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November-December-2014

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f your company provides products or logistics support for transporting fruits, vegetables, dairy and horticultural products, you have a stake in seeing wise and balanced immigration reform. Ask a producer what's the biggest business challenge they are facing, and odds are the answer will be "finding labor." When you ask about solutions, most will say "we need immigration reform." This has been an industry priority since the early 1990's, and September 23 marked the 11th anniversary of the original introduction of bipartisan legislation to address the agricultural sector's problem. Yet here we sit. By the numbers, the picture is startling. In agriculture, government statistics indicate that more than half the labor force lacks proper immigration status. Private estimates suggest that number is much higher, perhaps nearing 75 percent. To be clear, most foreign-born workers who lack proper status have shown employers documents that appear genuine. They are by and large the only ones applying. The employer has typically met the letter of the law when I-9 forms are properly completed based on documents presented. If employers get too picky about documents, they may run afoul of anti-discrimination laws. The workers are mostly employed "on the books." They have payroll taxes withheld from each paycheck. Each year billions of dollars flow from these withholdings into the Social Security and Medicare systems. Demographics and Destiny Major demographic and lifestyle changes have shaped why foreign labor sustains our farms. American society has changed profoundly over the last half-century. We've grown older. The post- World War II baby boom population is retiring in droves; roughly 10,000 are retiring each day and that will continue for the next 15 or so years. The next generation is one-third smaller. We're now better educated. Most Americans are finishing high school, many are graduating from college. Back in the 1950's, about half of young adults finished high school. Now, 90 percent are finishing high school. We've grown more urban. In 1910, rural population accounted for 72 percent of Americans. The number is now near 16 percent, the lowest in our history. Yet many farming businesses are located in rural or semi-rural areas. The very nature of farm work is an issue. Seasonality and physical demanding tasks in all sorts of weather are common challenges. Manual labor and production positions are especially difficult to fill. Folks who want to work have gone to something else. 3 2 PalletCentral • November-December 2014 palletcentral.com Agriculture and Immigration Reform: Putting Things in Perspective Guest Editorial by Craig Regelbrugge INDUSTRY I

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