Friday, January 5, 2018

Farms Facing Shrinking Immigrant Labor Pool

First thing I thought when I started reading this piece, is, "No, American workers worked Central Valley fields in the 1930s and '40s, workers escaping the devastation of Dust Bowl America (the Okies).

The piece does mention them, as a sop to history.

I just know that if wages were high enough, Americans would take these jobs. I would have picked cantaloupes in the 1980s if owners were paying me $12.00 an hour. The Times had a piece last year where growers near Sacramento were paying $15.00 and up (with some growers expecting to pay wages from $18.00 to $20.00 an hour).

It's simple economics. There's no shame in working an honest job. The fact that dark-skinned people have done it for so long doesn't mean that hard-working U.S. citizens won't work the fields. Immigrant labor drags down wages. Growers like it that way, giving the shiv to regular citizens.

At LAT, "Born in the U.S.A. and working in the fields — what gives?":

Nicholas Andrew Flores swatted at the flies orbiting his sweat-drenched face as he picked alongside a crew of immigrants through a cantaloupe field in California's Central Valley.

The 21-year-old didn't speak Spanish, but he understood the essential words the foreman barked out: Puro amarillo. And rapido, rapido! Quickly, Flores picked only yellow melons and flung them onto a moving platform.

It was hard and repetitive work, and there were days under the searing sun that Flores regretted not going to a four-year college. But he liked that to get the job he just had to "show up." And at $12 an hour, it paid better than slinging fast food.

For Joe Del Bosque of Del Bosque Farms in the San Joaquin Valley, American-born pickers like Flores, though rare, are always welcome.

For generations, rural Mexico has been the primary source of hired farm labor in the U.S. According to a federal survey, nine out of 10 agricultural workers in places like California are foreign-born, and more than half are in the U.S. illegally.

But farm labor from Mexico has been on the decline in California. And under the Trump administration, many in the agricultural industry worry that deportations — and the fear of them — could further cut the supply of workers.

But try as they have to entice workers with better salaries and benefits, companies have found it impossible to attract enough U.S.-born workers to make up for a shortage from south of the border.

Del Bosque said he'll hire anyone who shows up ready to work. But that rarely means someone born in the U.S.

"Americans will say, 'You can't pay me enough to do this kind of work,'" Del Bosque said. "They won't do it. They'll look for something easier."

For some immigrants working the fields, people like Flores are a puzzle — their sweating next to them represents a kind of squandering of an American birthright.

"It's hard to be here under the sun. It's a waste of time and their talents in the fields," said Norma Felix, 58, a Mexican picker for almost three decades. "They don't take advantage of their privilege and benefit of being born here. They could easily work in an office."

Most don't last long, she said.

"There is always one or two who show up every season," Felix said. "They show up for three or four days and turn around and leave."

Agriculture's reliance on immigrant labor, especially in the American West, goes back to the late 1800s, after the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad, said J. Edward Taylor, a UC Davis rural economist.

"The domestic farm workforce was simply not big enough to support the growth of labor-intensive fruit and vegetable crops," he said...