Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat recently reminded us of 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.
Some people would rather be a pooper-scooper than do this work.
So one might have thought that there isn't any job now considered too demeaning for your average American. In fact, there is.Take a trip out to Eastern Washington, where farmers are now hiring for the asparagus harvest, and you will find the same demographic among workers that there's been for years: immigrants, mainly Latino. Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, says native born Americans are not applying for jobs, even 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 for 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. Noting that the minimum wage in this state is $8.55 an hour, Schell says, "I laugh when people preach the minimum wage. I can't get anybody to look at us for less than $9 an hour."
While he won't say exactly how much his workers make, citing competitive reasons, a recent state report (see pages 35 and 36 of pdf) shows that farm workers in the Pacific Northwest earn on average $9.85 an hour. 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 an $8.55-an-hour pooper-scooper job pays.