Business, Finance & Economics

Farmer says hiring American workers a big mistake

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Migrant workers picking cabbages in Ohio. (Photo by Flickr user Bob Jagendorf)

Story from The Takeaway. Listen to audio above for full report.

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Though nearly one out of every 11 people across the country is out of work, on industry is facing a labor shortage. Some farmers in the western U.S. who have traditionally relied on migrant workers are now offering the same jobs to Americans — $10 an hour for pulling in the fall harvest.

John Harold is one of those farmers. Instead of hiring migrant workers this year, he left openings for local, jobless Americans, something he considers a mistake. Americans, he says, proved to be less reliable and less willing to perform the hard work necessary to run his corn and onion farm than foreign workers.

"Some of them lasted a day," said Harold. "A couple of them lasted a couple of days. Some of them lasted two hours."

"There is a work ethic with the people that I bring from Mexico -- some of them have worked for me for many years -- that is unparalleled relative to the local workforce," Harold added.

Kirk Johnson, who profiled Harold's farm for The New York Times, says it's a socio-economic trend that's been developing for years. "Once people have left the fields for better paying work, or regular hours, or benefits and vacation and things, it's really hard to entice people back," he said. "It's a long term trend of American life."

The jobs on Harold's farm entail weeding around his onion and sweet corn crops.

When asked what he thought about Americans who complain that immigrants are taking jobs, Harold said: "There's really not much one can answer to ignorance ... basically, it's a new wave of prejudice in this country that's never died -- it's just been transferred from one segment to the other."

Here's what some folks had to say on PRI's Facebook page:

Tony Azios Even: Someone needs to work on the farms, and Americans, for whatever reason, don't seem willing /able. Right? Well, do we let the fields go fallow? Or, is the solution is to improve wages and working conditions so that these jobs become attractive for out of work Americans? That sounds pretty good - except the Republican party that is pushing this anti-immigrant agenda is simultaneously trying to destroy the unions and govt regulations that allow for fair wages and safe working conditions. So, there goes that option. What to do then Mary and Jenn? Ah yes, don't offer constructive criticism or valuable insight and ideas. Juts call the reporter a hack and the article a "smear piece." Question whether the article's subject really is a "farmer." God forbid you let someone's real-life experience add some nuance to these tired, racist arguments.

Mary Lindemuth Arulanantham: I am the product of generations of Midwestern family farm families. That is a way of life largely gone because the scale if factory farming puts a lot of farmers out of business because they can't make a profit. I have long supported a major change in western culture to be willing to actually pay what goods actually cost when they are produced sustainably, at a fair wage and under humane circumstances. Facebook is not really the forum for a well-thought out rebuttal to one-sided journalism. I never disputed the facts of this article. I only play my tiny little violin for the poor embattled farmer who can only run his business by taking advantage of immigrants who are that much more desperate than citizens to accept the conditions of this work. Perhaps it is time to write a remake of The Grapes of Wrath.

Ethan I. Solomon: I was the manager of a local restaurant chain in MI for four years. My Spanish employees worked harder than the Caucasian American male's I hired. They wanted the money more. I didn't treat then any differently than I did anyone else, everyone gets a fair shot in my book. That never stopped me from hiring whoever was qualified that walked in the door, I couldn't be choosy, I needed the labor done. But, facts are facts, the foreigners showed up on time, did what was asked of them at a better standard than their American counterparts did, and complained a lot less while they were at it. This is only a majority, I am not claiming this in all cases, but as a generality I would agree with this.

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"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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