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Are Americans Too Spoiled To Take Low-Paying Jobs?

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CHERRY (TOMATO) PICKING
DailyFeed
You would think that with the national unemployment rate firmly stuck at 9%, Americans would be scrambling to take any jobs they can get. Turns out that's not necessarily the case.
 
In a BusinessWeek feature last week, Elizabeth Dwoskin looked at Alabama's economy after the state passed a "papers, please" immigration law that has led to “an exodus of thousands of immigrant field hands, hotel housekeepers, dishwashers, chicken plant employees, and construction workers.”
 
One of the chief benefits of the law, as Republican governor Robert Bentley had argued, would be allowing Alabamans to pick up the jobs that these immigrants had "stolen" from them.
 
However, after interviewing business owners in the state, Dwoskin discovered that even though there are some 211,000 people unemployed, locals have not been enthusiastic about filling out the positions left vacant by the immigrants -- positions such as picking tomatoes in the searing heat for 11 hours per day, at a rate of $2 for every 25-pound basket filled, for J&J Farms. Or filleting fish for more than 10 hours in a damp, freezing environment for minimum wage and little benefits for food company Harvest Select. As Dwoskin surmises:
 
It’s a hard-to-resist syllogism: Dirty jobs are available; Americans won’t fill them; thus, Americans are too soft for dirty jobs. Why else would so many unemployed people turn down the opportunity to work during a recession? Of course, there’s an equally compelling obverse. Why should farmers and plant owners expect people to take a back-breaking seasonal job with low pay and no benefits just because they happen to be offering it? If no one wants an available job -- especially in extreme times -- maybe the fault doesn’t rest entirely with the people turning it down. Maybe the market is inefficient.
 
Complicating the issue is, of course, global competition. Randy Rhodes, president of Harvest Select, told Dwoskin his company simply can't pay higher wages for fish filleting workers because it'd be outcompeted by foreign suppliers, who pay employees even less and thus can sell cheaper fish to supermarket chains like Walmart retail warehouse Sam’s Club and Delhaize Group subsidiary Food Lion. (Of course, sometimes these "foreign" suppliers can be American food giants like Monsanto, who set up shop outside America to take advantage of lower costs).
 
But if farms in Alabama continue to struggle to find American workers to pick tomatoes, then they might be forced to scale down their operations such that they will ultimately become too small to make a profit, and then they’d have to shutter their doors anyway.
 
It seems there are three ways to resolve the situation: Either Americans have to suck it up and take up these back-breaking, low-paying jobs, or if farmers and factories are to pay better wages for low-skilled jobs, consumers must be prepared to support higher-priced local products over imports made cheap by slave wages. If both plans are untenable, maybe states like Alabama need to reconsider the "papers, please" approach.

(See also: European Workers Are "Lazy," Says Chinese Computer Mogul)
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