I was a Farm Worker

by | May 24, 2012

It makes no economic sense for an employer to pay $20 an hour for a job that is only worth $10 an hour.

When I was about 13 years old I wanted to attend a basketball camp. My parents agreed to pay half of the price, but I had to find a way to earn the other half. My meager allowance was insufficient, even if I saved every penny. So, my parents suggested that I try to get a job at a nearby strawberry farm.

I got the job, and every morning I rode my bicycle to the farm, which was about three miles away. My “training” for the job consisted of the owner showing me what a ripe strawberry looked like and how to properly pick it. In other words, the job did not require great skills. I picked berries all morning long and was paid cash at the end of my workday. I was paid on the basis of my production– ten cents per quart.

This was not fun work. I had to spend hours squatting, searching for elusive berries, and then gently pick them. I had to work fast but accurately, if I was going to earn enough money to pay for basketball camp.

At that age, this was a decent job. I didn’t have many job skills, and few people could legally hire me. But I had a goal, and the unpleasant conditions were better than the alternative.

I haven’t thought about that experience in many years. However, I was recently reading about farmers who, reacting to the backlash over illegal immigrants, have tried to hire Americans to pick their crops. Almost without fail, these farmers have said that Americans will work for a short period–often only a few hours–and then disappear. They do not have the same problem with the immigrants.

The opponents of illegal immigration are quick to argue that if employers were willing to pay more–a “livable” wage–then Americans would do the work. But such arguments ignore the fact that some jobs are not worth very much. Picking strawberries (or other farm products) is not a high skill job. If a 13-year-old can do it so that he can earn a little money to attend basketball camp, why should the farmer pay a “livable” wage. His costs would skyrocket and fewer consumers could afford his berries.

Those whose skills limit them to such jobs as picking produce are not among society’s most productive citizens. If someone still in junior high school can do the job, what do they expect? They aren’t performing brain surgery, writing software, or doing anything else that requires much more than consciousness and a reasonable level of work ethic.

Americans are “blessed” with “free” public education, not that that does a lot of good. Americans can legally move anywhere within the country. In contrast, the typical illegal immigrant has little education and few job skills. Most do not speak any more than the rudiments of English, if that. But the jobs they are willing to do do not require many skills. It makes no economic sense for an employer to pay $20 an hour for a job that is only worth $10 an hour.

Today, if I were a 13-year-old who wanted to earn the money to go to basketball camp, I would have many, many opportunities. I could perhaps repair a neighbor’s computer or give him lessons on surfing the Internet. Today, the typical 13-year-old American has far more opportunities than the typical poor, uneducated 30-year-old Mexican.

An adult American whose skills put him in competition with an illiterate Mexican has not done very well in preparing himself for the job market. He must recognize this fact. If he doesn’t like the opportunities that that provides, he should do something about it besides complaining about immigrants.

Brian Phillips is the founder of the Texas Institute for Property Rights. Brian has been defending property rights for nearly thirty years. He played a key role in defeating zoning in Houston, Texas, and in Hobbs, New Mexico. He is the author of three books: Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, The Innovator Versus the Collective, and Principles and Property Rights. Visit his website at texasipr.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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