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How Many Kids Grew the Food You Ate Today?

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I certainly understand that everyone is paying attention to the nightly treason of Uday and Qusay Trump, but it’s at least worth noting that the Trump Department of Labor will do absolutely nothing about the kids working in North Carolina fields to pick your food, except possibly deport them to their deaths.

Every year, North Carolina relies on roughly 80,000 farmworkers to harvest tobacco, sweet potatoes, Christmas trees, fruit, cucumbers and vegetables. They also work on hog and poultry farms and in factories, greenhouses and nurseries. Some advocacy groups put that number closer to 150,000.

These workers, mostly Latino migrants and immigrants, make up an invisible workforce that puts food on dinner tables and props up the state’s economy. Agriculture contributes $84 billion annually to North Carolina’s economy and comprises more than 17 percent of the state’s income, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

They receive little pay, and the work is hot, thankless and sometimes dangerous and unsanitary. The government and some tobacco companies have made improvements, but some say little change has trickled down.

Some of these immigrant workers are children, although no one knows for sure how many.

Most industries won’t hire workers under 14 and establish specific time restrictions for youth, but under federal labor laws children 12 and older can work in agriculture without a work permit for an unlimited number of hours outside of school with permission from a parent.

If their parent is employed on a farm or gives them permission, kids under 12 can work in nonhazardous jobs on farms exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act minimum wage. Children aged 10 or 11 can work in short-season crops under specific waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Employers who violate child labor laws could be forced to pay up to $10,000 to the U.S. Department of Labor for each underage employee. But not all farmers follow the rules and may never be caught, depending on whether their farm is inspected and oftentimes whether their fields are visible to drivers.

“You can barely spot us, because we’re really small and short,” Castillo said. “There’s still a lot of 7-, 12-, 13-year-olds working. I don’t think it’s ever going to change.”

Pretty awful. Some of the problem lies with the fascists in the North Carolina legislature. But it’s not as if the Obama administration really addressed this issue either.

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  • diogenes

    Started in the family tobacco patch at age 6. Out of necessity I hired out at 8. Started earning a man’s wage at 12.

    Nobody ever heard tell of FSLA…

    • Dwight Williams

      Well, that’s just damned horrific.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    I think it’s quite possible that in another year or so of trump there won’t be *anybody* out there doing the work. I keep hearing the big operations are having more and more difficulty finding help

    local consultant who works with a lot of the top dairies claims none of his customers voted for trump, because they knew they needed the immigrants, but I wonder. People have a remarkable ability to believe consequences are for someone else

    • Murc

      I think it’s quite possible that in another year or so of trump there won’t be *anybody* out there doing the work.

      They could pay fair wages for the brutal labor they require. That’s an option.

      local consultant who works with a lot of the top dairies claims none of
      his customers voted for trump, because they knew they needed the
      immigrants

      I’ll take any anti-Trump vote I can get but “the ethnic cleansing will remove the people I cheat every year” is maybe the worst reason I’ve heard yet not to vote for him.

      but I wonder. People have a remarkable ability to believe consequences are for someone else

      One “problem” that conservative business owners who depend on exploiting immigrant labor run into these days is that a lot of Republicans actually have drunk the nativist kool-aid. For a long time, that was a con that was being run on the rubes; they’d talk a good game about making ‘Murica white again, but what they meant was “we’re not going to actually kick out the labor force we love to exploit. We’re just going to reduce them to a permanent underclass so you can keep stealing from them.”

      Only now you’ve got a lot of pols who don’t care about that, they just want all the beaners gone.

      • diogenes

        “They could pay fair wages…”?

        Commie.

        ; )

      • Drew

        “They could pay fair wages for the brutal labor they require. That’s an option.”

        Oh Murc, you lack vision. There’s no future in upper management for you.

    • (((advocatethis)))

      A breakdown of voting in the Presidential election in my county showed Trump’s support was strongest in the west county, among the dairy farmers.
      The grape growers and vintners, on the other hand, did seem to have a better understanding of who makes up their workforce and the effect electing Trump was going to have and seemed to support Clinton.

      • Steve LaBonne

        I think that we should not be very happy if people who make their money off child immigrant labor feel they’ll be better off with Democrats in power.

    • DAS

      In my neck of the woods, a lot of immigrants voted for Trump.

      As to people and consequences for others, look at the so-called pro-life movement. They are willing to force women to give birth, but are they willing to go through the process that is painful and can have morbidity and mortality? I saw everytime a woman gives birth, an anti abortion person should get kicked, and hard, in the groin.

  • Murc

    If their parent is employed on a farm or gives them permission, kids
    under 12 can work in nonhazardous jobs on farms exempt from the Fair
    Labor Standards Act minimum wage. Children aged 10 or 11 can work in
    short-season crops under specific waivers granted by the U.S. Department
    of Labor.

    Our cultural fetishization of the “family farm” has destroyed countless children and is a national shame.

    • delazeur

      Truth. I grew up working on my family’s farm, and while I do believe it built character, that was much more because my grandparents were trying to build my character than because hard manual labor is somehow inherently character-building. These days, anyway, family labor is very rarely economically justified on farms: either one person can farm the land just fine with occasional hired help, or a huge crew of non-relatives is necessary anyway.

  • SatanicPanic

    Well that’s horrible

  • This is not going to be fixed as long as the U.S. continues to pursue its cheap food policy. Cheap food requires cheap labor.

    • Lurking Canadian

      Or subsidies.

      As with so many problems, universal basic income would solve it. Which is why it will never ever happen.

      • I really don’t ever expect to see UBI ever happening in this country. I really don’t. We are struggling just to maintain some little bit of a welfare system. And if UBI ever does happen, expect it to be linked to all kinds of rules, like drug testing and whatever else can be used to make it impossible to use.

  • jmwallach

    I know I am late to the thread but the cover image is from a HRW report on teens working tobacco specifically. Pretty damning about the risks of nicotine poisoning.
    https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/12/09/teens-tobacco-fields/child-labor-united-states-tobacco-farming

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