Washington, DC — A recent article in the Washington Post highlights the efforts by Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey to make Pittsburgh home to more immigrants, recognizing the role immigrants play in strengthening the economy, addressing worker shortages, and enriching local communities.
It underscores many of the observations about persistent labor shortages in this newly updated U.S. Chamber of Commerce overview Understanding America’s Labor Shortage: The Most Impacted States,
The Post article reports that “in cities throughout the Rust Belt and Midwest in particular, many local leaders still view foreign-born residents as lifelines for rejuvenating the population, enhancing the workforce and transforming local cultures that have yet to catch up to the breadth of the nation’s diversity.”
As the Pittsburgh Mayor’s “friendly tone in Pittsburgh proves, the inflow of migrants is seen as a difficulty in a relatively small number of communities, leaving vast stretches of the country wondering why more people are not showing up there. “
“We are not here to reject any immigration. As a matter of fact, we want to make this the most safe, welcoming, thriving place in America, and you can’t do that without immigration,” Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey (D) said in an interview, adding that he does not make distinctions on the basis of someone’s immigration status or how the person entered the country. “Why wouldn’t we want them?”
The reaction of Gainey, and of many other residents in these hilly, ethnically distinct neighborhoods built by the nation’s initial waves of immigrants, contrasts sharply with the stance being taken by leaders in New York and other East Coast cities as the rift over where, how quickly and at whose cost tens of thousands of migrants should resettle in the United States.
But as Gainey’s friendly tone in Pittsburgh proves, the inflow of migrants is seen as a difficulty in a relatively small number of communities, leaving vast stretches of the country wondering why more people are not showing up there. In cities throughout the Rust Belt and Midwest in particular, many local leaders still view foreign-born residents as lifelines for rejuvenating the population, enhancing the workforce and transforming local cultures that have yet to catch up to the breadth of the nation’s diversity.
In recent months, communities including Detroit; Dayton, Ohio; and Erie, Pa. — all places experiencing population loss — have been working with outside experts on how to transform city services to meet the needs of immigrants. One city, Topeka, Kan., is being even more aggressive, offering legal migrants up to $15,000 to move there.
Yet it is Pittsburgh, a city expected to be at the center of the 2024 election, that offers a preview of opportunities and tensions that could exist, should the domestic migration of immigrants spread to a new tier of states and cities in the coming months.
With Pittsburgh’s 3.6 percent unemployment rate hovering near a 30-year low, local businesses say they are desperate for more workers, especially in low-skill jobs such as kitchen staff and manual laborers.
In the city’s Larimer neighborhood, Marty Scott is the director of sales at RS Supply, which sells toilet paper and other paper products to about 50 businesses, schools and churches. But in recent months, Scott has struggled to find enough drivers to make the deliveries.
“They call and are like, ‘We need toilet paper tomorrow,’” Scott said. “And I have to be like, ‘Well, I need to find someone who can drive.’”
Thinking immigrants can help, Scott recently contacted the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Hello Neighbor, asking whether leaders at the immigrant-assistance organization could recommend anyone.
“If I can find someone and help them provide for their family at the same time, it doesn’t matter your race, ethnicity or religion; we need help, and we can help you at the same time,” Scott said.
The labor shortage is not limited to the city.
On the north side of the Allegheny River across from Pittsburgh, bars in the working-class borough of Millvale can offer more than 40 flavors of chicken wings. But during the evening rush, patrons are often told they will have to wait an hour or more for their order because of limited kitchen staff.
Sean Dwyer Enright, the owner of the newly opened Poetry Lounge in Millvale and author of a book on “Pittsburgh cocktails,” said more immigration could help ease what he has described as a restaurant industry staffing crisis.
“We just need bodies,” Dwyer Enright said. “It’s incredibly hard finding kitchen people, dishwashers, and even [finding] servers can be tricky,”