Last week, we wrote about how the state of Georgia is facing a labor shortage after passing a harsh anti-immigration law that has chased many of its agricultural workers out. Nearly half of the 132 Georgia businesses polled in a private survey said they were experiencing a shortage of workers, and had a combined total of 11,000 jobs they could not fill.
Now, Governor Nathan Deal is proposing a truly novel solution for those unfilled jobs: send probationers out into the fields!
From the Washington Post today:
State correction officials sent a handful of the more than 15,000 unemployed people on probation statewide to work Monday on a south Georgia vegetable farm as part of a pilot program matching offenders with employers, said Stan Cooper, the state’s director of probation operations. Most people on probation are nonviolent offenders.
“There was a couple who just left early, just couldn’t handle the heat and stuff,” Cooper said. “But there were several who stuck it out, seven, eight hours in the field.”
Why are probationers being used in the first place? One would think that legal U.S. citizen workers would be happy to take the jobs, especially in this economic climate. It turns out that farm work is no picnic:
Farmers say they can find few U.S. citizens willing to work in hot, dusty fields and criticize a federal guest work program as expensive and cumbersome.
“It’s hard work,” said Sam Watson, the owner Chill C Farms in Moultrie, who wants more workers and is considering hiring probationers. “It’s hot. It’s a lot of bending, can be long hours.”
Watson said he could only hire two-thirds of the 60 workers he would have wanted to harvest squash, cucumbers and zucchini from his 300-acre farm. He blamed the state’s new law targeting illegal immigrants for driving away Hispanic workers. The lack of labor forced him to leave 13 acres of squash to rot in his fields.
More than half of the available jobs identified in the survey of roughly 230 farmers pay less than $9 per hour and last less than six months.
There it is, Georgia. The state passed one of the harshest anti-immigrant laws in the land, and is now suffering the consequences in the form of a severe labor shortage. Despite what anti-immigrant enthusiasts claimed, American workers aren’t willing to take the vacant farm jobs, and business owners stand to lose millions of dollars of worth in crops as a result. Farmers saw this coming—they were one of the most vocal opponents of the Georgia law in the first place. They repeatedly urged Georgia’s legislators and governors to keep out of the immigration debate, saying it was an issue to be reserved for the federal government. Too bad Georgia’s leaders didn’t listen.