As the economic repercussions from the pandemic shutdown begin to pile up, we are starting to discover just how fragile our supply chains are. As the nation is plunged into unemployment numbers unseen since the Great Depression, we are hearing from agricultural producers raising the alarm that they are going to have a shortage of labor as the growing season approaches. How can this be?
The hard reality is that our society is spoiled and most of us simply don’t want those jobs. Most people won’t take them even if we aren’t earning otherwise. Temporary foreign workers happily fill the void as the jobs that we look down our noses upon are jobs which feed their families in their more challenged nations of origin.
I tweeted this yesterday and some people got pretty upset.
The truth hurts kids.
I understand the need for emergency funding for people put out of work with the shutdown. The problem is, as long as the payment for sitting at home is more than the payment for getting out to work, far too many people are going to choose to sit at home. This is the fundamental flaw of the concept of having a “guaranteed basic income” program and we are seeing it in action.
This issue is not unique to Canada by any means. European nations and the United States have the same issue.
Back in 2012, I managed the brush clearing and survey on a seismic (oil exploration) program in Steubenville Ohio.
Steubenville is a rust belt city which has been in decline since the 1980s. The population has contracted over the years as the skilled and ambitious people fled to larger centers.
I created the video below as it is such a striking city to look at. Half of the place is a standing ghost town.
While working down there, I needed to hire some laborers to aid with the bush clearing. Down there the role is known as being a “stick picker”. Essentially, all a person has to do is walk behind a chainsaw crew, carry the gas can and toss the cut bush aside so that a safe walking trail can be made through the bush. It is tough, sweaty work but it is pretty simple.
I went to the employment center in downtown Stuebenville to see about putting up a job posting. It was like being in a 1970s movie scene. The furniture and posters were period and the hippy-like counselor who greeted me fit the role. It was a snapshot of the past. Old motivational posters were pinned on the wall and a small bank of dated computers were available for job seekers to create resumes and send job applications from. It was a sad indicator of just how long this city had been in economic decline.
I explained to the counselor that I needed six to eight workers for a period of perhaps three months. I was going to pay around $4,500 per month for that period but it would involve working seven days per week for 28 day stretches (the same work schedule the rest of us were on). I wasn’t requiring any experience. My only condition was that I wanted to interview each applicant in person. I wanted to see their arms and teeth. Meth was an epidemic out there and I didn’t have time for managing addicts.
The counselor was quite excited and said that he would round up applicants.
Indeed, my email inbox was full of job applicants within a day. I picked what looked to be my best dozen applications and scheduled interviews with them at my hotel over a period of two days.
I sat at my hotel for two solid days and not a single applicant showed up for the interview!
I was called a few days later by the councilor and he asked if I had found some workers. I told him what happened and he said, “Yeah I was afraid that might happen”.
The issue was that the bulk of the people down there were collecting welfare in one form or another. In order to keep receiving payments, people needed to demonstrate that they were seeking work. They applied for my job posting but their greatest fear was that they would actually be hired so they made sure not to show up for the interview.
This wasn’t a matter of me not offering enough money. A person can buy a three bedroom home on half an acre in Stuebenville for less than $30,000. Making nearly $15,000 over a few months could set a person up quite well for awhile down there. I don’t know what welfare paid in that area but it surely wasn’t a hell of a lot. These people simply didn’t want to do the work!
People had been dependent on government income for so long that they had utterly lost the will to work even if it was available.
The majority of the project ended up being done by Mexican laborers who we brought up and doubtless some local fools where whining, “Them Mexicans is stealing our jobs!”
This is the welfare trap and a “guaranteed basic income” program would trap countless, thousands of people in it. It may seem unimaginable but there really are that many people out there who would simply go into retirement if they were given a basic income with no questions asked.
Ask this clown below who actually said he wants a guaranteed basic income so he can end his career student status and sit at home writing poetry for the rest of his life.
At least the bum was honest about it I guess.
I am sure that most agricultural producers would be more than happy to hire local labor rather than deal with the complicated and expensive process of bringing in temporary foreign workers.
TFWs are not cheap despite what many people claim. Oh they aren’t making millions by any means but the obligations and process required for producers to use them brings the cost per laborer well above minimum wage requirements (which do apply to TFWs despite popular myth).
Employers have to provide return transportation for the workers from their country of origin. They must provide housing which has been inspected by local authorities and can’t charge more than 30 percent for that housing and they have to provide transportation from the housing to the workplace. They also have to fully pay for private health insurance for every worker.
So if it is so much work and so expensive, why can’t producers simply raise hourly wages and bring in locals?
Again, it is because we are spoiled and won’t fill the jobs ourselves.
We are schooled to look down on the trades as it is within our increasingly elitist minded public education system. Kids have been trained that it is utterly shameful to do manual labor.
Along with that, we are spoiled with ready and cheap access to food items. The person bitching about how low the pay is for agricultural laborers is often the same one who bitches when the price of a loaf of bread goes up by 50 cents. Pressure to keep costs down is heavy on producers and they are in a low margin industry. How much higher do we want to make the cost of living in order to pay laborers more? We talk big but in reality we won’t put up with price shocks.
If we want our local population to fill these labor jobs, bringing in a guaranteed basic income is the worst thing we could do. It is a hard reality to face but far too many people are more than content to sit on their asses in perpetuity for a small welfare payment rather than get out and put in a hard day’s work.
Hard times are approaching and we are terribly spoiled in going into them.
Perhaps the hard realities which are coming will reduce that soft spoiled population in coming years. A tough way to correct the trend but effective.