Now that’s a bargain!

by Dayna Burtness, Midwest Fellow


Ask any of my friends—I am a champion bargain-seeker.  I cut coupons, I scour the internet for specials, and I will spend hours at the thrift store pawing through piles of clothes just to find one nice pair of pants.  Needless to say, I can spot a good deal from a mile away.


I recently came across the best deal ever: $8 a year (a YEAR!) for a 40% increase in farmworker wages. 


Let me explain. It’s National Farmworker Awareness Week, so to learn more I’ve been reading Gabriel Thompson’s new book, “Working in the Shadows: A year of doing the jobs (most) Americans won’t do.” To put a face on the statistics about farmworkers, Thompson spends two months cutting lettuce in Yuma, AZ. 


He chronicles how hard farm work is on the body, but especially on pocketbook. Even though we all rely on farmworkers for the food we eat, they make an average of $11,000 per year doing one of the top three most dangerous jobs in the country.  Given the injustice of this situation, the following passage jumped out at me (added emphasis is mine): “Philip L. Martin, professor of agricultural economics at the University of California-Davis, has shown that even a dramatic increase in labor costs—passed fully on to the consumer—would have a very modest impact on the typical American household budget, which spent $322 on fresh fruits and vegetables in 2000. Martin’s detailed analysis of the agricultural industry found that a 40% increase in farmworker wages would increase a household’s annual spending on fruits and vegetables by only $8, to $330.”


Wait, it would only be $8 more per year per household to boost the obscenely low wages of 1.2 million farmworkers I depend on every day for my food?  Now that is a good deal.  


There are many groups working to make better wages and working conditions a reality.  In honor of National Farmworker Awareness week, read this post and check some of these groups out.