By Will Tew
Who’d of thought it: cracking down on immigrant workers hurts the economy? Georgia’s learning the hard way as farms lose laborers and crops go unharvested. After its passing of strict anti-immigrant legislation in April, thousands of illegal workers have fled the state before the implementation of the law in July. This exodus of experienced farmhands meant 11,080 farm jobs left unfilled.
With a labor shortage to deal with, the government of the state of Georgia has a novel way of filling the vacancies: probationers. Atlanta also instituted a program to encourage those on probation to find work in the fields. Ex-cons, who find getting jobs difficult, aren’t exactly overjoyed at the opportunity, though. The grueling conditions and long hours of farm work discourage many new workers. Sometimes it only takes a few hours for them to quit.
Of course, the new workers cite wages as the reason for their high turnover rates, but you’ve got to wonder just how much would constitute “fair” pay. Whatever it is, it was high enough to make farmers turn to illegal workers in the first place. The lack of a stable workforce and skilled farmhands means less efficiency and less food. As food prices continue to rise, increasing the cost of labor on farms doesn’t sound like the smartest idea. The story’s too familiar though: politicians demagogue immigrants, then pass stupid bills, farmers complain, and almost everyone suffers.