Farm Work: The Job That No American Wants?
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.
"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.
"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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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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