Wednesday, October 17, 2012

WSJ Wednesday - Not Enough Apple Pickers

After a hiatus that lasted way too long, I hope to bring back WSJ Wednesday on a regular basis. It was a popular column, and even I miss it.

A big topic in this election cycle has been lack of jobs. Unemployment levels are high. It seems businesses are laying off or closing every time you turn around. My experience as a homeowner, however, and a recent article from The Wall Street Journal makes me wonder if that's the entire picture.

In "Many Apples, Few Pickers" by Joel Millman, the topic is the lack of workers to pick bumper apple crops in Washington state. Washington is enjoying the second biggest apple crop in its history, but some farmers are stating that up to one-quarter of their bounty will rot because there aren't enough pickers. Featured in the Wednesday, October 10, 2012 edition of the paper, the article is accompanied by three photographs: one of a farm worker, another of help wanted signs in eastern Washington, and a graph from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on fresh apple production in Washington between 2000 and 2011.

Why in such a tight economy are farmers having a difficult time finding workers? A crackdown on illegal immigration, in addition to a modest economic rebound that has provided immigrants more opportunities in construction, landscaping and restaurants is said to have shrunk the pool of potential workers.

According to the Department of Numbers, the unemployment rate in Washington state in August 2012 was 8.6%, slightly higher than the national average of 8.1%. Farmers are increasing their pay rates in Washington to attract workers, but if what is reported is true, they aren't getting bites. Why? Are the unemployed not interested in such labor? I know I'm more picky about the job opportunities I'm looking for at this stage in my life. While retail is an area I spent over 10 years in, I haven't exactly pursued opportunities in this area during my current job search. My fear is that they wouldn't offer me the flexibility I need as a working mom. Perhaps I'm wrong and should expand my search.

One other thing I'm noticing is that contractors seem to be begging for business, but are still particular about the business they want or lack proper customer service. I received a flyer in our local paper about a special promotion for lawn aeration. I've been putting it off for years, so I figured I would call up this company and see what they could do for me. As expected, they were out of the office when I called, but no one has gotten back to me in the two weeks since. If this is how they treat a potential new customer, what must their current clientele have to deal with for response time? Our church has attempted to hire four different electricians to fix an issue over at the pastor's house since early this year. No one has ever followed up and the repair remains undone.

While this is a simplistic way to look at the tight job market, it remains an important topic in the election. How do illegal immigrants influence unemployment numbers? What should be done about that situation? Do some unemployed people prefer to collect than work certain types of jobs? What can realistically be done about getting people back to work?


Patty Woodland said...

I can tell you that since we have moved out here to Montana there are varying definitions of "customer service." We do not understand it out here - we do not see any at all compared to what we understood it to be in NJ. Much the same as you described with your electrician and lawn experiences.

As to the apple pickers - it has long been noted that while the American public in general complains about the influx of illegal immigrants "taking away good jobs" when they are not available American workers do not go rushing in to fill the void for what are jobs requiring back breaking work. We tend to be a very spoiled people and in my cynical opinion many of the younger generations are particularly put off by hard, dirty work.

Farm work is not easy. Never has been, never will be.

Rant over

Marva Dasef said...

If a person is collecting unemployment, any money they make at a temporary job (like picking apples) is subtracted from their unemployment. If the temp job lasts a couple of weeks or longer, the unemployed person has to reapply and spend a 1 or 2 week waiting period to get their unemployment again. They're also in danger of their unemployment amount being lowered to match what they made during their temp job, not the much higher paying job they were laid off from in the first place.

At least these were the rules when I had to go on unemployment a number of years ago. I also believe the rules vary from state to state.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for the comments Patty and Marva. Here in MA, you used to be able to work part time up to a certain amount. Yes, it would be deducted from your benefits, but it wouldn't impact collecting.

In Washington, it looks like you can also work part-time, but again it's deducted from your benefits at a certain rate. It says working part-time might actually extend your benefits. I'm guessing these aren't part time positions on the farm, though. That said, the eligibility requirements crack me up. You don't have to accept any job that isn't in line with your training and experience. I guess in some ways that makes sense, but it also keeps people collecting longer.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.