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So How About them Apples!

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October 18th, 2012

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



There is an apple-picking crisis in America.  That’s right. Washington, the largest apple producing state, raises more than half of all apples grown in the U.S.  The state is enjoying one of the biggest apple crops in its history, but this year more than 30% of the apples may be left in the fields to rot because there are not enough workers to do the picking.

 For many years, the job of harvesting apples, and other fruits has been largely performed by illegal immigrants, primarily from Mexico, and points further south.  But recent crack downs on illegals have left apple growers in a lurch, preventing them from fully cashing in on this year’s bumper crop.  Located in southeast Washington, Broetje Orchards is one of the largest fruit growers in the world. This year, they have more than 800 job openings, but no takers.  The same scarcity of workers echoes throughout the state.  The governor is being asked to declare a labor emergency that, under Washington State law, would 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?  Workers picking apples are paid per 1000 pound bin filled, and an experienced worker can pick as much as a bin an hour.  This year, a worker is paid on average, $28 per bin.  That’s $28 dollars an hour.  That’s $224 per 8 hour day.  That’s $1120 per 5 day week, or $4,480 a month, and $53,750 a year.  Yes, the work is seasonal.  But workers often work weekends and longer hours to maximize earnings.

With so many part time jobs available with good pay, you would think the Washington has a real labor shortage ““ not enough workers available to fill these well paying jobs — right?  Not so.  Washington State has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation with a rising jobless rate toping 8.5 % last month.  But here’s the stunning number. The unemployment rate for teenagers in Washington is the 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.  Many students say they are looking for work.  But not “that kind” of work.  These days, more and more students are receiving tuition grants, college loans, and even food stamps.  In my home state of Louisiana, for example, students who have a 2.5 high school average receive free tuition during their college stay with no requirement of graduation in four years.  In fact, only 65% of college students graduate in six years.  In my day, not graduating in 4 years was somewhat of a stigma.

I’m not one to dwell on the “good ole days.”Â  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 pay back 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 as many jobs as 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 had the opportunity to pick fruit at the wages being paid today.

I’m not belittling the current generation of young people who try to get a good education.  Those of us who pay the cost of education at all levels are investing in our country’s and our children’s future.  We have that obligation. However, during these critical economic times, the price of doing this is especially onerous. There’s a well-founded perception that too many Americans, both young and old, are living off the public dole, when they are fully capable of doing a 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 those who are able to, but don’t care to, take responsibility for their own well being.  Carrying one’s own weight should be a laudable goal for anyone who is able. The Lord helps those who help themselves.  So how about them apples?


“Economic Freedom depends on Economic Responsibility

 Robert E. Freer, Jr., President of The Free Enterprise Foundation

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream

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