import someone from Slovakia to work in a beach restaurant? "We're crying," one restaurant owner in Florida told USA Today. "We run help ads in the newspapers and sometimes we don't get anyone." He hired some workers from Czechoslovakia.

But here's the real story -- they're paying a pittance! The reporter writes that these businesses have tried everything, including "raising wages" to attract Americans. But it turns out they're only paying $5.25, $5.50, $5.75 an hour. The owner of a Wendy's franchise in Florida is quoted as saying that he raises the wages of those who stay for a month: "Once you find a good worker, you can't worry about how much you pay them -- you've got to keep them." Guess how much his big pay raise is? To six bucks an hour!

It's not like these businesses are hurting. As one business representative said: "Nobody is crying about their profits this summer."

I guess not, since they can bring Slovakians to keep American wages down. And get this: To import these workers, they're using a special visa program that lets foreign college students spend six months working in and touring the U.S. of A.

USA Today pitched the story as though it were the businesses that were being squeezed -- rather than Americans being squeezed out of these summer jobs.

Jim Hightower is an author, radio commentator, public speaker and political sparkplug from Austin, Texas. For more populist commentary, visit his website.

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