Americans Won’t Take Back the Jobs that Immigrants “Stole”

All these Americans talking about foreigners taking their jobs, and they still won’t walk the walk about filling those jobs, according to Bloomberg:

American farmers have been complaining of labor shortages for several years now. Given a multi-year decline in illegal immigration, and a similarly sustained pickup in the U.S. job market, the complaints are unlikely to stop without an overhaul of immigration rules for farm workers.

Efforts to create a more straightforward agricultural-workers visa that would enable foreign workers to stay longer in the U.S. and change jobs within the industry have so far failed in Congress. If this doesn’t change, American businesses, communities and consumers will be the losers.

Perhaps half of U.S. farm laborers are undocumented immigrants. As fewer such workers enter the U.S., the characteristics of the agricultural workforce are changing. Today’s farm laborers, while still predominantly born in Mexico, are more likely to be settled, rather than migrating, and more likely to be married than single. They are also aging. At the start of this century, about one-third of crop workers were over the age of 35. Now, more than half are. And crop picking is hard on older bodies.

One oft-debated cure for this labor shortage remains as implausible as it has been all along: Native U.S. workers won’t be returning to the farm.

For those who instead argue that cheap foreign labor depresses wages — which is likely true — blame the employers that would rather let their crops rot or businesses falter than pay the living wage most Americans would accept. It is not the fault of fellow desperate workers who should be met with solidarity rather than hostility. Again from Bloomberg:

In a study published in 2013, economist Michael Clemens analyzed 15 years of data on North Carolina’s farm-labor market and concluded, “There is virtually no supply of native manual farm laborers” in the state. This was true even in the depths of a severe recession.

In 2011, with 6,500 available farm jobs in the state, only 268 of the nearly 500,000 unemployed North Carolinians applied for these jobs. More than 90 percent (245 people) of those applying were hired, but just 163 showed up for the first day of work. Only seven native workers completed the entire growing season, filling only one-tenth of 1 percent of the open farm jobs.

Mechanization is not the answer either — not yet at least. Production of corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat have been largely mechanized, but many high-value, labor-intensive crops, such as strawberries, need labor. Even dairy farms, where robots currently do only a small share of milking, have a long way to go before they are automated.

It is not just agriculture that is impacted: the Washington Post highlighted a similar phenomenon with crab fishing, a quintessential American industry that had also given way to foreign labor (namely Mexican and Central American)

Changes to a foreign-worker visa program have left businesses like Russell Hall without the seasonal laborers — mostly from Mexico — who help drive Maryland’s signature industry.

About a third of picking jobs remain unfilled across the Eastern Shore this summer, as few Americans have responded to openings and Mexican laborers are stranded at home without permission to come here to work.

The situation illustrates a general unwillingness among U.S. workers to perform certain kinds of labor, some of the business owners here in Dorchester County say. It also demonstrates how President Trump’s “America First” policies have not necessarily helped those workers or small-business owners but instead have dealt them a new economic reality

Crab-picking houses are boosting wages and expanding overtime but are losing customers — and profits — because they can’t provide a reliable supply of crabmeat. One local supplier buys meat elsewhere to serve at its restaurant because the in-house picking plant has none. And at Russell Hall, Phillips is weighing whether to pack up and move his operation to Mexico.

Perhaps we should think about the way we structure our economy, and allocate the resources therein, before we start laying blame on exploited workers. By refusing to take all these vaunted “stolen” jobs, Americans are tacitly admitting that the work in question is a raw deal not worth the effort — hence the desperate foreign labor willing to fill the gaps, lest more of our food rots or becomes more expensive.

 

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