The real reason for the California farm labor shortage

I note that California farmers are complaining that they simply can’t get enough labor to harvest their crops, despite paying wages that are much better than in years past.  CNBC reports:

“This year is the worst it’s been, ever,” said Craig Underwood, who farms everything from strawberries to lemons to peppers, carrots, and turnips in Ventura County.

Some crops aren’t get picked this season due to a lack of workers.

“We just left them in the field,” he said.

The Western Growers Association told CNBC its members are reporting a 20 percent drop in laborers this year. Stronger border controls are keeping workers from crossing into the U.S. illegally, and the current guest worker program is not providing enough bodies.

“We have 100 fewer people this year,” said Sergio Diaz, who provides workers under contract for growers. “We’re having difficulty finding people to do this work.”

The lack of workers is forcing farmers to pay more. In one of Underwood’s fields, pickers are harvesting peppers for $9.25 a hour, or $5 a bucket, whichever is more. Craig Underwood said his workforce is aging and starting to retire, and no one is coming in to replace them.

. . .

When asked if any local residents have come out to apply to work in the fields, Craig Underwood replied, “None. Absolutely none.” He is even having trouble finding truck drivers and other semi-skilled labor for jobs that pay $12-$18 an hour.

There’s more at the link.

Wait a moment.  Let me check . . . yes, I remembered correctly.  California’s official unemployment rate in July was 10.7%.  That meant that there were 1,961,700 officially unemployed members of the labor force in that state during that month.  These are people who should, at least in theory, want jobs very badly, not so?  You can add to those numbers illegal immigrant workers who also (at least in theory) want jobs, but who aren’t recorded in government databases because they’re, well, illegal, you know?  There’s also the problem that the government systematically and deliberately understates the actual unemployment rate, as we’ve discussed before.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find the actual number of unemployed persons in California is well over 3 million – perhaps over 4 million.

So why aren’t these millions of unemployed trekking out to the farms to take up the jobs available from farmers?  There are many reasons, including the fact that it’s very hard work, physically demanding and unpleasant, and city folks aren’t used to it.  Even so, if they were truly hungry and in need, they’d take the work, I guarantee you.  The problem is that most of them are not truly hungry and in need, because the ‘nanny state’ is lavishing benefits on them to such an extent that they would lose money if they went to work at anything approaching minimum wage.

(I’m not speaking of those who are genuinely disabled or suffer from other problems that prevent them working, you understand.  Being partly permanently disabled myself, I fully sympathize with their plight.  Nevertheless, most of the ‘abled’ unemployed can make more money leeching off taxpayers than they would if they bestirred themselves to actually earn a living . . . so they don’t bother.)

You want to get people back to work?  Here’s a recipe.

  1. Stop making it possible for the able-bodied unemployed to live comfortably, for an extended period, without working.
  2. Provide suitable incentives (transport, etc.) to get those in need of work to where the jobs are – such as on farms.  Make sure the dependents of such workers have the minimum they need to
    keep going – a roof over their heads, basic nutritious food, schooling,
    etc.  That roof doesn’t have to be fancy, either.  If FEMA can make trailers available for post-disaster housing (and abandon ten thousand mobile homes in an Arkansas field), why can’t those same trailers and mobile homes house unemployed families in a farm field while they pick crops, instead of being left to rot or sold for pennies on the dollar?
  3. Workers who ‘show willing’ by tackling hard work in seasonal jobs such as harvesting should earn the right to basic support from the state when those jobs shut down out of season.  If an unemployed able-bodied person won’t ‘show willing’ by taking such jobs when they’re available, why should taxpayers have to subsidize his lazy ass?
  4. Make extended unemployment benefits conditional upon the unemployed taking training courses to equip them for the jobs that are available.  They don’t get to choose courses in underwater basket-weaving or ethnic studies, either!  If the market needs bricklayers, plumbers and truck drivers, the training courses on offer will reflect that.  Wannabe workers will take them – or lose their benefits.
  5. Crack down on illegal immigration, now and always.  By all means offer a legal ‘guest worker’ program, but only when the unemployment rolls drop to a reasonable figure.  If there are US citizens and legal residents out of work, no guest workers get a look in until our own people have jobs.
  6. Can all the ‘touchy-feely’ moonbattery about finding jobs suitable for people’s qualifications.  I don’t care if someone has a Masters degree in ethnic or gender studies, or the dramatic arts, or whatever.  If they’re unemployed and need money to survive, and there’s a job available picking fruit off the trees, they can damn well pick fruit!  I’ve been unemployed myself a time or two, and I did whatever work was available until I could find something better.  I didn’t rely on any state-provided ‘safety net’ – not that there was one, anyway, where I was at that time.

Make it necessary for people to work if they want to eat, and they’ll work.  Pander to them, make it optional to work, and you get our present mess.  You also get the greatest expansion in state-provided ‘disability’ benefits in the history of this country – 5.4 million new claimants during President Obama’s administration.  If they’re all really, truly, genuinely disabled, I’ll eat my hat!



  1. A problem with your logic. When my husband was unemployed in Arizona years ago the farmers wouldn't hire him because of his race (Caucasian). So I would bet, part of the problem is nobody is applying for the jobs because of past discrimination and the word getting around. The farmers may have shot themselves in the foot.

  2. All of what you say regarding the Nanny State equally applies here in Australia.
    The Federal Government defines 'employed' as a person who works for one hour or more a week!, hence is not counted on unemployed lists.
    A family member has never had any meaningful jobs, apart from one provided within my family, he has used drugs for the last 16 years, and the State enables him with welfare payments, subsidised housing and public transport.
    He has two small children, and he will never hold down a job, he does'nt want to nor has to, the State sees to that.
    Growing up in the early 1950's, close to none of this taxpayer largesse existed, so I worked from 14, have been out of work for 3 months all up over the last 48 years, never had welfare, never will, I'd rather starve first!.
    My wife and I have provided for our self-funded retirement, not with taxpayers money.
    I'm not blowing my own trumpet, but 'Nanny' will surely reap what she has been sowing, much to the detriment of the taxpayer.
    Frustrated?, damn right!.
    Stuart Garfath,

  3. This is not a problem, it is a desired outcome. The plan is to get as many people on the dole as possible, they will then become reliable voters for whoever promises the most free stuff. This is how you break the back of society and replace it with a two tier communist system of princes and paupers.

  4. I think you are generous. I'd like to see all Federal welfare and unemployment cut now. Let the 50 states set up 50 different programs of their own within the constraints of their own budgets. I think you would see a bit more effort to help only those that really need it in most states.


  5. "This is not a problem, it is a desired outcome. The plan is to get as many people on the dole as possible, they will then become reliable voters for whoever promises the most free stuff. This is how you break the back of society and replace it with a two tier communist system of princes and paupers."

    This plan has been in effect in Europe for decades. Example: If you're unemployed in Europe you get a special allowance for: Food, accomodation, clothing, medical care and a nice weekly payout (dole) in cash .. Just visit the Post Office with your Welfare debit card and you're handed cash.

  6. In Sweden, if you're unemployed you get 80% of your last paycheck. So if you take a lower paying job, you will actually also lower your next unemployment check, once that job is over. Factor in the cost of working (travel expenses to work, work clothes, etc) and you will loose money if you take a job with less pay than you had before.

    I know people that game the system by getting a high paying short term job just to qualify for the next round of unemployment at a high level. For example working odd hours, which pays more.

    There's no reason these people couldn't keep the job, but they dont see the need, they'd rather spend their unemployment on their hobbies, until it's time for the next short time job to keep their unemployment benefits up.

  7. Judy, I hear the same thing from farmers here about hiring locals.

    The reason isn't discrimination, it's because the farmers have tried hiring locals before, and know from experience that the people who show up for those jobs are really just there to qualify for the next round of unemployment, and will do the absolute minimum necessary to get it.

    Watching over them and then trying to fire them when they dont do anything (and get sued for wrongful termination) is such a hazzle that the farmers have given up on it, and stick with the type of workers they know from experience will actually do the job.

  8. I'm amazed at how many unemployed U.S. citizens act as though manual labor jobs are below them, myself. I hadn't thought about some of the perspectives raised here and by the other commentors, particularly the issue of higher-paying, short-term jobs help secure higher unemployment payouts. You've given me much to contemplate. My personal opinion (albeit, not nearly as well-formed as yours!) is that our society devalues this kind of work in so many ways. There are no incentives to doing this type of labor. I liked your idea of providing simple trailers/housing for migrant workers. Thanks for writing such a thought-provoking post.

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