California's peach—and peach picker—shortage

The cling peach harvest in Northern California is shaping up to be one of the smallest in recent years. An unusually hot July slowed fruit growth, resulting in more small and unusable peaches, but the problem is being compounded by a lack of workers to pick the remaining fruit from the trees.

Despite the intense debate over illegal immigrants “stealing America’s jobs,” the U.S. agricultural industry says it’s facing a massive shortage of temporary workers this year, as much as a 40 per cent drop. Why? A recent Pew study offers some clues: by 2010, it found, the flow across the border between Mexico and the U.S. was essentially zero, thanks to tougher U.S. border security and an improving Mexican economy. This has left states like California in an odd predicament: thousands of vacant jobs in regions where unemployment is as high as 18 per cent. So far there’s no sign the victims of the Great Recession—the American-born ones, anyway—have any intention of grabbing a basket and a ladder. “They would rather collect unemployment,” one peach grower complained. Some U.S. growers have actually begun relocating operations to Mexico, where there are workers available to get the job done.

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