There is an apple-picking crisis in America. That’s right. The state of Washington is the largest apple producing state raising more than half of all apples grown in the U.S. But this year, more than 30% of the apple crop may be left in the fields to rot. The state is enjoying one of the biggest apple crops in its history. But apple growers cannot get their crop out of the field. Why? There just are not enough workers to do the picking.
In recent years, the job of picking apples, as well as many types of other fruit across the country, has largely been performed by illegal immigrants, primarily from Mexico and points further south. But recent crack downs on illegals have left apple growers in a lurch, keeping them from fully cashing in on this year’s bumper crop. Broetje Orchards is one of the largest fruit growers in the world located in southeast Washington. This year, they have more than 800 jobs openings, but no takers. The same complaint of few available workers echoes throughout the state. The governor is being asked to declare a labor emergency that would, under Washington State law, allow farms to hire prisoners to bring in the harvest.
Sure it’s tough work. But is the pay so low that unemployed Americans won’t take the jobs? Worker picking apples are paid per 1000 pound bin filled, and an experienced worker can pick as much as a bin an hour. A worker is paid on average this year $28 per bin. That’s $28 dollars an hour. That’s $224 a day. That’s $1120 a week or $4,480 a month, and $53,750 a year. Yes, the work is seasonal. But workers often work weekends and longer hours in the day to take advantage of the income.
So with so many part time jobs available and a decent wage, you would think the state of Washington would have a real labor shortage with few workers available to fill the open and well paying jobs, right? Not so. Washington State has one of the worst unemployment rates in the nation with a rising jobless rate toping 8.5 % last month. But here is the stunning number. The unemployment rate for teenagers in Washington is second highest in the country at a rate of 34.5%. The average unemployment rate for teenagers in the U.S. is 24.2%.
You would think that teenagers saving for college, or college students themselves, would jump at the chance to earn some quick and substantial income. There are a number of universities and community colleges close to the apple growing regions of Washington. Many students say they are looking for work. But not “that kind” of work. More and more students are receiving tuition grants, college loans and even food stamps. In my home state of Louisiana, students who have a 2.5 high school average, receive free tuition during their college stay. And no requirements that one has to graduate in four years. In fact, only 65% of college students graduated in six years. In my day, not graduating in 4 years was some what of a stigma.
I’m not one to look back at the “good ole days.” But when many of us were trying to get a college degree, there were few public programs. Scholarships were available only to the top students. There was a student guarantee loan program, where a student would borrow tuition money at a local bank, pay some 6 ½ percent interest, and be given a set schedule to payback the loan. There was a federal government guarantee, but there was no forgiveness of the loan. Usually the loan was only for tuition, so a large number of students had part time jobs. It took me 10 years to pay back my student loan.
When it came to working, I grabbed any and many jobs I could find. To get through law school at Tulane in New Orleans, I coached a grade school football and basketball team, was the night manager at a low rent downtown hotel, and played my banjo at a joint called “Your father’s Mustache” on Bourbon Street. During the fall, I often picked pecans and was paid by the sack. Like many other students, I fended for myself, worked hard and found a way to make it work. No grants, no food stamps. I would have loved to have the opportunity to pick fruit at the wages being received today.
I’m not belittling the current generation of young people who try to get a good education. For those of us who pay the cost of education at all levels, we are investing in our country’s and our children’s future. We have that obligation. But there is a high price to pay during critical economic times in our nation today. There is a well-founded perception that too many Americans, both young and old, are living off the public dole when they are quite able to do a much better job of fending for themselves.
America has always been proud of offering a safety net to those truly in need. But that safety net is being abused all over the country. There should be no guaranteed entitlements for everyone here. Carrying one’s own weight should be a laudable goal for anyone who is able. The Lord helps them that help themselves. So how about them apples?