when you kick out all the immigrants, YOU have to pick the crops — Georgia edition

Ruh-roh, Raggy. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Jay Bookman is reporting that Georgia’s draconian anti-illegal-immigrant bill, House Bill 87, signed last month by Gov. Nathan Deal, has actually worked. And that turns out to be bad for the Georgia economy:

The resulting manpower shortage has forced state farmers to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.

Barely a month ago, you might recall, Gov. Nathan Deal welcomed the TV cameras into his office as he proudly signed HB 87 into law. Two weeks later, with farmers howling, a scrambling Deal was forced to order a hasty investigation into the impact of the law he had just signed, as if all this had come as quite a surprise to him.

The results of that investigation have now been released. According to survey of 230 Georgia farmers conducted by Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, farmers expect to need more than 11,000 workers at some point over the rest of the season, a number that probably underestimates the real need, since not every farmer in the state responded to the survey….

According to the survey, more than 6,300 of the unclaimed jobs pay an hourly wage of $7.25 to $8.99, or an average of roughly $8 an hour. Over a 40-hour work week in the South Georgia sun, that’s $320 a week, before taxes, although most workers probably put in considerably longer hours. Another 3,200 jobs pay $9 to $11 an hour. And while our agriculture commissioner has been quoted as saying Georgia farms provide “$12, $13, $14, $16, $18-an-hour jobs,” the survey reported just 169 openings out of more than 11,000 that pay $16 or more.

In addition, few of the jobs include benefits — only 7.7 percent offer health insurance, and barely a third are even covered by workers compensation….

It’s hard to envision a way out of this. Georgia farmers could try to solve the manpower shortage by offering higher wages, but that would create an entirely different set of problems. If they raise wages by a third to a half, which is probably what it would take, they would drive up their operating costs and put themselves at a severe price disadvantage against competitors in states without such tough immigration laws. That’s one of the major disadvantages of trying to implement immigration reform state by state, rather than all at once.

Bookman is exactly right, of course. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t tackle both immigration reform and better enforcement of our laws. But it is to say that draconian solutions have real costs.

And even if we were somehow able to apply these kinds of, er, solutions nationwide, the net result would, of course, be much more expensive food. This is not rocket science. If Americans were willing to pick blueberries for less than $10 an hour and no benefits, we wouldn’t have immigrants in the fields in the first place. Kick out the immigrants, and your labor costs will increase radically — which means either we import more food from countries with low labor costs, or we pay more at the grocery store.

As someone who’s offended (offended, I tell you!) by ground beef over $2/lb or broccoli for more than $0.69, I am absolutely part of the problem. I offer no good solution, no pat liberal platitudes. There are none, here. All over America and all over the world, people making wages you yourself would never accept, and often working in environments reasonably called “hellish,” make our easy, plentiful lives possible.

This is nothing new, of course. Sometimes doing the right thing demands great sacrifice. But let’s not kid ourselves. Shutting out illegal immigrants solves some of our problems — including making entitlements more functional — and morally speaking, refusing to push our unpleasantest tasks off onto poor brown migrants who have no legal labor protections is probably the right call. But don’t let’s anybody pretend that this is going to be some kind of shot in the arm to either American business or the economic well-being of American workers.

(Via GitM.)

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2 Responses to when you kick out all the immigrants, YOU have to pick the crops — Georgia edition

  1. Janiece says:

    Ah, yes. That pesky reality is coming to call once again. Tsk, tsk.

  2. Eric Mofford says:

    We addressed some of these same issues 15 years ago with the documentary “Displaced in the New South” which you can watch online for free. http://www.folkstreams.net/film,227

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