Sunday, April 23, 2006

"Shortage" in Agricultural Workers, An Alternative Explanation

Inspired by Dean Baker's taking to task of the media on the misunderstanding of a "shortage," I set out to see what I could find. I found a couple of articles that report on a "shortage" of labor in the agricultural sector around December of 2005.

Well, let's start with what we know. We know that illegal immigration has increased dramatically over the last decade and continues to rise (much of this is fueled by anticipation of an amnesty and increasingly lax enforcement within the interior). Why, then, the claimed shortage of labor in the agricultural sector?

It's probably because it's becoming easier and easier for illegal immigrants to get permanent jobs that are preferrable to poorly paid, seasonal agricultural work. It's not that there is a lack of unskilled illegal immigrants (quite the contrary), it's just that there is a shortage of illegals willing to do that work for the same wage as years past. Well under 10% of illegals work in agriculture. It looks as though that 1o% may have figured out what a good deal the other 90% have.

Maybe I am wrong, but it seems farmers may have something to gain on a crackdown on illegal immigration. It's my understanding that agriculture is one of the areas where the US government has traditionally turned a blind eye even when it enforced laws elsewhere, so pushing workers out of construction, maintenance, and care-giving may in fact push them back into the shadows of the underground agricultural economy. The ease of which illegals can now take up residence and find employment has, perhaps, hurt farmers because it has given so many a preferrable alternative.

I say we could take it a step further if ag is such a concern. Why not crack down on illegal immigration but state that the agricultural sector is not a priority for the moment? That gives what is supposedly the most vulnerable sector of the economy some breathing room while the illegal population is attrited.

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