Marysville, California Farms Are Desperate For Workers, Despite High Unemployment

There seems to be a shortage of peach-pickers in Marysville, California. Or maybe not.

Peach farms in the Marysville region -- in particular, the peach farm of one Dalvir Gill -- are covered in rotting fruit, according to a report last Friday from Fox40 News. It seems there aren't enough workers to harvest the crops -- even though unemployment in the region is between 16 and 18 percent, more than twice the national rate.

Gurpreet Gill, Dalvir's nephew, told Fox40 reporters, "People they're just sitting at home doing nothing. Maybe they should get a job. You could easily make $20 an hour over here."

Gurpreet, who works full-time as a business specialist at Wells Fargo -- and was helping his uncle pick fruit on his day off -- isn't the first to make the observation that many Americans aren't crazy about low-paying manual labor. Reports of farmhand jobs going unfilled in states with high unemployment are nothing new.

Exacerbating the rotting-fruit problem these days: harsh immigration laws in some states that have sent undocumented workers fleeing, leaving fields fallow as U.S. born citizens largely didn't step in to take over their jobs. Typically, fruit-picking jobs are filled by undocumented immigrants, rather than citizens.

The descriptions of the work on the California farms -- and descriptions of the pay -- vary. Many peach farmers in the region pay by the bin, and even seasoned pickers don't make more than $16 a bin (it takes about an hour to fill a bin with peaches). New workers usually take longer to fill a bin and get paid less. In a separate interview with CBS News, Gurpreet said that his uncle's farm used to pay $15 a bin, but is now paying as much as $18 to attract more labor.

A report in Bloomberg Businessweek last year described tomato pickers in Alabama -- a family of illegal immigrants -- who earnd about $60 each for every 11-hour day they worked. That's less than $6 an hour, well below federal minimum wage. A separate Associated Press report about Alabama tomato pickers described a crew of American workers who made $24 each for a day's work.

As for Dalvir Gill's farm, an article in the Marysville Appeal-Democrat this weekend claimed that plenty of people are applying to work there, but the farm owners keep turning people away. One person interviewed for the article said that he showed up at the farm ready to work, but left after learning that the farm's pay-per-bin system meant that he might not even be able to earn enough in a day to cover the cost of gas.

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