The Job Most Americans Still Won't Do

Hint: It involves asparagus and the great outdoors.

Times columnist Danny Westneat recently reminded us just how desperate people are in this recession. In a particularly poignant column, he wrote about a onetime TV producer who applied—and was rejected—for a job as a kennel pooper-scooper.So you might think no job is too demeaning for your average American right now. In fact, one is.Visit Eastern Washington, where farmers are now hiring for the asparagus harvest, and you will find the same demographic that's worked the harvest for years: immigrants, mainly Latino. Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, says native-born Americans are not applying for jobs, while immigrants who drifted toward more lucrative construction work in the Puget Sound area are returning to the farms after the real-estate bust."There are people who could cut asparagus, but they won't do it," says Rich Schell, owner of Schell's Produce, a small farm in Toppenish. "It's beneath them or whatever."There are some obvious reasons why: Farm work is seasonal, lasting only a few weeks or months. And the pay generally does not come with benefits.Yet the wages are not as low as many people think. Says Schell: "I laugh when people preach the minimum wage [$8.55 per hour in Washington]. I can't get anybody to look at us for less than $9."While he won't say exactly how much his workers make, citing competitive reasons, a recent state report shows that farm workers in the Pacific Northwest earn $9.85 an hour on average. Apple, pear, and cherry pickers all earn more—up to $16.48 an hour on average.Sure, that's still not a great wage on which to raise a family. But at least it's more than the $8.55 an hour you'll make as a pooper-scooper. Must love the outdoors.

 
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