In these tough economic times, many families are forced to watch every penny they spend. Most of the money the average lower- or middle-class family earns today is spent on just the basic necessities -- food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Whatever is left over (and often that is not very much) is either saved or spent on some minor "luxuries" like a car, education, a movie, or perhaps even a night out for entertainment.
We all know what happened to the affordable housing. When the country (led by benevolent banks and magical Wall St. financial tricks) went on a manic spree of morphing the basic need of shelter into another form of Texas Hold 'em, America almost ended up as a nation of 300,000,000 Tom Joads. Affordable basic medical care remains unavailable to a large swath of the country. But what if food becomes the next problem for the lower and middle classes? Not because of greedy banks or crooked insurance companies but because the cost of growing and harvesting makes the price of basics like lettuce, milk, and potatoes out of reach to all but the rich.
If the Teabaggers and others on the right have their way, it could. After all, $30 per head of lettuce is a small price to pay when you can feel so warm and fuzzy knowing that all the illegal migrant farm workers have been kicked out of the country.
The government estimates that 80% of all crop workers (the people who pick fruits and vegetables we find so easily in Whole Foods or other rip-off markets) are Hispanic and that half of them are illegal aliens. Other organizations that work directly with migrant workers claim that 90% of farm labor is illegal. Whichever is correct, it almost doesn't matter. No illegal aliens picking limes, no frozen margaritas for the pool party.
Not much has changed since John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath in 1939, only the language.
Picking crops (especially strawberries and potatoes) is nothing short of tortuous hard labor in abominable conditions. The workers have to bend over all day and work through intense weather conditions. The tractors ride by all day collecting the harvest, often knocking down the pickers. Forcing one's body into awkward positions for extended periods of time causes intense joint and bone pain. The vines and plants they must touch are covered in pesticides. The air in hotter climes becomes stagnant and heat stroke is not uncommon. To keep their jobs, workers will pick crops even if the have the flu or gastro diseases or even if they are pregnant.
When the harvest is over, they must find another crop or go without work. Grape pickers earn about $8/ hour, without any overtime or benefits. From this meager salary they must pay rent, buy food, get babysitters, buy clothing for the fields, and take care of any medical needs. Since they are mostly "illegals," they live in the shadow of immigration and often don't seek medical attention when necessary. And they cannot protest the conditions or pay to their employers, as they have no rights. To avoid attention, these migrant workers rarely go into public and often do not send their kids (who might be American citizens under the 14th amendment) to school.
Their hell is your $1.99 iceberg lettuce.
And with the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona, hate towards migrant worker has increased dramatically.
With the country in a long economic slump, many Americans feel these illegals (along with the gardeners, pool caretakers, nannies, and others doing low-paying, labor-intensive jobs) are taking jobs away from Americans. To test that theory, the United Farm Workers ran a campaign called "Take Our Jobs" in the summer of 2010 with the goal of targeting "Americans" (read: white American citizens) to work in the fields. In the three months the campaign was active, 3,000,000 people visited the central website to respond.
Like those pesky visitors at home, the visitors to "Take Our Jobs" were beginning to reek of fish.
Of the visitors, over 40% left hate notes and email. Less than 9,000 (0.03%) stated they wanted to work as fruit and vegetable pickers. Of those 9,000, most demanded a certain number of "perks," like higher pay, benefits, education reimbursement, expense accounts, and 401Ks, before they would take the job. When the campaign was over in September, a grand total of seven people (read: non-illegal aliens) were out picking strawberries.
Does this surprise anyone? These are jobs Americans absolutely refuse to do. Do you think that such staunch anti-immigrant politicians as Jon Kyl would ever consider picking grapes or letting any of his children onto the fields? If Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann, Steve King and other assorted Republicans and Teabaggers are so gung-ho on throwing out all the illegals, are they willing to subsidize the American public when they have to pay $60 for a lb. of Idahos at Publix or Shop-Rite? Do you think Bachmann even has thought of that? (Don't answer that. Bachmann has no thoughts, just evil energy.)
Even if they did subsidize the cost to consumers, I bet you still wouldn't be able to find more than seven Americans willing to pick the fruits and vegetables that will be served at the next Jan Brewer state dinner. But I bet Jan will have plenty of caviar and truffles.
I give you one guess as to who served those epicurean delights at the Brewer soiree.
"If there was a law, they was workin' with maybe we could take it, but it ain't the law. They're workin' away our spirits, tryin' to make us cringe and crawl, takin' away our decency." -- Tom Joad, played by Henry Fonda), in the movie The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Labels: food, labor issues, poverty, Republicans, undocumented immigration