Florida and California share much of the same agricultural products and industry, which makes California’s recent shortage in farm workers concerning for Florida farmers. Without enough workers to harvest the crops, even the most successful yields will take an economic nosedive.
In California, the upswing of the economy has had a profound impact on jobs. There are now more options for jobs available, decreasing the number of workers looking for minimum wage farm jobs. This change in the industry is great for the economy, however, it is leaving the farming and agricultural community with unfilled positions and not enough workers to harvest the crops.
Farm owners are trying a number of things to make their positions seem more desirable to those in search of employment. Many farms have doubled or even tripled pay rates to draw in workers. The wage increase is costing farmers more and still not bringing in enough employees to harvest the crops. They must leave fruit in the field to rot because there is not enough labor to harvest everything. This waste of good resources causes farmers to take another hit, and decreases profits.
Minimum wage workers are finding jobs in less labor intensive and less hazardous occupations. Landscaping jobs, construction jobs, and food service jobs are becoming more desirable. Agricultural jobs are not year-round positions. They require hard work for part of the year and then once the crop harvest finishes, employment ends until the next batch of crops is ready. With immigration becoming trickier, multiple trips across the border each year is becoming a lot more complicated. Workers are seeking out permanent sources of employment instead of seasonal agricultural positions.
Tougher immigration laws have recently made it difficult for migrant workers to know they will have a job when they return for the next season’s harvest. The US Department of Homeland Security announced a few months ago that Haitian workers are no longer eligible for H-2A guest farm work visa program. Many businesses run on these visa programs, and this statement is disastrous for both employers and employees.
The H-2A guest farm work visa program is only good for ten months out of the year and then requires renewal for the next harvest season. It does not provide any steps moving applicants toward citizenship, only the right to live and work here during the season and return to their home country when the harvest is over. With no guarantee that the position will be available again for the next season, migrant workers are moving toward other jobs available all year round.
Farmers are also not thrilled with the program. While it does staff most of their needs, they also have to deal with higher costs and more regulations and paperwork. Many farmers are using the program to their advantage by charging workers a fee to work and collecting the extra money. Because the current political administration is anti-immigration, employers can get away with having the upper hand when offering job opportunities.
Florida is number one on the chart for the highest number of H-2A positions available. According to the Department of Labor, in 2017, of the 97,285 jobs available, 15.9% of these jobs existed in Florida, but having available jobs isn’t the end of the story. The policies behind the job openings matter as well and currently are the reason why farmers are having such a difficult time filling positions.
Though Florida isn’t anywhere near the crisis levels that California is seeing in terms of worker shortage, it may not be long until the state begins to feel the consequences of a shortage. Though policy changes may be a piece of the solution, farm owners may need to begin looking for solutions today.
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