22 October 2011

Before you exclude illegal immigrants...

Excerpts from an Associated Press story in the Cullman Times:
Potato farmer Keith Smith saw most of his immigrant workers leave after Alabama’s tough immigration law took effect, so he hired Americans. It hasn’t worked out: Most show up late, work slower than seasoned farm hands and are ready to call it a day after lunch or by midafternoon. Some quit after a single day...

Politicians who support the law say over time more unemployed Americans will fill these jobs. They insist it’s too early to consider the law a failure, yet numbers from the governor’s office show only nominal interest...

Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican who signed the law, started a program last week to help businesses, particularly farmers, make up for the lost labor. So far, about 260 people interested in temporary agricultural jobs have signed up. About three dozen job openings have been posted... the department doesn’t know of anyone who has been hired...

At his farm, field workers get $2 for every 25-pound box of tomatoes they fill. Skilled pickers can make anywhere from $200 to $300 a day, he said.  Unskilled workers make much less.

A crew of four Hispanics can earn about $150 each by picking 250-300 boxes of tomatoes in a day... A crew of 25 Americans recently picked 200 boxes — giving them each $24 for the day.

It may make sense for some to sit on the couch. Unemployment benefits provide up to $265 a week while a minimum wage job, at $7.25 an hour for 40 hours, brings in $290.

Spencer said the Americans he has linked up with farmers are not physically fit and do not work fast enough.
More at the link.


  1. It is not that Americans do no want to do the work, it's that they do not want it for the price/salary that's being offered.

    Republicans are oddly blind for the fact that illegal labor is highly underpriced, and a massive distortion of their so-beloved free market. They are also oddly blind for the fact that by being harsh on illegals, they are hurting farmers, who are traditionally part of their base.

    Furthermore, by throwing out illegals, they are hurting *all* Americans because fruits and veggies become more expensive.

    Have you noticed that lettuce is kinda crappy the last year? That is a direct result of Arizona's strict immigration law. Arizona (apparently) is the US's main supplier of lettuce, and without illegals, they can't pick the lettuce as well.

    The result? Expensive, low quality lettuce for everyone.

  2. Why would we exclude anyone? Period. I can see undergoing a routine security evaluation before entering the country, but other than that, why would we exclude people from coming here and working?

    Open the borders and eliminate the minimum wage. Let perfectly capable individuals decide what picking a box of fresas or uvas is worth.

  3. Bret, I do not know what you do for a living but I am pretty sure there is someone on this planet that is more than willing to do it as well or better for less than half of what you are making.

  4. Jasper, I see your point. Nobody in my neighborhood would want to pay for 'legal' gardening services, roofers, fence builders, etc.: It would be far too expensive if these services carried 1099s, proper insurance, etc..
    After all, even our politicians get busted for illegal nannies and such.
    I do not think the giant sucking sound we've heard since NAFTA can be attributed to tomato pickers!

  5. Anonymous,

    I don't need protectionist policies to protect my job. Regardless of what I decide to do. Right now my technical specialty is in high demand but I hold no illusions that it will be more pervasive and done cheaper in the future.

    Sitting tight and expecting the military to protect me by force is unacceptable.

  6. Any law which can not or will not be enforced weakens the rest of our laws. Is that what we really want?

  7. Hey Bret!

    What are ya, a f***in' COMMIE!? That sounds like terr'ist talk. I might hafta call summun 'bout this....

    (In case it is not apparent, that was deep, deep sarcasm.)

  8. Isn't this pronouncement a little premature? C'mon, has anyone watched "Dirty Jobs"? Are those people--mostly citizens or legal workers--slackers? Of course the farmers who are used to workers who are accustomed to that work will say anyone else is pathetic in comparison. They're not very loyal to their fellow citizens and the American consumer is not very loyal to them.

    The American spirit is--or at least it was--persistent in pursuit of achievement. Individuals don't get there overnight. I'd rather pay a tad more to support migrant American farm workers (a fairer wage would be a good start), than migrant workers here without permission. The country of which trespassers are citizens should be held much more accountable.

    If picking blueberries too hard, then either make it easier. When child labor was common place, they were forced to work in ghastly conditions. If that can be corrected, so can blueberry picking.

    Cesar Chavez, remember him? He was against illegal "immigration" because it depressed the wages of citizen/ green card/ work visa workers.

    The corporate farms in particular are notorious for whining as soon as possible to guilt us into going right back to the status quo.

    The Cullman Times is either a tool for the political left (ahem) or they're panicking.

  9. *If picking blueberries is too hard, then make it easier.

  10. OK, so some Americans aren't able to pick potatoes as fast as illegal immigrants and thus can't make a living at doing it. But is that really a fair comparison?

    The immigrants are picking to save their lives and the lives of their families back home. To them, $150 a day picking potatoes is comparable to us earning $1,000 per day playing video games - easier work than they're used to for much higher pay than they're used to.

    We should be using US workers as the standard for compensation. If the average US worker can only pick 3 or 4 boxes per hour instead of 8 or 9 boxes per hour, then the minimum pay should be based on that.

    These farms are yet another party pushing us toward the race to the bottom. Keith Smith is using classic arbitrage to make his profits - the people who work for him can't afford to buy his potatoes, and the people who buy his potatoes can't afford to work for him.

    (P.S. I'd take the entire article with a grain of salt - it is clearly cherry picking the stats. If you get $2 per box, then you can earn $150 by picking *exactly* 300 boxes - not "250 to 300" boxes).

  11. Thankfully Also Not A PoliticianOctober 24, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    "If the average US worker can only pick 3 or 4 boxes per hour instead of 8 or 9 boxes per hour, then the minimum pay should be based on that..."

    So, your recommendation would be to keep out the illegals and let the labor cost for potatoes (and tomatoes and lettuce and oranges and other hand-harvested food) increase by 100-200%.

    That would be interesting.

  12. I still thinks it's all going to end up inside the private prison industrial complex.

    Hopefully, these establishments will also fall under direct scrutiny and somehow be checked before we become a complete slave nation.

  13. There is really no easy answer to this immigration thing. I am irritated at many of our politicians and citizens here (I am in Birmingham, AL) because they believe you can just flip a switch and force everyone into compliance with immigration law overnight.

    This has been going on so long that huge sectors of the economy are based on cheap illegal labor (much of which has been actively recruited in Mexico - see poultry farms!). When you change that overnight - what was done here - you create all sorts of problems. I believe a gradual phased-in approach over time, allowing for amnesty and a path to citizenship, would have made more sense. As it is, anyone with brown skin can be harassed and detained... so much of this workforce - even the legal immigrants - has left the state, with no viable substitute as yet. This is causing many Alabama business - not just farms, but restaurants, landscaping, construction, etc. to fall on even harder times...

    As for the legal unemployed folks, many of the people out of work are college graduates skilled at sitting behind a desk all day, who have no experience with manual labor. You can't put them in a field picking tomatoes any more than you can put a tomato picker in an office and have him crank out finance spreadsheets. These are not interchangeable jobs... they could, maybe, over a period of time, learn those skills and build up muscles but they are not immediately interchangeable. That said, I do not know for a fact this is the unemployed population that has been thrown at the problem. There are other unemployed masses that have neither set of skills, which is truly unfortunate and a testament to our failing schools and parents.

    Anyway, what we have here is a mess, and what has been done via the new state immigration law has been a thoughtless, dispassionate, racist, xenophobic, reactionary stab at a 30-year problem, which could and should be solved in other ways, gradually over time.

    Also I would like to note that there are those who would deny the American dream to these tomato-picking/chicken-plucking immigrants, when they work much harder to have just a taste of what many of us were just born into. I say, let them in, give them work visas, have them pay taxes, keep tabs on them, and let us work together to be prosperous, while we offer them a chance at a better life. The only thing wrong is that they were desperate enough to try it before getting the go-ahead from the government. -SL

  14. @Thankfully -- yes. So a 5 pound bag of potatoes will maybe go from $5 to $5.75 because the labor costs will be based on US workers, not illegal immigrants. That's not going to break anyone.

    Check their math though. Notice how they say "A crew of four Hispanics *can* earn about $150 each". They don't say that they *do*. They *can*. I'd like to see a less biased study of immigrant versus native labor here.

    I'm guessing that the rates aren't as different as this article makes them sound. I bet that a lot of this is about working conditions -- the illegal immigrants can't complain because if they complain, they get sent home or even arrested. The farmer probably just wants workers who don't complain when they are treated badly.

  15. For everyone here who claims that farmers don't pay enough for Americans to want to pick the crops...Do you want to pay $10 for a head of lettuce?

  16. "...many of the people out of work are college graduates skilled at sitting behind a desk all day, who have no experience with manual labor. You can't put them in a field picking tomatoes any more than you can put a tomato picker in an office and have him crank out finance spreadsheets."

    I have to respectfully disagree. I have worked in Alaska during the summer season and the majority of workers in those fish plants and canneries are college students (and HS teachers). While it's not a job anyone could do year round, one season of 16 - 26 hour shifts is not difficult for twenty-somethings.

    Also, I have worked with many college students in a business setting and I can't see where their education has done much to prepare them for the work place.

    Just sayin'.


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