On Friday, we posted a recent article from BloombergBusinessweek from Elizabeth Dwoskin, “Why America Won’t Do Dirty Jobs.” (Video of the segment is at the bottom of this post, if you want to check it out.) Response from everyone who saw the article and the segment filled up our Facebook page and email inbox, with a great discussion about low wages, tough jobs, and whether or not America’s need for “low prices above all” is putting us in a “race to the bottom” when it comes to hourly wages.
Here’s the jist of the article: across Alabama, there are thousands of vacant positions and frustrated business owners “staring at unpicked tomatoes, uncleaned fish, and unmade beds” after the passage of a law called HB56, which drove immigrants from Alabama in droves. “Somebody has to figure this out. The immigrants aren’t coming back to Alabama—they’re gone,” Randy Rhodes, president of a processing plant in Alabama called Harvest Select, told the magazine. “I have 158 jobs, and I need to give them to somebody.”
“So is the goal to keep wages as low as possible so prices will be as low as possible? As a society, do we want to participate in a race to the bottom?” – Drew
“The extraction of resources, the outsourcing of jobs, has a lot to do with the cultural disconnect between what Americans expect from their jobs, what values they put on material goods. It is not something that began recently – it has been going on for a few generations. It needs to stop. We want everything cheap but we don’t want to acknowledge the consequences… If we pay a little more for our Alabama catfish, and show the people that work the job some courtesy and respect, the labor shortage would dry up. After all, they noodle catfish down there for fun, so theoretically the job should be socially acceptable under the right conditions.” – Edward
“There’s no such thing as a shortage, just a shortage at a given price. Saying there’s a shortage of American workers for these jobs is like me saying that there’s a shortage of Porsches because I’m not willing to pay what the dealer charges. Employers have no more right to labor at a rate they prefer than I have a right to a Porsche at the rate I prefer. This is what happens in a market: you have to come to a meeting of minds. And if you can’t or won’t, you do without.” – Jason Steiner
“I personally don’t give a rat’s arse if this means that employers are forced to pay more in order to attract employees, causing Bloat-Mart’s prices to go up. Cheap prices mean that someone’s being screwed, somewhere down the line, and it’s certainly not the business itself. ” – Greg Monks
“Nothing pisses me off more than the pop economics that go into the analysis of why Americans won’t take the minimum wage jobs that undocumented people will do. If the supply of labor was truly reflective of an economy in which undocumented workers were excluded (as the law actually provides), then the economic law of supply and demand would drive wages up. Higher wages would attract the American workers who currently are not inclined to take the jobs presently being offered for minimum wage and for good reason. Many of these workers may feel like they are being unfairly competed against by undocumented workers. They instead adopt the attitude that why should I do that work when I’m being gamed. I’ll just collect the bigger paycheck from the government for doing nothing. Hard to blame them, if that’s their attitude.” – Jake Gittes
“Let’s call this what it really is. The immigrants who worked these jobs probably worked for next to nothing. They came from squalor, and saw nothing wrong with squaller here. What is the average wage of those 158 jobs? Can a mortgage payment be made with that wage? When one accepts an extremely low paying job, they are locked into as many overtime hours as they can get. When does one search for higher wages when working 70-80 hours a week?” – Dave Parker
“I would gladly pick their vegetables but then how do I live? I will make too much to get welfare but not enough for anything more than my mortgage, I only have a modest townhome.” - Ann Kelly
Here’s the segment from Friday, although it’s worth checking out the entire article as well. Do you agree with Drew that America is participating in a “race to the bottom” when it comes to wages, or with Jake who says that very low wages and hard work can’t compete against government assistance? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and on our Facebook page.