One of the big talking points that pro-immigration groups make is that our food prices would be much higher if the US did not tolerate the flow of illegal immigrants into the country to work in agriculture. They argue that no American would do the work the illegal immigrants do for the wages they make. It is a myth.

First of all, agriculture is not a labor intensive business. The US supplies all the food it needs, plus exports billion of dollars to other countries, using very few people. In 1870, between 70% and 80% of the US population worked in agriculture. Today, less than 1% of the population works in agriculture. At last count there were only 821,000 people in the US employed in agriculture. This is out of a total civilian workforce of 153,904,000. There are 312,000,000 people in the US and these 821,000 workers produce enough to feed everybody, plus export food to the rest of the world. By 2018, agricultural employment in the US is expected to decrease to 804,400, even though the US population will be increasing.

Here is why. In 1945 it took 14 man-hours to produce 100 bushels of corn on 2 acres of land. By 1987, it took less than 3 man-hours to produce the same 100 bushels of corn on a little more than 1-acre of land. In 2002, the same 100-bushels of corn were produced on less than 1-acre of land. Productivity has reduced the demand for agricultural labor, and made labor more efficient.

An average household currently spends about $370 per year on fruits and vegetables. If curtailing illegal alien agricultural labor caused tighter labor conditions and a 40 percent increase in wages, the increased cost to the American family would be $9 a year, or about 2.5 cents per day. Yet for the farm laborer, the change would mean an increase in earnings from $17,600 to $24,640 per 2000-hour work year. That increase would move the worker from beneath the federal poverty line to above it. In fact, the salary would be higher than the median salary paid by Walmart.

The cost of labor is a very small component of food. Consumers who pay $1 for a pound of apples, or $1 for a head of lettuce, are giving 16 to 19 cents to the farmer and 5 to 6 cents to the farm worker.

Comments

K. Aitken Aug. 19, 2011 @ 7:25 a.m.

The cost of labor may be small to the consumer, but to the farm owner it's a big deal. There's no other explanation for them having 6 year olds picking grapes.

I'm all for raising the wages. Back before it became this productive we INVITED illegals to come and work.

America set up this system, and now we are taking advantage of them and making it out to be their fault. Absurd.

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wfweber Aug. 19, 2011 @ 8 a.m.

Perhaps the author is uninformed about agriculture in California - America's largest ag state. We grow fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts the planting and harvesting of which is largely done by hand since no machines have been invented that can pick delicate and perishable tomoatoes, grapes, strawberries and the other 400 such commodities. During the year, this requires between 350,000 to 400,000 seasonal workers, about 60-70% improperly documented or illegal aliens. The average pay is about $10 an hour. But the author misses a big point - ag competes in a global market with China, Mexico, Peru, etc where workers are lucky to earn $10 a day. The real threat to America's food supply is not that it will just increase in price, but that it will be produced offshore and imported. If you loved imported oil, you will love being dependent upon imported food. This is a national security issue. Today, the growing of fresh asparagus - one example - is moving to Peru because of lower labor costs. So much for fresh, locally grown produce! Ag needs a legal, stable workforce. That workforce always has been comprised of foreign workers. Americans just will not do this kind of work.

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Fulano de Tal Aug. 19, 2011 @ 10:59 a.m.

Like I said in the blog, labor costs are a very small component of our food costs. On the supermarket shelves in California you can find tomatoes grown in California and tomatoes grown in Mexico. The price to the consumer is the same. No difference. Even though labor costs are 1/8th in Mexico as they are in the US, transportation costs are higher to bring in food from abroad.

There is no food that the US imports that we need to survive. It is just a matter of preference, not survival. You want strawberries in September? You import them from South American, but no American is starving from a lack of strawberries. And Americans will do that work for $14 per hour. lack of labor is the great myth expoused by pro-immigration groups. $14 per hour is more than WalMart pays.

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Twister Aug. 19, 2011 @ 5:49 p.m.

In the blood/DNA of "these people," in large part, flows the blood of those from whom some of my ancestors took the land and tortured and murdered some of my other ancestors.

"Those people" include all extremes of brutal criminals and some of the most honorable and trustworthy people on earth, much like the people with which the descendants of those long-ago murderers and thieves identify. This absurdity of generalization has always been the worst possible way to preserve group identity, and the arguments for exclusion based thereon are born of simple group prejudice, the regrettably common refuge for the intellectually impoverished.

If that is wrong, demonstrate it with facts and some arithmetic, not presumptions. Then show some discrimination.

"The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is indifference." --Oscar Wilde

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