A story came across the news wire and my senior research analyst brought it to me in the studio while I was on the air. It was an AP story out of Atwood, Mich. about how farmers were complaining they wouldn’t be able to bring in the cherry and apple crops without illegal aliens. American workers, they claimed, were either not available or not willing to work.
George W. Bush was fond of saying that illegals are doing the jobs Americans just won’t do. The truth is illegals are simply doing some of the jobs Americans won’t do for the money. Americans won’t live 15 to a room just so they can find employment. There’s not a job in America that Americans didn’t used to do before the illegal aliens came in, undercut them and stole their jobs.
That’s not to say that the American worker is blameless. Atwood, Mich. is about four-and-a-half hours from Detroit where the unemployment rate is 16 percent, more than double the national rate. One would think that Detroit and Atwood might be a great match. Farmers are looking for workers and Detroiters are looking for work. So why are farmers in Atwood still resorting to hiring illegal aliens?
Part of the problem is some of the farmers are lying. The unemployment rate in Michigan is 8.4 percent. Detroit may be driving that number higher than it would normally be but there’s no doubt that workers are available for the farmers of Atwood. Some farmers would rather deal with illegals because they can pay them low wages or even lower wages if they pay cash under the table. But part of the blame should be placed on the shoulders of the workers themselves, or, should I say, the government that encourages them not to work.
Before the sequester, unemployment benefits had been extended so that many unemployed workers could draw unemployment benefits for 99 weeks. That’s nearly two years! As a result of the sequester the number of weeks was cut back. Total benefits vary by state but in Michigan you can still conceivably stay on unemployment for 67 weeks. That’s almost 16 months! Granted, unemployment benefits are substantially less than what one was making while employed but you’re also not working. There’s something to be said about doing nothing and getting paid.
I’ve never drawn unemployment. I don’t begrudge anyone who has. I’ve just chosen not to do it and I’ve been unemployed a number of times. This is radio, after all. The worst time came when I was program director of a station and got washed out in a format change. I was let go with no severance pay. I worked on straight commission for an ad agency and made a whopping $100 in three months. It never even occurred to me to file for unemployment.
In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. It was my lack of success in sales that prompted me to pack up everything I owned and move to Nashville without a job. Within two days I had a fulltime job selling memberships at a health club and a part-time gig at a radio station. Within three months I was back in radio full time.
The point is, poverty is a great motivator. As long as we’re paying people not to work, they won’t. Time was when Americans would do what needed to be done to put bread on the table. Nobody’s going to drive four-and-a-half hours if they’re getting paid to sit at home but they’ll drive a lot further than that if it’s the only way they eat.