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Struggling U.S. farmers are paying Mexican laborers up to $17 an hour

Farmers are struggling to make ends meet because of labor problems U.S. policymakers didn’t foresee when strengthening anti-immigration laws.

Latino laborers, once subjugated to backbreaking work conditions for a fraction of what other American jobs pay, are being welcomed with raised wages, improved medical benefits, and cheaper housing costs by farm owners desperate to solve a massive labor shortage. Between 2002 and 2014, the number of full-time farmhands dropped by 20 percent, directly leading to a $3.1 billion decrease in fruit and vegetable production, according to a report from the Partnership for a New American Economy.

“Farmers today are greatly hindered by a situation that forces them to compete for the dwindling supply of workers interested and able to do farm work,” the July 2015 report read. “Whether the agriculture industry can escape this cycle-and continue to expand and provide for the needs of American families-may very much depend on what happens going forward in Washington.”

Southeastern states of Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina lost about 8,500 workers in the span, and drought-stricken California saw its workforce decline by about 85,000 people. Farmers in the Golden State resorted to raising wages by as much as 20 percent to about $17 an hour, according to the Wall Street Journal. Others became more tolerant of Hispanic workers’ traits by allowing lengthy conversations and Spanish music at a reasonable volume.

Still, better accommodations don’t guarantee increased production.

If one isn’t comfortable on one farm, they could easily transfer to a neighboring farm for equal or increased pay. Or they outright choose to leave the country. Farmers are then forced to either increase wages for incomers or sell acres of land.

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