Delaware Public Media

Jim Zarroli

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The job market has improved greatly over the past decade, meaning the great majority of people who want to work can do so.

But one thing puzzles economists: The labor force participation rate has still not recovered to levels seen before the Great Recession. In other words, very many people have left the workforce and not returned. They may have done so for a variety of reasons, such as health, family problems or a simple desire not to work.

Ames, Iowa, has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. That's great for workers — but a challenge for those looking for them.

Tanisha Cortez is one of those benefiting from this tight labor market. The restaurant where Cortez worked closed in late November, so she went looking for a new job. She submitted applications to about half a dozen companies.

Almost right away, she got offers from every one of them. And she was working again at a new restaurant two weeks later. She will earn $2,000 more a year than she made at her old job.

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One morning a year ago, federal immigration agents swept into the Midwest Precast Concrete plant in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and arrested 32 men who were working there illegally.

"I was in the car eating when all of a sudden they all arrived," one worker tells NPR. "They took me out of the car and put handcuffs on me and on everyone else too. They even had a dog." The worker did not want his name used because his case is being heard by a judge.

Bob Best enthusiastically supports President Trump's tough policies against China and other countries.

"I'm not a big tariff guy. I'm a free trade guy," says Best, who manages a heating and air conditioning company in Kennesaw, Ga.

"But sometimes when the bully just doesn't listen, you've got to punch him in the mouth. And that's what he's doing."

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