The High Cost of Anti-Immigrant Laws

The High Cost of Anti-Immigrant Laws

"Farmwork is the worst combination of subpoverty wages; dangerous, backbreaking work; and near-total absence of labor protections or benefits. Few aspire to do farmwork, as Georgia’s growers just found out the hard way. But the good news is, although most produce growers operate on razor-thin margins, the trillion-dollar food industry has the resources to raise wages dramatically and virtually overnight. Massive consolidated retail purchasers—companies like Walmart, Kroger, Publix and Trader Joe’s—could, for as little as a penny per pound in the case of tomatoes, raise wages by up to 70 percent. (The CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food is one practical program that is developing such an industrywide solution.) And even if retailers passed the price increase on to consumers, who would notice if tomatoes went from $2.93 to $2.94 per pound? Across all crops, according to a recent analysis, a 40 percent farmworker wage increase would require the average American household to spend only $15 more per year on fruits and vegetables. That’s a drop in the bucket, given that an average household’s annual food budget is $6,400. These pennies add up for farmworkers, however, and would help transform their job from one of the country’s worst to one where they could take their first step out of poverty and toward a living wage.  Fair wages and dignified working conditions could end crippling labor shortages in the agricultural industry by giving workers like those who tried and gave up on watermelon harvesting this summer an incentive to stick it out. If Georgia has taught us anything, it should be that farmworkers as well as immigrants are simply too valuable to this country for us to continue treating them as a permanent underclass."