Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Americans Still Shun Farm Work in Tough Times Illegal Immigration Backlash Is Also Hurting Farmers

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Americans Still Shun Farm Work in Tough Times Illegal Immigration Backlash Is Also Hurting Farmers

Article excerpt

LANCASTER, Pa. -- Few American workers dirty their hands the way Byron Graybeal does.

Few rise before dawn each day to work in a barn.

Save for time out to go to college, the third-generation Fulton dairyman said, "I've been milking cows all my life."

Farming might be in his blood, he acknowledges, but "it's not the cleanest work or the prettiest work that ever came down the road."

Or the highest paying, especially for hired hands.

A year of bruising, seasonal toil might net the typical American farm laborer $12,000, said Jessica Felix-Romero, of Farmworker Justice in Washington, D.C.

Though Mr. Graybeal says he and his sister, Lisa Graybeal, pay benefits to their 11 full- and part-time employees, many operations don't.

All of which helps to explain why the Graybeals and others have trouble finding enough workers -- and why Americans, generally, still shun farm jobs in a time of high unemployment.

"That work is not valued," Ms. Felix-Romero said,

A few generations ago, in rural America, calluses earned through long, physical farm labor were marks of character.

Many people toiled on the land or knew someone who did.

That started changing with World War II's Bracero ("strong-arm") program to recruit Mexican workers to ease the farm labor shortage in California. The program continued until 1964. The workers spread throughout the country, and many of them obtained green cards and permanent residency.

Today, according to Princeton University sociologist Doug Massey, who was quoted in a November Bloomberg Businessweek story: "Agricultural labor is basically 100 percent an immigrant job category. ... Once an occupational category becomes dominated by immigrants, it becomes very difficult to erase the stigma. It doesn't have anything to do with the job itself."

In Pennsylvania, Michael Rader, executive director of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee in the state Senate said, generally "we've had people leave the farms for other careers and not return. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.