Jane Chastain is a Southern California-based broadcaster, author and political commentator. Despite her present emphasis on politics, Jane always will be remembered as the nation's first female TV sportscaster, spending 17 years on the sports beat. Jane blogs at JaneChastain.com. She is a pilot who lives on a private runway.More ↓Less ↑
Last week, Fox News reported that asparagus growers in Washington state leave 10 percent of their crop uncut because of a labor shortage. Farmers are said to be losing a combined $200,000 a day. This is happening in a state where the unemployment rate is almost 11 percent. What’s wrong with this picture?
Farm wages are either too low, welfare too high or too easily obtained, or a wicked combination of all three that has robbed us of our self-reliance, determination, dignity and pride as a people and as a nation.
Washington state is well-known for its generous unemployment benefits. Unemployed people can receive up to $583 a week, which is, on average, 42.3 percent of their previous wage for 73 weeks (Congress temporarily extended this to 99 weeks) for doing absolutely nothing. All they have to do to receive this cash is to remain unemployed. Add this to a list of some 70 federal programs that provide everything from free food, free housing, free medical care and countless other benefits.
Remember welfare reform? In 1996, Congress tied welfare to work. Unfortunately, it addressed only one of these programs, AFDC, which became TANF. It required recipients to work or be actively preparing for work at least 30 hours per week. It was a big success until the nation’s poverty pimps began circumventing the requirements. We need to close those loopholes. Additionally, why not tie food stamps to work? Why not tie federal housing to work? Why not tie unemployment benefits to work, like pushing brooms or mops in government buildings?
Picking asparagus isn’t exactly rocket science. The only education necessary can be received on the job in about 15 minutes. All it takes is a strong back and a willingness to work, but 11 percent of the residents of the state of Washington would rather sit on their behinds and take handouts from taxpayers.
To be sure, picking asparagus is hard work. All farm work is labor intensive. However, many American families do this work on their own farms with pride and a sense of accomplishment. Why should we take part of what they earn to pay others to sit at home?
By far, the prevailing attitude of most welfare recipients is, “Don’t worry. Be happy. Let the good times roll, all courtesy of the poor working stiffs!”
To be fair, the big growers and American consumers have become part of the problem. In 2010, the average hourly earnings of non-supervisory farm laborers was $10.22. In comparison, the average wage for landscaping and groundskeeping workers was $12.23.
Growers argue that they need a constant flow of new immigrants to do this work that U.S. citizens refuse to do, but what happens to these immigrants? They have to live, so they become “Americanized.” In other words, they learn how to tap into our generous welfare benefits. Then, they kick back and live off the taxpayers.
Growers somehow feel entitled to cheap labor. Additionally, American consumers feel entitled to cheap produce. The problems in Washington state’s asparagus fields are not isolated. Just how much is that bunch of asparagus, that pound of apples or that head of lettuce really costing American taxpayers? A 2010 study by the Federation of American Immigration Reform put the cost of illegal immigration alone at $113 billion a year.
How much would it cost us if growers raised the wages of their workers 40 percent, which would move them out of poverty? Dr. Philip Martin of UC Davis estimates it would cost the average household an extra $15 a year at the checkout stand, the cost of two movie tickets.
To be sure, this kind of work is done primarily by young, low-skilled, workers with limited education. Agribusinesses who need these workers could develop attractive work-study programs to give these young workers a path to a better future instead of a path to a lifetime on welfare.
Growers say the low wage is necessary to compete with imports from other countries. If that really is the case, why is the tariff on fruits and vegetables below the average of other agriculture imports?
The system is broken and must be fixed if we are to survive as a nation.
Shame on the workers who prefer handouts to honest labor!
Shame on our lawmakers who refuse to reform a welfare system that rewards slothfulness!
Shame on those agribusinesses that feel entitled to cheap labor at the expense of taxpayers!
Shame on our government that refuses to enforce immigration laws!
Shame on consumers who do not count the real cost and who keep electing representatives who promise them something for nothing!