Sunday, September 30, 2007

Immigration into rural America

Migrant workers comprise a large portion of the unskilled labor force in the U.S.. Although it is widely believed that an unskilled immigrant labor force in rural areas will lead to the lower market prices and greater stability, it appears from the reading that this is a common and dangerous misconception. Indeed, the presence of migrant workers in rural areas enables employers to offer few if any benefits and perpetuates wage stagnation. Such poor treatment of employees is inevitably detrimental to the national labor force overall – (having harrowing ramifications which affect housing, education, health care and community stability). Yet, the reading also suggests that many of these nomadic workers eventually stop drifting and settle down in rural areas. This appears to be the case as evidenced by the statistics regarding the increasing number of Hispanics settling in rural areas. The reading also noted that although these new residents are working for minimum wage, they are upwardly mobile and integrating quite well into white middle class communities.

Thus, in the one instance, migrant workers are depicted as disruptive to community stability, yet the trend is toward a more stable and settled minority workforce. The reading further explains that the presence of minority workers has protected some rural areas from losing the bedrock or foundational elements of community. Indeed many communities lose a large portion of the native workforce to surrounding areas, and the presence of immigrant workers re-stabilizes the populations, permitting the community to keep its churches and its schools open (education is perhaps a subject for a separate entry). This apparent discrepancy is the source of much debate and makes a solution almost impossible. In other words, if racial/religious/cultural discrimination is the primary force behind local opposition to new minority groups, how could one possibly justify the exclusion of the victims of such discrimination with economic or market concerns. Even arguing from the vantage point of labor conditions and wages poses significant obstacles. Regardless of whether there was a valid and non discriminatory reason for the exclusion of migrant works – it would still be perceived as a mere pretense for discrimination. In areas where racial bias is prevalent the community may win an economic battle and make significant progress in pushing employers to improve labor conditions and raise wages however, they will lose an even larger battle. Communities which seek to exclude will inevitably be the most affected by the gradual transformation taking place all across rural America. Indeed, such exclusion will only make worse an already deeply rooted problem.

In light of this dichotomy how can one reconcile the blatant discrimination that many minorities experience with the economic justifications (i.e. increased wages, safer working conditions etc) for exclusion of many migrant workers?

Yet all the dilemmas mentioned above seem to be questions for an ideal world (i.e. one in which an employer would be forced to provide migrant workers benefits associated with a stable and more permanent work force) This issue is difficult to articulate in writing – but just a thought for a later class discussion.

If it is the case that migrant workers are keeping some rural communities afloat, where is the line between exclusion for the betterment of the working conditions and inclusion for the betterment of the community to be drawn?

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