Kris Bledsoe - So who do you think is taking your job?
A complaint we often hear is that immigrants are taking jobs from U.S. citizens. The facts support a different conclusion. These realities include circumstances related to our nation’s history, unionization, racism, work ethics, disparities in pay and benefits, even the price of food.
The average farmworker in Oregon makes $22,000 a year. The average deckhand in the fishing industry makes $36,000 a year. I think the demands of both jobs are equally rigorous. Why the difference?
At one time, immigrants to our country worked on boats and docks. Then came unions and better conditions, and pay improved. Now, who has the jobs? Not the immigrants. These jobs are handed down from family to neighbor. It is about whom you know and where you live.
In our state, it is also about ethnicity or, bluntly, the color of your skin. Today’s immigrants are not taking the good jobs. They aren’t dockworkers or fisherman here in Oregon, even though our state has lots of these jobs.
Oregon immigrants frequently are found in the fields. There is no rush of workers fighting to work at minimum wage in the field when they can work at minimum wage indoors. We depend on “shadow” workers to meet the demand for these difficult, low-paying jobs.
Maybe their papers aren’t quite right; maybe they don’t speak English. We hire them and they work hard for us. They help put food on our tables, wine in our glasses and plants in our yards. They work early and late, rain or shine, with no job security and no benefits. Certainly, they are not taking jobs from local people.
I live across from a commercial nursery field. Workers come in by bus many days a week. They do back-breaking work in the summer heat. They have skills beyond belief. I have watched them operate large machinery threading through rows of plants to be sold, ridding them of weeds. They wear full hazmat suits to spray pesticides. The next day, without the suits, they work in the same field. They do the work we won’t do — for minimum wage.
Are they taking our jobs? No, we don’t want those jobs.
But we benefit from all of it. Our food is cheap. Yes, that’s right — it is cheap. If we paid our farmworkers a living wage, food prices would rise. We continue to overeat our cheap food, “eat cake” and get fat from the cheap labor of these workers.
Does this sound familiar? Did your ancestors work in factories in horrid conditions? Did they shovel coal and develop black lung disease? Did they work as servants for the wealthier class? These are the stories of our country’s history. We grow and prosper on the backs of the newest immigrants.
What makes this system work is that immigrants assimilate, take on higher paying jobs or take the risk of starting up small businesses. They adapt, they produce and we all prosper. In the end, they do not take our jobs. They create jobs and make way for a new wave of immigrants. This does not justify the low wages or harsh working conditions, but it is our heritage.
I am Scandinavian, and we were once immigrants, too. We worked on boats. The conditions were harsh, the pay low. Eventually, we bought the boats. Now, we hire our friends and family. We pay them well, and these jobs are passed around. These positions are not taken by newcomers.
The point is that no one is taking American workers’ jobs.
I don’t see local white youth in the fields across the street. I see a group of people working hard to better their lives and the lives of future generations. So stop whining about the people coming across our borders. We need them. Without them, our future would be dim.
They should remind us of our ancestors. They have the same fire in the belly to live in a country where they can prosper and be free. They naively hope they will be accepted. Instead, too many tell them to go home.
What do the complainers mean by “home”? Home is a word for our location, where we are grounded. That is it. All we possess is transient and will be passed on to the future. We don’t own anything — not even home — for an eternity. We are merely caretakers. We must accept that it is up to us to pass our home on as it was passed on to us. We have no control over the future from the grave.
Of course, our newest immigrants encounter bumps on the road. The usual bump is the biggest: racism, a huge blister full of pus and venom. And it is nothing new. We are seeing it now in its ugliest form in Ferguson, Missouri. The story there is a tiny taste of reality for many of our citizens and newcomers. The blight of racism has always been with us, but it is time to rise to the alleged standards of our roots.
Welcome all, treat all people as equals and share what is not ours but is in our care for the future.
Kris Bledsoe of Dayton, a blend of many previous immigrants, lives with her family on Grand Island, where she owns Upper Island Farm. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in pastoral studies. Her background includes work in banking and investments, serving as a hospital chaplain, pursuing artistic endeavors and raising pigs and poultry.