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Labor Pains on the Farm

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In a 2006, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made a now-famous declaration doubting that Americans were capable of farm labor. He dared audience members to accept a job picking lettuce for $50 per hour, insisting, even when one person accepted, "You can't do it, my friends." While that comment created an uproar at the time, I'm sure many people would secretly agree that most Americans don't have the physical stamina nor the appetite for manual labor. And now, The New York Times reports that farmers in some areas of the country are discovering that very fact for themselves.

The story features John Harold, a vegetable farm owner in Colorado, who reduced the number of legal migrant workers he hired through the government's guestworker visa program this year. He figured that with the minimum wage for guestworkers up to $10.50 (while Colorado's minimum wage is $7.36), it would have been an attractive job for legal residents. Plus, Harold presumed that the Great Recession would provide a large pool of Coloradoans who'd be grateful for the work. He was wrong:

 Six hours was enough, between the 6 a.m. start time and noon lunch break, for the first wave of local workers to quit. Some simply never came back and gave no reason. Twenty-five of them said specifically, according to farm records, that the work was too hard. On the Harold farm, pickers walk the rows alongside a huge harvest vehicle called a mule train, plucking ears of corn and handing them up to workers on the mule who box them and lift the crates, each weighing 45 to 50 pounds.