Undocumented workers are the backbone of the U.S. food supply
Image via Flickr/USDA
One of the main tenets of a Donald Trump administration involves a severe crackdown on illegal immigration. While that promise effectively united his supporters, fulfilling it would have vast consequences far beyond the 11 million undocumented people he plans to deport. Kicking out the 50 percent of undocumented crop workers could detrimentally affect the economic landscape, let alone any American who enjoys produce.
According to the Department of Agriculture, 67 percent of fruit and nut harvesters are not authorized to work in the United States, and the same goes for 61 percent of all vegetable farmworkers. Pluck them out of the system and there’s a high possibility that many farms will go bankrupt, prices will skyrocket, and the larger economy will begin to contract, The Washington Postreports. Why not simply replace unauthorized workers with legally permitted ones, you ask? The dismal reality is that farmers can get away with paying illegal immigrants much less, making legal workers far too expensive in the current economic fabric. The more likely scenarios would involve either switching to crops that can be harvested by machines or cutting down on overall output.
At the end of the day, deporting half of the agricultural workforce will have a major impact on the already tight budgets of the American middle class. While it’s difficult to know exactly how much grocery prices would increase overall as a result of labor shortages and labor price hikes, there are certain crops that would be impacted dramatically. Cherries, for instance, need to be picked by hand, as do mushrooms, berries, asparagus, apples, and peppers. And if you’re planning on foregoing fresh produce and sticking with wine for your daily fruit requirements, the fact that labor accounts for 48 to 72 percent of wine grape operating costs should give you pause.
Though the price surges won’t be limited to produce. According to a recent study by Texas A&M University economists in conjunction with the National Milk Producers Federation, consumers can expect milk prices to increase by 45.2 percent if the dairy industry loses its 80,000 immigrant workers. Enforcing such immense strains on agricultural businesses could force U.S. grocers to source their products from foreign countries, further weakening the American workforce. As Luis Ribera, a Texas A&M agricultural economist, told the Washington Post, “There are some fruits and vegetables we just might not be able to produce in the United States anymore. We had a farm labor shortage even without Trump. Whatever he does will just compound the problem.”