Thursday, September 8, 2011

Trying to change direction

The discussion here is not really intended to be a pro/con discussion of immigration and immigration reform, but a discussion of how difficult it is to make top driven changes on a system as complex as the U.S. economy.

Georgia, going in to this summer, put into place a law that was designed to restrict the employment of illegal aliens. South Carolina has a similar law, but it appears to only effect companies working on government contracts. North Carolina has been looking at similar measures.
The problem with Georgia’s law is that it worked.
Jay Bookman, Atlantic Journal Constitution, 14 June 2011, (hat tip: NC).
After enactment of House Bill 87, a law designed to drive illegal immigrants out of Georgia, state officials appear shocked to discover that HB 87 is, well, driving a lot of illegal immigrants out of Georgia.
It might almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
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.
With agriculture being one of the main drivers of Georgia’s economy, its farmers are estimated to need about 11,000 workers this season. The Governor has offered them 2,000 unemployed criminal probationers that live within the areas needed. It takes no great leap in logic to see that this is farmers may consider this a dubious tradeoff.
Alex Nowrasteh, Fox News, 2 September 2011
Georgia tried to get around the agricultural labor problems by conscripting criminal offenders and probationers to work in the fields. The probationers could keep not pace with the Hispanic workers, reported Fox News. On one cucumber farm the fastest probationer filled only 134 buckets a day. Some filled as few as 20. Many of the Mexican and Guatemalan laborers filled 200 buckets before lunch.
This of course is what you would expect for people on the first day of the job with an average of 0 days (little less years) of experience.  Low skill, in the mind of your typical white collar bureaucrat simply means that it requires little formal training.  It does not mean that there are no skills involved.
The Governor has promised to find solutions to the problem. But this begs the question of why these solutions were not put in place when the bill was signed. And what it really begs is the question of the existence of these solutions at all.

And of course there is a lot of push back.  Not just from Democrats who see future Democrat voters being forced out of the country, but from business and agricultural groups.

Farmers Press GOP on Hiring: Amid Immigration Crackdown Growers Seek Allowance for Undocumented Workers
Miriam Jordan, Wall Street Journal, 7 September 2011
Labor researchers say more than 1.4 million people are employed as field workers in the U.S. each year, and the Labor Department estimates more than half of them are here illegally. Grower groups say that number exceeds 75%, and say measures pending in Congress could deprive Americans of homegrown food.
"We need land, water and labor to produce the food that feeds this country," said Tom Deardorff, a fourth-generation farmer in Southern California, who is on the board of Western Growers, a large trade group. "They've been trying to take away our labor."...
Stepped-up lobbying by farm groups on the issue amounts to a frank admission about their dependence on a foreign-born work force—whether legal or not. Their argument is that most American workers have shunned farm jobs because many are of a seasonal, migratory nature as well as being physically arduous.
But concern is also rising for a wider swath of corporate America about the need for a more business-friendly rationalization of immigration policy. Other sectors like fast food, hotels and construction, which also employ low-skilled workers, have been subjected to federal enforcement actions that have resulted in the loss of employees who are in the country illegally.
President Clinton, bless his heart, wanted to drive the economy forward. Although it also had political motivations, one change he made from Bush Senior was to greatly loosen the controls on the borders. Places that had never had a large immigrant population outside of agriculture all of the sudden found themselves with large migrant populations.
In North Carolina, poor whites and blacks were the main workers in the chicken factories. It may not have been high paying work, but it was steady and paid the bills. With the construction boom going on, workers started to slowly shift away from the chicken plants. The chicken plant managers made special recruitment trips to Mexico to find replacement workers. Migrant workers tend to be the most motivated of a countries population. If they can get by the language and cultural barriers, they are always going to push whomever they can compete with: it is the crème of the crop versus the average after all.
Well the change was fast, but it was not overnight. If you are North Carolina, and want to take the same measures Georgia did, how are you going to get the people who used to work in the plants, back to the plants, without completely disrupting the industry. If the industry itself wanted to do it, and could find a way to lure its ex-workers back, it would do it slowly and at the cost of incentives; Actions that would make their pricing uncompetitive with those who don’t take this action. You need everyone to do it. But that means politically driven, typically ham-handed regulation. The solutions are not impossible, but it would mean getting a lot of people on board, and huge commitment by many in time and energy. It is much easier to stay with the status quo.
Again, it is very hard to make changes in such large complex systems without the wheels coming off.


Anonymous said...

Use to be a job for high school kids. D

Anonymous said...

Those jobs will have to pay more, produce prices will have to rise. Cost of doing business w/o illegal labor.

russell1200 said...

Dennis: Yes, they keep saying that only immigrants will do the work. That is true with the way they have set it up now, but I have met an awful lot of people who grew up picking cotton or tobacco.

Suburban: In the short run most likely. But our whole economy is so stretched out of alignment with hidden incentives, disincentives, etc. that it is hard to really know. Right now the our security net subsidizes the low-pay employers. IMO the increasing demand for food visa vi increased population/wealth at the global level, and the related increase in fuel costs will be the bigger impact by far.

Anonymous said...

I spent a yer in Australia. Migrant workers (Australians mainly) and high school and college kids pick the crops. And yes, produce costs more. I knew several graduate students happy to make the money. Could be done here if we had the politicians with the moxie.S.D.

Anonymous said...

By the way, came here cuz Dakin gave you a plug.S.D.

russell1200 said...

I appreciated the nod from the Lord Bison.

As you say Anon 9:06, produce requires a fair amount of labor. There is no particular reason it should be super cheap. But Heaven forbid that we give anyone an insentive to plant a garden.

As an update, the e-verify bill (employers must check that the SS # and name are real for employees) is being stalled by the Tea Party. One of their claims is that it would set up a national registration system (LOL- like Social Security). So much for being grass roots activists.