Today In Cheap Labor

I’m sure all of Georgia’s pesky little labor problems would be solved if only they could bring back slavery:

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal offered a provocative solution Tuesday for farmers who claim workers have been scared away by a crackdown on illegal immigration: Hire people on probation to toil in the fields instead.

The Republican governor offered his remarks after an unscientific survey showed roughly 11,000 job openings in the state’s agricultural economy. He requested the survey after growers warned that a new Georgia law targeting illegal immigrants was scaring away workers needed to harvest labor-intensive crops like peaches and berries that are easily damaged by machines.

Wow! Nobody could have anticipated that demonizing immigrants would have any repercussions in the labor force! [/sarcasm] Thank goodness Convict Nation has a ready supply of strapping young bucks ready to harvest your berries and tomatoes on the cheap!

Because, despite Georgia’s nearly 10% unemployment rate, Georgia’s farmers just can’t find anyone to hire:

Farmers say they can find few U.S. citizens willing to work in hot, dusty fields and criticize a federal guest work program as expensive and cumbersome.

“It’s hard work,” said Sam Watson, the owner Chill C Farms in Moultrie, who wants more workers and is considering hiring probationers. “It’s hot. It’s a lot of bending, can be long hours.”

Oh yeah, sure, that’s it. That’s what keeps U.S. citizens from taking those jobs! The “hot, dusty fields” and all of that bending! This story makes zero mention of the wages migrant laborers are paid, which last I checked is around $5 a day. You find me an American citizen who can make ends meet on $5 a day, please. If you do find them, send ’em on down to Moultrie, Ga.


Watson said he could only hire two-thirds of the 60 workers he would have wanted to harvest squash, cucumbers and zucchini from his 300-acre farm. He blamed the state’s new law targeting illegal immigrants for driving away Hispanic workers. The lack of labor forced him to leave 13 acres of squash to rot in his fields.

“We’ve got to come up with something,” Watson said. “There’s no way we can continue if we don’t have a labor source to pull from.”

I’m sorry, Farmer Watson, but you’re an asshole. We are the wealthiest nation in the world, yet people go hungry every day. Yes, even in rural areas. And you’d rather let your squash rot in the fields? Haven’t you read in Leviticus about allowing the poor to glean from your fields? Or did you just read the part about teh gaii?

I wonder how many farm subsidies Farmer Watson got? Yes, mah tax dollahs! I guess you have to wear a tricorn hat to get away with complaining about this stuff.

I’m sorry, but this whole thing really pisses me off. Where are all the good Christians? Why does the AP write about this issue and overlook the obvious elephant in this story (and no, the elephant is not failed Republican policies, though that’s part of it)?

Look, it’s really simple. Georgia has 10% unemployment. People are pissed off and blame the brown people and pass racist laws. The brown people stay away, and no one is left to take their crappy, low-wage jobs that pay $5 a day. So the governor decides convict labor is the way to go.

Stop me if you’ve seen this movie before.

The obvious solution here is to raise your fucking wages, assholes! But no, we can’t do that, because then a Big Mac wouldn’t cost $3 and change, it would cost a helluva lot more. But we’re paying those costs anyway! We’re paying them in indirect ways, in high unemployment and high incarceration rates and poverty and malnutrition and everything else.

But let’s go on our merry way pretending we can have something for nothing, we can have the good life without paying for it, that our nation wasn’t built on cheap labor and exploiting the poor. Let’s pretend we don’t continue to have an exploitive economy so a few people can live the good life and wave the flag and talk about how great we are.

It’s the American way.


Filed under food supply, poverty, rants, wages

22 responses to “Today In Cheap Labor

  1. Min

    People always miss the point, don’t they? The same thing happens when you talk about state or national debt. Everyone wants to talk about the spending problem, but no one wants to talk about the revenue problem.

  2. You are so right about this! It’s Econ 101. If people will not accept your back-breaking job for $5 a day, you are obviously not paying enough. Americans are not lazy. And there are enough of us without jobs right now to consider any work that pays a fair and livable wage, but that’s not what these farmers are offering.

  3. Yes well the “free hand of the market” is supposed to right this huge economic wrong, except you have Big Government incarcerating people for stupid crimes like possession of a couple joints and — presto! — labor shortage solved.

    This is why one DOES need morality in government. To counteract the policies of selfishness and greed which Ayn Rand thought were so “pure.”

  4. 300 acres isn’t much of a farm. But I’m betting if he offered 15 bucks an hours, his crops would go unpicked. This has been tried before, (raising farmworker wages) and it isn’t just about that.

  5. Jim

    There are several issues at play here and I am not sure what your view is on all of them:

    1. Are you suggesting that things were better when illegal immigrants were paid $5 a day to pick the produce?

    2. If unemployment benifits pay more than the available jobs, then nobody is going to take the job. Of course the government has expanded the benifit time frame again and again to what is now almost 2 years worth of unemployment benifits. Unemployemnt is in effect driving up the costs of business for low end wage jobs. In this case, the farmer has to pay more than unemployment to lure anybody to his place for a job. The government itself is causing unemployment to remain high by extending the benifits.

    3. The farmer can only afford to pay what the market price for his produce will generate for him in terms of revenue. So if squash is only selling at a price that means he can pay $15 an hour then that is his absolute cap on what he can pay. Do you expect the farmer to operate at a loss just to provide people jobs with picking the crops? The farmer won’t last long doing that. As you note, if wages are going to go up, so will prices. You want the farmer to just let poor people come and take his produce for free 0- but why should the farmer be expected to just give his work away? Sure it would be nice of him, but again he won’t last for long if he does not at least break even on his work.

  6. Min

    “If unemployment benefits pay more than the available jobs, then nobody is going to take the job.”

    Right. Because lowering unemployment benefits would so motivate people to run right out and take jobs that require them (a) to relocate on their own dime, (b) to work like a dog for slave wages, and (3) to continue to live in poverty.

    “Do you expect the farmer to operate at a loss just to provide people jobs with picking the crops?”

    I expect the farmer not to b*tch and moan about the unavailability of cheap, illegal labor, if he’s unwilling to pay a decent wage for legal labor. He’s made his living, to this point, by facilitating the violation of federal law. Sucks to be him.

  7. If unemployment benifits pay more than the available jobs, then nobody is going to take the job.

    Yes, that’s a good “if” but that’s not what’s happening here. What’s happening here is that people are unemployed because THERE ARE NO FUCKING JOBS and the jobs that exist pay $5 a day. Who can live on that, except someone from a third world country whose only here temporarily and living in migrant labor conditions?

    So this is what it’s come to. Conservatives want to lower America’s vaunted standard of living to that of a person who picks tomatoes in Colombia. Way to go, Republicans.

  8. Jim

    “Yes, that’s a good “if” but that’s not what’s happening here. What’s happening here is that people are unemployed because THERE ARE NO FUCKING JOBS and the jobs that exist pay $5 a day.”

    Huh? That is not what is happening here and then you say that is what is happening is that the jobs available don’t pay more than unemployment? (I assume unemployment is more than $5 a day).

    Min – removing unemployment benifits or even just setting them back to what worked for however long before the government increased them would indeed be an incentive to move if necessary to find a job.

    Also from the article:
    “More than half of the available jobs identified in the survey of roughly 230 farmers pay less than $9 per hour and last less than six months. Few growers offered their workers other benefits. The survey did not use scientific polling methods, and farmers who are having labor problems may have been more likely to answer it.”

    So it is not that they are paying $5 a day, they are paying around $9 an hour and at least some of the jobs pay more than $9 an hour. Also, these are unemployed people that the governor is suggesting the farmers hire. Should people on probation not be eligible for jobs?


  9. Nicolle - Tennessee

    Anyone who thinks that Unemployment Insurance causes people to not take jobs doesn’t have a basic understanding of our economy and quite frankly – should go spend the rest of the summer in the public library (while it’s still public). Start with economics and then move to history from about 1850 through 1929.

    As far as the farmers – you can’t blame them. A. the federal government doesn’t subsidize vegetables, it subsidizes corn, soy and wheat – the rest of us are left to do what we can. The Georgia squash grower can’t afford to pay a living wage because a grower in another part of the country – that hasn’t scared off immigrant labor – will still be paying $5 a day.

    But isn’t it interesting how little we value the jobs that can’t be outsourced? Farmers, Pilots, truck drivers, train engineers, miners, teachers… if it has to be done here – you can bet it will be done on the cheap and without unions. We all talk about “bringing back jobs” – but what about the ones that can’t be outsourced, how about turning them into something a person can live on?

  10. Chris V

    Pay farm workers a few more bucks an hour will not change the price of a Big Mac. The fact is that farm workers can pick more than one tomato an hour. And the price of that labor is a small percentage of the price you pay in the supermarket.

  11. Now, you other folks know as well as I do that those duskier chillun of GOD are better suited for stoop labor, under a broiling sun while lugging their tote sack from row to row. Why, they are so much better off than they were in Africa or Mexamerical. I’m surprised that they don’t pay US for the experience./s

  12. Proud Socialist

    In a crazy country where employers can demand only the currently employed need apply for new jobs or where employers admit that any new hires wages must come out of other employees wages, not out of company profits… well, is it any wonder that the concept of unpaid ‘interns’, probationary workers (don’t call them employees yet) will spread like wildfire amongst the Barons? And why stop at unpaid interns? Why not pay them in kind or in company specie, redeemable at the local company store?

  13. “Do you expect the farmer to operate at a loss just to provide people jobs with picking the crops?”

    You know what I expect? I expect this country to finally admit that we’ve been living in an unsustainable, immoral way for generations. I expect us to finally confess that yes, our economic prosperity has been built on the exploitation and oppression of certain classes and races of people. I expect us to stop just saying we’re a Christian nation and finally start acting like it. I expect us to drop the holier-than-thou attitudes and stop lecturing other countries on morality and remove the substantial log from our own eyes.

    Will that happen? Of course not.

    Jim, like all conservatives, wants easy answers. This is why the Republican Party is so successful. All they have to do is throw out a few bumper-sticker bromides, peddle some fairy tales about “free markets” and “personal responsibility” that feel good even though they aren’t based in reality, and watch the suckers come running.

    There are no easy answers, Jim. Far smarter people than I — people with Nobel Prizes in this shit — have been tackling these issues and even they haven’t come up with the solutions.

    I’m just shining a little light on the REAL problem, which nobody in our Congress or in our media seems willing to admit we have.

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:


    Consider this your intervention.

  14. PurpleGirl

    Jim: Unemployment benefits are typically a percentage of what your last salary was. If benefits are raised that raise is usually something small and still does not bring the benefit close to what the last full time salary was. For example, the MAXIMUM benefit in NYS is $400 a week. Not all people get this amount; I did. It was less than 50% of my previous salary.

  15. JB

    “Anyone who thinks that Unemployment Insurance causes people to not take jobs doesn’t have a basic understanding of our economy..”

    I guess these guys need to go back to school.

    Lawrence Summers, former Director of the White House National Economic Council for President Barack Obama and former Secretary of the Treasury:

    “The second way government assistance programs contribute to long-term unemployment is by providing an incentive, and the means, not to work. Each unemployed person has a “reservation wage”—the minimum wage he or she insists on getting before accepting a job. Unemployment insurance and other social assistance programs increase that reservation wage, causing an unemployed person to remain unemployed longer.”

    Paul Krugman’s text book published in 2009:
    “Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect. . . . In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of “Eurosclerosis,” the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.”

  16. I think the point people are making is that under CURRENT EMPLOYMENT CONDITIONS there simply are no jobs… these are not people lounging around sucking off the government teet, there are thousands of applicants for one job. There just aren’t any jobs.

    UNDER THE CURRENT CONDITIONS offering people unemployment benefits actually is good for the economy because people who are unemployed will take that money and immediately spend it on needed things like food, gas and rent. Withholding those benefits UNDER THE CURRENT CONDITIONS when there are no jobs simply creates more pressure on other services like food stamps, social services agencies, etc.

    I don’t have the time to research all of your links but it sounds like something that was written in a book in 2009 is not quite the same as something that reflects ACTUAL CONDITIONS AS THEY EXIST NOW.

    But mostly I just tell people to go try to find a job right now. It’s simply not that easy. 3,000 people applied for 350 temporary jobs in Louisville earlier this month, the papers are full of stories like this. The idea that people are lazing around on the sofa waiting for the government money to roll in is just ignorant to what is really happening.

  17. Jim

    SB – did you see where the economists are now predicting that full employment will now mean a higher unemployment rate than before? I think the new normal for “full employment” is going to be around 8 or 9% whereas it was closer to 5 or 6% before according to the experts.

  18. Atrios, Krugman, Jared Bernstein and the rest have been sounding the alarm about that for a while. Calling something like that “the new normal” is an abject failure. We simply cannot accept 9% unemployment as “normal.”

    This is yet another failure of our politics. We know what needs to be done but no one has the political will to do it. Meanwhile, other countries around the world (such as Sweden), recovered from the recession a lot better than we did. Of course, socialisticky Sweden has a strong national healthcare system …

  19. Jim

    From the article on Sweden:
    “Swedish banks didn’t make it through the 2008 crisis without major losses. To the contrary, they had lent heavily in the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which suffered an economic collapse.

    The banks relied on funding in dollars that they borrowed from other banks — and during the crisis that funding all but disappeared as banks hoarded dollars. Had the Federal Reserve not made billions of dollars available to the Riksbank through “swap lines,” which were then lent to Swedish banks, there surely would have been a devastating collapse of the banking system”

    So the US bailed out Sweden and that is who we should emulate? Who is going to bailout the U.S.?

  20. Jim, Welcome to the global economy!

    This is why American Libertarians have their heads up their asses.

  21. Jim

    That global economy is also the reason we will not be bringing back alot of the manufacturing jobs to America. It is hard to compete with countries that can offer such low wages for unskilled manufacturing.

    Totally off topic, but another article caught my eye:

    It is hard to believe our government wastes money on stuff like this and yet I don’t really expect any better from our government either.

  22. That global economy is also the reason we will not be bringing back alot of the manufacturing jobs to America.

    Not without some changes in our trade policy, some tariffs, and other things which Glibertarians decry as “interfering with the glorious free hand of the market.”

    Again, we know what to do, we just don’t have the political will. And Glibertarians and right wingers are thugs, shouting down everyone with a reasonable idea. Our national dialogue is completely one-sided.

    As for the Republican Congress’ decision in 2005 to mint presidential dollar coins which no one wants, well we’ve always said Republicans are incredibly fiscally inept. From 2005 memory hole:

    “Not only will it be a moneymaker for the federal government, but it will also be a fun, educational tool to turn all of us into history buffs,” said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., the bill’s sponsor.