Farm Worker Shortage in Desert Southwest ... Why?

Farm Worker Shortage in Desert Southwest ... Why?

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YUMA - As unbelievable as it sounds, there's a farm worker shortage, not just in the desert southwest, but nationally. Of course, in Imperial and Yuma counties where the unemployment rates are teetering around the 30% mark, it's even more astonishing. How can two counties, desperate for work, where agriculture is the number one economy have a farm worker shortage?

It turns out, there are a number of reasons, creating a sort of domino effect in the industry. The shortage is nationwide, but nowhere does it seem less likely than the desert southwest. Agriculture is the number one economy in Yuma County and Imperial County. Unemployment rates in both counties are hovering near 30%, AND it's the growing season. So what's up?

We talked with Janine Duron, Executive Director of CITA ... they bring farm workers together with prospective employers.

"There's no one else coming in to help supplement the diminishing work force," explains Duron.

She says farm workers average in age from 50 to 70 years old, and the next generation is opting for a different future. Duron says farm workers get paid between $8 and $10 dollars per hour.

"If you calculate that into 3 or 4, 5 months a year, it's not enough to support a family on," says Duron.

Duron says the younger generation is also being steered towards different careers at home.

"Parents have gone to great trouble to help support them and get them educated and told them every day of their life probably, we want you to have a better life," states Duron.

Another big draw on the farm worker supply comes from undocumented immigrants.

"They're here to stay until either fear or they feel they're no longer wanted and they'll leave the country, which is what is happening," says Duron.

She says the influence of undocumented immigrants on the workforce is considerable.

"Traditionally, our work force in agriculture in tourism in other industries has been up to 80% undocumented workers."

And, Duron says, there's a third factor keeping some potential farm workers at home.

"People are happier on unemployment on public benefits and things than going to a very demanding physical job," says Duron.

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