There’s a great debate in the nation about how to get unemployed Americans working in agriculture. It is a debate made all the more controversial by the fact that many unemployed Americans don’t want to work in jobs they consider demeaning.
Republicans on a committee dealing with this issue are arguing that illegal immigrants take jobs away from the unemployed. Democrats argue that if unemployed Americans wanted those agricultural jobs, they’d already be working in them. The fact that they are not sends an interesting message to the politicians who have yet to acknowledge that migrant workers are what keep the country’s produce moving.
Sometimes there are issues that are best left alone, unless the government wants to poke about and make things worse. The burning issue in relation to immigrants working in agricultural jobs is that their presence means Americans don’t have that work. While that is true on the surface, the question then becomes where are the Americans who will work this kind of job?
On one side of the fence is a group that thinks allowing low skilled guest workers to take jobs from poor whites, black and legal Hispanics is counterintuitive. On the other side of the fence is the faction that says some agricultural jobs are not a good fit for unemployed people. These days it would seem that the issue is having work and paying the bills, not whether or not the job is a good fit. If this is to say that some people don’t like toiling in the fields, then why would they think the American taxpayers should pick up their living expenses in the form of welfare?
Evidently, most of the agricultural jobs are seasonal, which means workers would have to move where the work is located. Wages are also considered to be very low for the number of hours required. Also at issue is that migrant farm laborers have fewer rights than other laborers.
These three factors are essentially a turnoff for American workers. That said, a job is a job and if someone does not have one, but there is work to be had, it’s hardly acceptable to not take work because it’s not attractive. Today’s economy dictates that people need to do what they can to get food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.
The ultimate hitch with this Rubik’s cube of a problem is that without enough migrant workers to pull the product out of the field, agricultural production could stop, growers lose crops and farms go out of business. Since the nation relies of farms for food, this would be a crisis of major proportions. Right now, the legal method to let migrant workers into America is extremely slow. Many argue that Visa reform is critical.
Workers in the fields now are under a shaky H-2A guest worker program, which is highly unreliable. This leaves employers with the choice of taking that slow route when they need workers immediately, or taking documents that look good from migrant workers who may be here illegally, or hiring Americans, if any chose to apply.
The number of workers needed to keep the wheels of agriculture turning in the U.S. is 2 million and only 5,000 visas are earmarked each year for migrant workers. Where is the remainder of workers to come from? This is the conundrum yet to be solved.
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