Foreign employees at American amusement parks during economic boom
"The Boys (and Girls) of Summer," Newsweek, August 30, 1999
Seasonal employment at summer vacation locations in America normally goes to American high school or college students. As the economy booms, more people take summer vacations and amusement parks are more crowded, which necessitates additional workers at the parks. Yet, thanks to the booming economy of the late 1990s, American students could get jobs with much higher salaries and better living arrangements. Working at amusement parks during the summer often entails crowded dwellings or long commuting from home. Since regular summer jobs were easily available to American students in their own towns, they preferred not to work very arduous jobs at the amusement parks.
Then, how could the amusement parks legally attract sufficient workers only for summer season? One way was to raise the hourly wage combined with decent living accommodations. This would raise the price of amusement parks, and higher prices would reduce demand for park services. Another way was to fill the required labor force with foreign guest workers only for the summer period. Many foreign students wish to spend their summer vacations in America, and although salaries at amusement parks are at the legal minimum wage level, it is quite attractive to foreign students in comparison with available salaries in their own countries.
The American government permits foreign students to work during summer vacations in order to earn income and experience and close personal contacts with American society and its people. As a consequence, there are more than 40,000 foreign students, mostly from European countries, especially eastern Europe, working during the summer on the eastern coast of the United States . In some amusement parks, 25% of entire work forces are foreign students on summer work programs. An extreme case is a summer resort in New Jersey where 90% of workers are foreign students. Without them, the owner confesses that the place may have to be closed, because paying significantly higher salaries to American workers would have put the price of the resort totally out of competition with other parks with foreign workers. For most American students, summer work ends with the Labor Day. Yet, many foreign students are glad to stay much longer beyond Labor Day, and this is also a great plus to summer businesses.
In fact, all passenger vacation cruise ships operating in America are almost 100% manned by foreign workers. Operation of vacation cruises is very labor intensive. Passengers on vacation want to be pampered. They are fed at least five times a day and entertained nightly by Las Vegas style live shows. These services require a large number of workers, because automated machines are no substitute for the attentive and friendly services of human workers. As a consequence, the ratio between passengers and crew members is 2 to 1, which means for every two passengers, there is at least one crew member serving them. Even at the level of the legal minimum wage in America, the labor cost is too prohibitive to run a cruise profitably. As a consequence, practically all crew members are foreign workers contracted to work for a number of years. While on cruise, they work seven days a week about 12 to 15 hours a day. Every year, they have one month leave with company paid transportation to and from home.
According to American standards, such work requirements may seem totally unacceptable. Yet the fact that cruise companies can easily fill their staffing needs suggests that supply and demand of labor is significantly different around the world.