EPI Report Presents Misleading Data

EPI report states $1.8 in back wages were assessed in industries employing H-2B workers. But only 1% of the $1.8 billion in back wages were owed to H-2B workers.

On August 18th the Economic Policy Institute issued a report authored by Daniel Costa claiming that, “Employers stole $1.8 billion from workers in the industries that employed most H-2B workers over the past two decades.” The report is intentionally misleading. If readers see only the headline, their takeaway will be that H-2B employers were assessed $1.8 billion in back wage violations over the last twenty years. This is false.

The truth is that the H-2B back wage violations (i.e., violations assessed for incorrect wage payments to H-2B visa workers) represented approximately 1% of the total amount of back wages assessed.

In the Department of Labor (DOL) data cited in the EPI report, DOL lists the total amount of back wages assessed by occupation as well as the amount of H-2B back wages assessed. We can then use this data to determine the percentage of H-2B specific back wages as a percentage of the total assessed in the top seven H-2B occupations.

From 2012-2021, H-2B back wages accounted for only 1% of the total amount of back wages assessed. The DOL data does not provide H-2B back wages from 2000-2010 (and the data was incomplete for 2011).  We therefore calculated the percentage of back wages directly attributed to H-2B violations using the same date EPI claims to have utilized in their report.  Of the total $1.8 billion in back wages assessed by DOL over the past 20 years, the amount attributable to H-2B violations in the same seven H-2B occupations surveyed by EPI is approximately $17,360,241 – or less than 1%.

$17 million may seem significant but in the context of the amount of wages paid to H-2B workers over the last twenty years it, once again, represents a fraction of the total wages paid.  Between 2000 and 2021, H-2B workers received billions of dollars in wage payments. The back wages assessed represent approximately 1% of total wages paid.

This report is a classic hatchet job where the author hopes the reader sees only the headline and the executive summary but does not read the entire report. For instance, this is buried on page 15:

It is important to note that the violations and back wages owed that are detailed in these tables from WHD do not represent enforcement actions that involve only H-2B workers; they represent violations and back wages owed to any workers in the seven selected H-2B industries. These may include U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (i.e., green card holders), H-2B workers, or workers of any other immigration status, including unauthorized immigrant workers.

The House Judiciary committee is currently leading a negotiation with unions and H-2B stakeholders regarding reforms to the H-2B program. Politically motivated reports that twist the data seem to be conveniently designed to suit a false narrative being pushed by opponents to the H-2B program.  Both sides agree that violators of the H-2B program should be held accountable, but EPI falsely implying that the vast majority of H-2B employers are committing wage theft appears designed to undermine the current efforts to improve the H-2B program and works against an outcome that benefits American workers, H-2B workers and employers.

The Seasonal Employment Alliance calls on the Economic Policy Institute to retract this misleading report or, in the very least, alter the misleading headline to reflect the truth.

Percentage of H-2B Back Wages of Total Back Wages in Top H-2B Occupations from DOL Data


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