A Big Oopsie in Georgia

Via Steve Benen — Georgia recently passed a law that drove undocumented workers out of the state. But there were unintended consequences

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.


The fire-breathing nativists who blame all social ills on illegal immigrants need to face up to the fact that chunks of the American economy require undocumented labor to function as they are functioning. Even if, hypothetically, we decide it’s all right to pay more for our groceries to reduce agriculture’s dependence on undocumented workers, that would also mean American food products would be uncompetitive in the global market.

Given high unemployment, would American-born workers be able to take up the slack?

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.

In other words, this is very hard work that doesn’t pay a living wage. So what’s the free-market solution? Oh, wait — undocumented workers are the free-market solution. Never mind.

25 thoughts on “A Big Oopsie in Georgia

  1. They tried to use the prison population to pick the crops, but the probationers walked off—thought it was too hard!

    • They tried to use the prison population to pick the crops, but the probationers walked off—thought it was too hard!

      Seems to me that borders on indentured servitude.

  2. It kind of bothers me that my desire to stop the immigrant-bashing means I have to be okay with paying people $300 a week for backbreaking labor with no benefits.

  3. Jeez, and it was only just a little over a month since GA’s smiling Governor proudly brought in TV camera’s to record his signing of the historic ‘The No Illegal Immigrant Wetback Migrant Workers for Georgia Act.’

    Not so ‘peachy’ now, is it Georgia?

    Not with fruits and vegetables rotting in the fields because of your own xenophobic stupidity.
    You’re finding that one of the few beauties of being a MIGRANT worker, assholes, is that they don’t have to migrate to Georgia – they can go to another state to work their asses off for low wages.

    Outside of Atlanta, Georgia’s economy is largely based on agriculture, so, unless they can figure a way out of their law of uninteneded consequences, the farmers and citizens of the state are bound to suffer even more as the growing season continues.

    Normally, I’d say, “Good! You reap what you sow, assholes!!!”, except that any lost revenue will be taken out of the hides of “the usual suspects” – women, children, the old, the sick, and the disabled.
    Hey, it’s how Conservatives roll…

  4. Regardless of what the far, far right-wing whackos say about undocumented people from Central and South America, the reality is that business people (read: Chamber of Commerce) and farmers and other hand-type, piece work employers could not and would not exist were it not for undocumented workers.

    Both employers and workers are here and are real. They’ve been here for decades. In the 1950s, my father-in-law was a deputy sheriff in Ohio. He had to deal with the problem than. It has only gotten worse in the ensuing 6 decades.

  5. maha,
    After the Civil War, the Southern states replaced slaves with “slave” labor from prison populations.
    If you look, most of the prisoners were **SURPRISE** black! This practice lasted until the early part of the 20th Century.
    Scroll down to read about the US:


    And yes, it was a form of indentured servitude.
    But, I guess under modern Conservatism, ‘What goes around, comes around.”

    Oh, btw, I read an article about the probationers, and it seems one of them really tried to keep up with a LEGAL Mexican migrant worker. The poor man had to be led back in a daze, while the Mexican worker kept on going like “The Energizer Bunny.”

  6. A while ago, NPR presented an interview with Douglas Blackmon, author of “Slavery by Another Name”. His research told a truly horrific tale of people being arrested on trumped up charges and being shipped off to forced labor with the “employer” providing payment to the state or county. That’s another great innovation created by the “free market”.

    I worked on a pilot program that offered rehabilatative services to undocumented agricultural workers. Now, it seems that could only have happened in an alternate reality. Most of the people in the program had spinal cord injuries from work related accidents. Let’s just say that job safety was not the employer’s primary concern, although accurate statistics were not available, so that would only be my personal opinion. American workers in the same situation would be much more likely and able to take legal action. Undocumented workers were virtually powerless to do so. They also had taxes taken out of their pay without the option of filing a tax return for a refund, since their identity papers were often “chueco” (lame) as they used to say.

    We have a large latino population here, mostly people from Mexico and Costa Rica. I don’t know what percentage might be illegal, but my wife delivers a fair number of babies for latinas without papers. The vast majority are almost certainly here legally, and many run small businesses that spruce up an otherwise terminally boring town. I have talked about this with a number of anglo small business owners I know. They usually estimate that between 10 and 20 percent of their business comes from latino patrons. Again, some may be undocumented, but they still add a lot to the local economy and I suspect they would be sorely missed if they were to leave. Many of the small, local construction companies would probably go bankrupt without undocumented workers.

  7. What a marvelous example of across-the-board Republican myopia.

    Indentured servitude it may be but here in CA a program which ’employed’ prisoners to maintain our state parks, at the cost of $30,000/year, was scuttled by then governor Reagan in his campaign to cut our budget. So, the prisoners suffered, the state parks went to hell in a hand basket and the budget cut was so miniscule as to go unrecorded. A classic example of Republican fiscal responsibility.

  8. I don’t think I see enough hostility to Republicans here. So, before I chip in, let me open with a word in favor of George W. Bush: one of the 3 or 4 decent things he did in his 8 years was to introduce an immigration bill, near the end of the term, that really wasn’t too bad.

    (That, by the way, is high praise, for a Republican, and enacting such a law is way beyond the capabilities of Democrats. A good immigration law just doesn’t exist. In the matter of immigration law, failure is not an option; it’s a a foregone conclusion.)

    And the bill was good news for John McCain. Representing an important border state and being, as we all know because the press was always telling us so, a maverick and a decent man, he supported the bill. He was pretty much the only Republican who would. Till he saw which way the wind was blowing. And then it was flip-flop time: a wind-powered flip-flop, used in green computers to this day! Well, not really, but it was a major flop in every way.

    From there the Republicans’ way was clear. But wait! One still has to mention how the R Party has deteriorated since Reagan’s time! After all, when Ronald the Stupid let Gorbachev sweet-talk him into liking some nuclear arms control, the Republicans followed as if it had been their idea all along. Can you imagine such a thing today?

    BTW the GOP smells of worse things than elderberries.

  9. So let me make sure I understand this: It’s more cost effective to let crops rot in the field than to hire a legal worker at a decent wage.

    Doesn’t sound like much of a business model to me.

    • So let me make sure I understand this: It’s more cost effective to let crops rot in the field than to hire a legal worker at a decent wage.

      I could be wrong, but I suspect that is actually the case. The crops probably won’t sell at a high enough price to pay for the labor to harvest them.

      It may be that we have to either shut our yaps and tolerate some number of undocumented workers, or provide government subsidies to pay seasonal farm workers a decent amount.

  10. That’s right. We have the low prices, comparatively speaking, for produce because people are willing to work for low wages in the fields. I can’t imagine that most farmers were for this law; they must have forseen what was coming. A lot of hard work reduced to nothing by idiot government.

  11. My assistant at work keeps telling me how great the strawberry pickers in Plant City have it.
    He is 29 and still lives with his parents in his parents house.
    He also listens to “Bubba The Love Sponge ” daily, and is an expert on everything.
    Great link, ‘Gulag, I love Kathy Griffin.
    Swami, your link made me want (another) cerveza and a coupla carnitas tacos.

  12. Oh my god, erinyes “Bubba the Love Sponge” is still on in the Tampa Bay Area. Wasn’t Glenn Beck once at the offensively stupid “Q Morning Zoo”? No wonder so many people vote Republican, they just can’t get enough of a bad thing. I’d rather take my chances with the endtimers here.

    I’ve never bought crop insurance, does anyone know if it covers a lack of cheap labor to harvest?

  13. Yeah, goatherd, He’s still on, but believe it or not, he DOES support Obama.
    But he is still crude and walks on the edge of very bad taste.
    I was told that this years strawberry crop in Plant City was (in part) left to rot also because of high costs for pickers;berries were very cheap in the local markets, and the roadside stands were practically giving them away (with a lot of culls).

  14. The supposedly lazy undocumented workers who actually pick the crops are actually hard working people who work quickly. Douglas Blackmon’s book made a very important point about how the Southern system reimposed a form of slavery for African Americans in the south. Convict leasing systems and employing convicts to do work in prisons aren’t new.

  15. So what’s the free-market solution?

    I know, I know….Bring back the convict leasing system!….Who knows, maybe I might be able to land a job as the whipping boss..I’ll get those berry pickers moving.

  16. I could be wrong, but I suspect that is actually the case. The crops probably won’t sell at a high enough price to pay for the labor to harvest them.

    It may be that we have to either shut our yaps and tolerate some number of undocumented workers, or provide government subsidies to pay seasonal farm workers a decent amount.

    Well, here’s what frosts me.

    We could probably have guest workers come in legally, and the only subsidy we might have to provide are some buses or trains to get them to where the work is, and then some checks to make sure they go home (or to their next job) at the end of their hitch.

    But people don’t want that, is what I think. I think they *want* people here illegally. So they have a campaign platform to scream about; so they have “enforcement funds” to disburse as political favors; so they have workers who can’t complain about illegal working conditions.

    And that’s what I find infuriating. If we “need” immigrants to do this work, fine – let’s treat them like human beings. If we don’t, let’s get our own people back to work. But right now, the powers that be are playing both sides against each other, because it’s a great game for them, but they’re causing real harm to real human beings along the way.

  17. “Bring back the covict leasing system!”
    Now THAT would be interesting, cops could be tipped off by big ag as to where the farm laborers are hiding, the cops pick them up, CCA wherehouses the “perps”, then leases them out to pick crops and clean up after disasters. Maybe even uses them as mercenaries to fast track them to citizenship (or the graveyard).
    ‘Sounds like a great movie plot.

  18. How long till we hear from the Teabagger crowd that welfare checks should be dependent on doing farm labor at below-minimum-wage? The “rationale” will be that the asistance checks are a “supplement” to the wages, thus resulting in a per-hour rate above the minimum wage. After all, the ‘baggers and their kids won’t have to do any of this work. They are all “good” people who have jobs and money and insurance and whiteness.

  19. A lot of hard work reduced to nothing by idiot government.

    Lynne, yes the GA legislature is idiotic but remember that many of non-agricultural business owners and other people wanted this law. The people who blame undocumented workers for every ill they know of, wanted this law and didn’t want to hear that the workers are needed. It was a failure of the legislature to try to think through the potential results of such a law. It was a failure of government to lead, that is, explain potential downsides and lead the people to other ideas. They gave in to the idiots in the general population and gave them what they wanted.

  20. The US once had a guest worker program — The Bracero Program. See Wikipedia:


    It ran from 1942 to 1964. It ended for various reasons, one of which was the costs for the imported workers were rising.

    It always comes down to the costs of workers and the people wanting cheap food.

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