Are There Jobs Americans Won’t Do?

American Mexican Workers

Kevin Drum thinks so. He posts the above chart, which compares the percentage of American and Mexican agricultural workers in North Carolina who stayed on the job over a 12-month period:

Within two months, 80 percent of the native workers had quit. By the end of the growing season, only seven were left. Now, as Matthews notes, this report doesn’t exactly come from a neutral source. It’s from a pro-immigration group working with a group of pro-immigration farmers. But unless they’re flat-out lying here, the numbers are pretty compelling. Most Americans just aren’t willing to do backbreaking agricultural labor for a bit above minimum wage, and if the wage rate were much higher the farms would no longer be competitive.

One of Drum’s readers objects:

Farm laborers in Australia make much more than American ones. And yet they still have a functional agricultural sector. It turns out that allowing companies to import an unlimited number of foreign workers desperate to work at a wage of epsilon will create shitty working conditions and low wages!

Noah Millman wonders about the consequences of paying farm workers more:

What would happen if agricultural labor were better-compensated? To some degree American agricultural enterprises would become less-competitive—we’d import more of some kinds of food from abroad. Which would mean more money flowing into the agricultural sector in those countries, and more employment for agricultural labor there, as opposed to here. From the perspective of the farm laborers that’s not obviously a bad outcome—they have jobs and not have to uproot themselves to get them.

Another possibility is that American farmers would innovate, and find ways to get the same crop yields with fewer workers, through the application of automation. That advance in productivity would reduce agricultural employment overall, with the remaining employees earning a higher wage, more conducive to economic and social security. Genuine advances in productivity are usually counted as a good thing for everybody.