California labor market sentences to ponder

Growers who can afford it have already begun raising worker pay well beyond minimum wage. Wages for crop production in California increased by 13% from 2010 to 2015, twice as fast as average pay in the state, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Today, farmworkers in the state earn about $30,000 a year if they work full time — about half the overall average pay in California. Most work fewer hours.

Some farmers are even giving laborers benefits normally reserved for white-collar professionals, like 401(k) plans, health insurance, subsidized housing and profit-sharing bonuses. Full-timers at Silverado Farming, for example, get most of those sweeteners, plus 10 paid vacation days, eight paid holidays, and can earn their hourly rate to take English classes.

But the raises and new perks have not tempted native-born Americans to leave their day jobs for the fields. Nine in 10 agriculture workers in California are still foreign born, and more than half are undocumented, according to a federal survey.

Here is the link, including further points of interest, via Anecdotal.


Does this mean the Cesar Chavez lettuce / grape boycott is over?

Note it was Filipinos who paved the way towards unionization in the 1965 Chavez UFW grape boycott (Wikipedia, ): "The strike began when the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, mostly Filipino farm workers in Delano, California, led by Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, Benjamin Gines and Pete Velasco, walked off the farms of area table-grape growers, demanding wages equal to the federal minimum wage.[1][2][3] One week after the strike began, the predominantly Mexican-American National Farmworkers Association, led by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Richard Chavez,[4] joined the strike, and eventually the two groups merged, forming the United Farm Workers of America in August 1966.[3] The strike rapidly spread to over 2,000 workers. Through its grassroots efforts—using consumer boycotts, marches, community organizing and nonviolent resistance—the movement gained national attention for the plight of some of the nation's lowest-paid workers.[2][3] By July 1970, the UFW had succeeded in reaching a collective bargaining agreement with the table-grape growers, affecting in excess of 10,000 farm workers."

The Wikipedia article claims a success, and it might be true not so much because of consumer boycotts (they never work) but rather the longshoremen of Oakland refused to ship non-union grapes.

PS--my family boycotts Chilean grapes, though they are the only kind available now in the winter; they think they have excess pesticides in them (they have many food fetishes).

Bonus trivia: the excellent C. Bronson movie "Mr. Majestyk" (1974) is about a melon grower who resists mafia-linked union goons from shaking down his farm. But to do so he ends up breaking the law. Today, and in real life, Mr. Majestyk would be a felon and in prison.

Robotization won't ever happen if obamacare-subsidized loosers can compete with robots for half their price.

Once you write the software for the first robot farm worker, the next 50 million robots are just the cost of downloading the software, isn't it?

After all, you will certainly program the farm worker robot to reproduce. Farming is all about reproduction. Nothing in farming gets done without reproduction.

Robot semen collection and insemination will surely be a future STEM major.

No, the costs will be unpredictable.

The internal combustion engine will never happen if those horse loosers can compete with horseless carriages for half their price.

That's... true, actually. The horse loosers (kek) just couldn't do it, though. If is a pretty big word.

Wouldn't we all just love to hear what you'd like to do with those who were sufficiently unfortunate/unlucky, or insufficiently motivated to pursue high-income options from a young age, to now benefit from public subsidies to health care.

PS. Did you know that the USA could save $1.1 trillion a year (!!) by adopting universal health care? Just calculate the difference between 11% of GDP in Canada and 17% of GDP in the USA, multiply by the size of the US economy ... and ...

It seems you hate the notion of helping people so much that you'd rather see 1.1 trillion ANNUALLY flushed down the toilet to avoid the pain of knowing that someone received a benefit which was not obtained via an explicit market transaction.

This is a silly, reductionist analysis.

There is no evidence to suggest that transitioning to single payer would reduce health care expenditures by 6% of GDP.

The existing cost structure is already locked in place. We can't cut doctors' wages by 40-50% to match Canadian levels.

Well if everyone refuses to try, most certainly it will be impossible to take a nod from nearly every other advanced country and save a trillion dollars a year.

The fact that I have not mapped out a pathway there in 50 words or less does not mean it cannot happen.

Did you know that Trump has previously expressed openness to univeral health care?

Also, universal payer tends to mislead people into thinking that all the doctors work for the state. Outside of hospitals, most are basically running privately operated outfits which bill the government. Standards are high, but there is always incentive to cut costs.

But the raises and new perks have not tempted native-born Americans to leave their day jobs for the fields. Nine in 10 agriculture workers in California are still foreign born, and more than half are undocumented, according to a federal survey.

Solution: import cheaper, browner people to do the jobs white people just won't do. It worked out so well before!

In the South, cotton used to be is harvested by teams of slaves purchased in Charleston. Now, cotton is harvested by a man in a harvester/baler supervised by a man in a pickup truck. Soon, AI will replace both with robots.

If it can be defined, it can be automated. Harvesting of avocados, grapes, strawberries, etc. will all be automated with little need or no need for manual inputs.

One day we'll all be automated away. It will be an orderly transition.

In the meantime, farmers need to get their crops harvested.

Markets clear.

It's hard to find a crop not picked by mechanical harvesters at this point. Maybe the economists worried about organic artichokes, rotting in the fields, can harvest them.

Farmers were already finding it hard to get farm workers simply because of fears spurred by candidate Trump. Now that Trump is president, driving to farms needing workers is considered too risky. Better to just stay on or near the farms they currently work even if they don't have work.

Crops rotting in the fields. Then plant almond trees to cut the labor force by 97%.

Soon the Big Mac will come with almond spread instead of lettuce and tomato.

+1 on almond spread

So, where is the health care market sentence to ponder? The last few days have been fascinating in a subject that this web site explored in its inimitable fashion in years past, and now? Nary a word, it seems.

Talk about complacency in practice.

Exactly, best to hide it the weeds when the big predators are around

Well, there was a link to an 11 year old single payer article from Prof. Cowen, but single payer has absolutely nothing to do with what has been going on since November.

But yes, it is not a good time for someone like Prof. Cowen to guess which way the various winds are blowing, since the gusts are coming from extremely unpredictable directions. But then, what is the difference between caution and complacency anyways? Possibly, this lack of attention to what previously had bordered on the near obsessive in focus is a good example of that distinction in practice.

It is fair to take a moment to digest the news. It is bigger than the Obamacare "repeal." It is about what Republicans can agree upon.

Will they order themselves for governance, to write something like real tax reform, or will they just manage to mark changes in the margin?

If they are really just an anti-liberal party, it will be snips at the margin, and no landmark legislation at all. The decision they face this morning.

The hardest crops to robotize would probably be biodynamic fruit and vegetables. It's the most extreme form of organic farming. They obtain the highest crop yields per acre and the best quality products you'll ever see, but it's done by pouring a ridiculous amount of hand labor into cultivation. They're following the prescriptions of Rudolf Steiner, a 19th and 20th century mystic who combined a lot of nutty weird stuff with a pretty good understanding of making compost and maintaining the health of the soil. I'm not sure the biodynamics people (they have a certification organization) would even allow robots. They may require the soil to be worked by hand, to energize the soil with your life force or something. Pretty much any robot is going to have some electrical circuits, so they might be concerned about any electromagnetic fields it would expose the crop to.

Some high-end restaurants use biodynamic fruit and vegetables simply because the quality is so good, not for any mystical reasons. I'm sure it's out-of-sight expensive, but they can afford it for the quality they're looking for.

I don't want a souless machine touching my food.

This reminds me of the piece Tyler recently posted about the robo-sex workers. Well, I don't want a soulless machine robotically touching my junk.

Neither do I.

Joke's on you robot urologists are just around the corner

,he typed on his computer, wired to an anonymous, globe-spanning network.

But the computer doesn't really touch my food.

I prefer souless machine harvested crops than crops harvested by hands that touched a porta pottie.

"I don’t want a souless machine touching my food."

LOL, did your food come in any kind of packaging? Was it refrigerated or frozen at any point? Did the peasant who picked it use gloves and a shovel?

I have spoken with a farmer that did biodynamic farmer, and he told me that the yield is substantially lower than conventional farming techniques, and despite the fact that the produce is typically tastier, lots of consumer are put off by the fact that it looks "wrong": smaller, pitted, not shiny.
He was speaking more generally about organic farming: when he started speaking about biodynamic farming, he was cut short by the seminar facilitator, that did not want such gobbledygook discussed.

In my business some years ago, I had dealings with several building contractors. All told the same story: they would prefer to hire American workers but for day work there were no Americans waiting at Home Depot early in the morning.

There are jobs Americans won't do - like being Mr. Trump's wife.

It's hard to pick the single greatest thing about the historic 2016 Presidential election.

But the fact that Michelle Obama lost her job to an immigrant is Top 5, easy. Thanks for reminding me of that!

She did not lost her job, she retired undefeated unlike Rosalynn Carter and Barbara Bush. And Slovenia must pay for the Wall.

Yeah that was sweet. Now she has a layabout husband who would rather shoot hoops and play video games than direct the Resistance. Fun to watch.

He sounds like every other Trump voter, except for the shooting hoops thing.

"Now she has a layabout husband who would rather shoot hoops and play video games..."

Pretty much describes Obama's work ethic as President too.

Maybe cruising through parking lots isn't the best way to find workers. It's just easy and cheap - paramount concerns for most building contracters.

Most of my co-workers were recruited at parking lots and it is worling out fine, thanks!

Americans aren't qualified to become agricultural workers because they don't know the first thing about it. There are no American high school courses in picking apples, tending to sugar beets or milking cows.

You don't need a high school course. One day of OJT will teach you all you need to know. It's so easy, an inanimate machine can do it. Inanimate machines do do it.

Crop-picking is hard work. That's why plantation owners bought slaves, because they couldn't pay free whites enough to break their backs under the hot sun. Why ruin your body for Massa Gerald O'Hara when you can just move to the frontier and pan for gold or work hard on land of your very own. Of course, as the South found out, there's really no such thing as cheap labor.

It's typical of elitists and commenters on this site to denigrate the skills required of the lower classes while trumpeting their own. They could mow their own lawns, unclog their own drains, paint their own houses but they just don't have the time.

They've acquired skill sets that render their time too valuable to spend walking behind a lawn mower, another easily automated task. Hopefully the productivity gains from automation are sufficient to fund all the transfer payments we're going to be making to 50-year old disabled landscape workers with ruined knees and bad backs.

If I'm wrong, then there's a marketing opportunity for Chuck Martel's School of Apple Picking, Beet Tending, and Cow Milking with two-year and four-year courses of study.

If only there were some economic theory to explain why a person with high-value skills who was capable of doing all those things might still chose to hire some lower-skilled person to do them....

I'm pro immigration, but this line of reasoning has always baffled me. If there were no illegal immigrants in the parking lot, the contractor would seek other methods of hiring. Maybe they would need to offer higher wages. And if they did offer higher wages, maybe more non-immigrants would hang out in the parking lot. There's certainly no shortage of citizens selling stuff in concert parking lots.

I suspect that if there weren't any available immigrants, then the price of labor would go up and a lot more of the huge population of unemployed Americans, in particular black Americans, would happily take the jobs.

It would probably increase the cost of construction and maintenance by a few percentage points, but that doesn't seem like a huge injustice or risk to the economy.

It's almost like there's a market-clearing mechanism for such things; a "supply-demand curve" or some such.

Man, that Nobel is so close I can taste it.

I didn't mean to imply that it wasn't obvious

I think his gibe was directed at everyone who was ignoring the obvious, not at you for stating.

So am I understanding this right - restricting illegal immigration results in higher wages for workers in California?

You don't say. What will modern science discover next?

That raising the minimum wage also leads to higher wages?

Nominal or real wages? And do you count the unemployed at $0 per hour? Or don't you count the unemployed in your wage calculation?

It's probably too short-term to read that out of the data.

Like, yeah, the point you make is obviously true-ish enough. But to think that this effect has ALREADY been caused by changes in immigratoin policy of the new administration? Maybe see what it looks like in a year or two?

(I expect the direction of effect is exactly what you say though, but presumably most of what is observed in March 2017 is the result of things that occurred long before Jan 20, 2017.)

There are one million hired farm workers in the USA. Half of them are either US citizens or legal immigrants. There are eleven million illegals in the USA. Yet every year its claimed that crops are rotting in the field. So it must mean that even the vast majority of illegals won't work these jobs at the wages paid for the conditions they have to work

'There are eleven million illegals in the USA'

Or it means that claim is false, and severely overestitmates the number of people who are not legally residing in the U.S.

Call it the 'illegal gap,' in remembrance of the 'missile gap.'

These illegal immigrants, sorry, these undocumented oppressed visible ethnic minorities, will just have to pull their socks up and work just as hard as the native born Americans at avoiding certain jobs.

'these undocumented oppressed visible ethnic minorities'

Of which a surprisingly large number in the recent past were Irish - you can decide how visibly ethnic they were while working without proper documents on construction sites in SF, Chicago, Boston, etc..

"Illegal Aliens" does seem a bit of a presumption, but "Undocumented Immigrant" is and sounds like PC gobbledygook.

How about "Unauthorized Immigrant"?


R we sure that gushing precious water on fruit and cotton is the sort of activity we should want done more? What effect will rising US grow costs have on farmers abroad?

The water is precious because it's used for fruit and cotton production, not because it's used for washing cars, irrigating golf courses and making suburban lawns green.

Given time, maybe work conditions (and expectations) can become more worker friendly

Re: But the raises and perks have not tempted native born Americans to leave their day jobs for the fields...

This is because of

The failure of our schools

To teach


End welfare and we won't need foreign workers.

Should I be droll and say that we need more 4 year degrees in Fruit Harvest?

Seriously, an economic and chauvinistic answer would be to give work visas to any who ask, but restrict citizenship and restrict benefits.

Make farm labor an underclass again (with safety standards, but a minimum wage below that for citizens).

Or you could try the Australian approach, which has a HIGHER minimum wage than many sectors for agriculture.

Because they want to attract quality labourers for agriculture.

Australians also recognize that blood, sweat and tears should cost something.

What the hell are Australians growing that requires literal "blood, sweat and tears?" In an advanced economy, we use mechanical harvesters: one guy drives it, supervised by one guy in a pickup truck.

There is a mindset that prefers a world where ditches are dug by two dozen coolies wielding pick axes instead of one high school graduate operating a backhoe.

Well, I guess I'm not talking about wheat, which mostly involves driving a tractor.

For many tasks, the driving part is the break, not the work.

"Wages rise on California farms. Americans still don’t want the job"

And the proof that "Americans" don't want the job is that most of the workers are still foreign born, but of those foreign born workers, many are American citizens. So is the author implying that those foreign born American citizens aren't really Americans? Someone fire those authors!

I've never actually heard such arguments except from people who use them as strawmen.

Not sure what argument you refer to, but I'd probably disagree if I knew what you were trying to say.

About firing authors for failing to bow down to the demands of some radical extremists who exist mostly in the imagination of those on the opposite extreme.

Pretty sure if the authors were to come right out and say "only native born Americans are real Americans," their employer would fire them. My point is that if you treat foreign born Americans citizens as "Americans," the authors' argument falls apart.

I see. Perhaps the authors will get it bad from both "sides" then.

As a matter of empirical anlaysis, the distinction makes sense for a lot of reasons though. In particular differences in expectations.

Being in the Inland Empire California, we have been hearing about these realities of agricultural labor market but don't understand why it has not brought WWC

1) Despite these pay increases, the life is still extremely tough here for the wages.
2) I think as the pay raises, the expected productivity has increased and they expect experience for that level.
3) We still have lots of foreign born people who crossed the border the last 20 - 30 years. So there is labor supply for the next 10 years.
4) One reality of California being so immigrant workers is there are still lots of Immigrant communities in our area. So a poor immigrant can go to a church and outreach community for help on jobs, housing, social, etc. I don't think individual WWC from West Virgina have the community in our area to lean upon.

What reason to post higher wages than to get better workers?

There is a fairly sappy film, "MacFarland USA", which actually shows somewhat what it's like to be a picker. There is a serious learning curve. So no wonder white collar Americans aren't lining up for this.

Chess, Go, and Jeopardy wining bots are easy. What's hard are bots that fold towels, make beds, and that can harvest a wide variety of crops, typically those only grown in California (lettuce, tomatoes, peaches, cherries, melons, oranges, apricots, nectarines, grapes, kale, garlic, celery, carrots, figs, kiwi, plums, strawberries, avocado, lemons, prunes, pluots, dates, etc.). Almond and walnuts can be shaken, though not stirred.

So, why not tackle this, Silicon Valley? Huh. You are the Valley of the Moon, originally (greatest ag valley in the world, originally).

Tells you how bad things are in other countries.

I bet there are some other foreign-born people who would be glad to come to America and drive down those wages, currently earned by predominately undocumented immigrants. "They're just doing work the Mexicans won't do."

Skyscraper construction in New York used a lot of Mohawk laborers. A poem by Frank O'Hara contains the lines

and the gaited Iroquois on the girders
fierce and unflinching-footed

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