Farm Work: The Job That No American Wants?

California's farmers can't find enough people to do the field work. This is a job that's often carried out by illegal immigrants.

The majority of the business owners in a state industry say they can't find enough workers to fill all their open jobs.

And the state, California, has a 10.2 percent unemployment rate, the third worst in the nation.

You might assume the job openings are caused by the skills gap, a lack of technical training. Except that the industry in question is California's farming sector and its crop-harvesting related jobs. According to a new survey of 800 farmers, nearly 2 out of every 3 farmers are having trouble finding enough workers to harvest crops. And 1 out of 5 farmers say they've been forced to cut back on planting or left crops unharvested as a result of the lack of workers for these $10-an-hour jobs.

The explanation: Due in part to government crackdowns on illegal immigration and undocumented workers, there is a shortage of workers willing to work at these farm jobs, according to the survey by the nonprofit, non-government and nonpartisan California Farm Bureau Federation.

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"Without the creation of a secure, effective program that allows people from foreign countries to work legally in the United States to harvest crops, we could see continuing or worsening problems, especially for small or mid-sized farms," CFBF president Paul Wenger said in a statement.

President Barack Obama has said that comprehensive immigration reform will top his second term agenda. He has indicated that he supports a path to citizenship.

But conservative activists who staunchly oppose what they call amnesty for undocumented workers say the answer to filling these jobs is not making it easier to become citizens. Rather, they say, if there is tougher law enforcement -- and illegal immigration declines -- employers will be forced to raise wages.

"As long as the laws are not enforced, cheap wages with no benefits will continue," Jim Gilchrist, the president of the anti-illegal-immigration group, the Minuteman Project, told AOL Jobs in an interview last year.

Indeed, the average income of a crop worker falls at or below the poverty level, if you factor in the fact that it is seasonal work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. "You take that out, the low wage element out," Gilchrist said, "and you'll see American citizens applying for jobs like landscaping, shoveling concrete."

In the interim, desperate farmers have begun to take action into their own hands. The lack of willing and able farmhands has even led a group of dairy farmers in upstate New York to resort to creative solutions -- robots. Thirty New York dairy farmers bought European-manufactured robots that cost as much as $500,000 per unit and put them to work milking their herds.

What do you think? Should the government make it easier for farmers to hire immigrant workers? Why aren't American citizens applying for farm jobs? Share your comments below.

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Filed under: Employment News
Dan Fastenberg

Dan Fastenberg

Associate Editor

Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.

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c.b6

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February 25 2014 at 1:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The Paterfamilia

Only Pregnant Women or Women with Children can qualify for Federal Aid... Several Comments about Welfare to Work on these CORPORATE FARMS that need workers to exploit... I might direct these GREEDY $on of &itches to Wall Street where they can find a HUMAN sold for .27 Cents an Hour thru a CORPORATE PRISON there...

Pick your own way into the 1% Clubs....

March 04 2013 at 1:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to The Paterfamilia's comment
DMD

Really only women huh. Better go back and read what the state requirements are then.

September 11 2013 at 4:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The Paterfamilia

Why don't we have FARMERS? Because the Corporations OWN all the FARMS, Capitalism used to be the FARMERS best friend. Yes, Sir!!! The PRIDE OF OWNERSHIP!!!! Except, well, Mr. Bankster does not like to pay a LIVING WAGE on his CORPORATE OWNED FARM and he himself is a Stuffed Shirt who can't do much more than push a BUTTON Himself!!!

Their is a reason for everything... But, if all you can see is the PROFIT MARGINS, don't ask someone else to do the real work. Heay Mr. CEO... Go learn to pick your own way into the 1%...

March 04 2013 at 1:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Trisha

$10 per hour might be the reason why nobody want's to pick your crops. For $10 and hour one can work in a nice air conditioned office and get a nice booty spread they can be proud of. But I guess when a state has 10% UE the people really should be forced to take those jobs. They should take them and get less UE benefits, not be cut off completely. Can't live in Cali on $10 an hr.

January 04 2013 at 3:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ga7smi

that's why we have illegals to do farm work - no one else will

January 04 2013 at 12:12 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ga7smi's comment
The Paterfamilia

Humans are all LEGAL, though it ought to be a Crime to be GREEDY!!! Pay a decent wage for an AMERICAN citizen....

March 04 2013 at 1:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
massagemetoday

I know of several American's who have applied for harvesting jobs and each of them were told that if they couldn't speak Spanish, then there was no place for them in the orchard.

January 04 2013 at 12:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
robth3blogger2

Start kicking people off of welfare and ship them off to the farms; problem solved.

January 03 2013 at 9:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to robth3blogger2's comment
The Paterfamilia

Hmmm... Intelligence at work here, I might like to remind you that only PREGNANT WOMEN and CHILDREN can get WELFARE...

March 04 2013 at 1:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to The Paterfamilia's comment
DMD

You have no intelligence what so ever. Go look up what the requirements are to be on welfare.

September 11 2013 at 4:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
jj2301

Please! I *did* this work when I was in college. Farm and restaurant work paid my way through. The only reason this has become the province of illegal aliens is because we've allowed agribusiness to import a shadow workforce that has undercut the wage floor and displaced poor/unskilled Americans.

January 03 2013 at 7:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to jj2301's comment
lapislazulijumi

Most Americans won't take these jobs because they are: 1) low wage and high risk with no benefits. 2) Tend to be out of easy travel range for daily work. As a result, often poor or just plain unacceptable living quarters are supplied when workers need housing near the area because their own is too far away to make accepting the job sensible when weighed against gas fees. If farmers want to get legitimate employees to take these jobs, they're going to need to rethink their employment model.

January 03 2013 at 6:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

You know the place is cheap when you work 8 hours an they tell you aren't getting a break. They must think everyone is a slave or illegal!

January 03 2013 at 6:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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