Tech: More scrutiny for skilled-worker visas
The Trump administration is making it harder for Silicon Valley companies to hire workers from overseas, said Jing Cao and Joshua Brustein in Bloomberg.com. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued new guidelines last week for the H-1B work visa program, increasing scrutiny for applications from entrylevel computer programmers. Tech and outsourcing companies are the biggest users of the roughly 85,000 H-1B visas issued each year and often say they can’t find Americans with the right skills to fill the jobs. President Trump promised to crack down on the visa program during the campaign.
For now, “the changes are more cosmetic than substantive,” said Vindu Goel and Nick Wingfield in The New York Times. Still, bigger reforms could be on the way. Applications for entrylevel programmers have already been getting more scrutiny in recent years, but the Justice Department warned employers this week not to discriminate against American workers when making hiring decisions. While the biggest tech companies like Google and Facebook aren’t likely to be affected much in the short term, because they rely on H-1Bs for higher-skilled workers, the industry is bracing for more changes, possibly in the form of an executive order.
Aerospace: Boeing’s Iran deal tests Trump
Aerospace giant Boeing has agreed to sell 60 jets to Iran’s third-largest airline, a deal that will test President Trump’s “avowed hostility toward that country,” said Rick Gladstone in The New York Times. The $6 billion transaction, announced this week, is the first major deal by an American business with Iran since Trump took office, and must be approved by the U.S. government. Trump has repeatedly denounced the 2015 nuclear accord, which allows for commercial aircraft sales to Iran, but he has also pledged to protect American manufacturers. Boeing says the deal will create 18,000 U.S. jobs.
Retail: Payless files for bankruptcy
Payless ShoeSource has joined the “growing list” of chains driven into bankruptcy by online and discount retailers, said Krystina Gustafson in CNBC.com. The Topeka-based shoe chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week, announcing that it will immediately close nearly 400 of its 4,400 global stores as part of the reorganization. The company blamed “its crushing debt load and weak sales” for the move. Payless’ parent company was purchased in 2012 by private equity firms, leaving it “saddled with debt.”
Autos: Car sales down, discounts up
“The U.S. auto industry turned in an underwhelming performance in March,” said Nathan Bomey in USA Today. Automakers sold 1.56 million vehicles for the month, according to Autodata, down 1.6 percent from a year earlier. Most analysts had expected “a modest upturn.” Automakers have begun offering heavy discounts to clear out their growing backlog of unsold vehicles, especially of small cars. “Sales incentives rose 13.4 percent in March, compared with those of a year earlier, to an average of $3,511 per vehicle.” Even so, the industry is still in “decent shape,” coming off two consecutive years of record sales.
Economy: Productivity down for first time since 2009
The U.S. economy just got “a disturbing piece of bad news,” said Jeff Guo in The Washington Post. “Americans actually became less productive in 2016, the first time since 2009.” Overall efficiency fell roughly 0.2 percent in 2016, even though the economy grew 1.7 percent. That means any growth in the economy came solely from firms hiring more workers and buying more equipment, “not from improvements in technology or organization.” It’s a warning sign for the U.S. economy, which faces a shrinking workforce in the decades to come and will “need to find ways of doing more with fewer people.”