instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Can this be right?

Someone at UC Davis crunched some U.S. government statistics and came up with this:
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistic's Consumer Expenditure Survey for 2002, there were 112 million "consumer units," with an average of 2.5 persons, 1.4 earners and two vehicles.... Average consumer unit income before taxes was $49, 400, income after taxes was $46,900....

The 112 million consumer units spent an average of $353, for total spending of $40 billion in fresh fruits and vegetables...

...consumers who pay $1 for a pound of apples, or $1 for a head of lettuce, are giving 16 to 19 cents to the farmer and 5 to 6 cents to the farm worker.
In short, the cost of farm labor to produce fresh fruits and vegetables passed on to the consumers represented 0.045% of their after-tax income. That's about $21.18. That's about forty cents a week.

That's about free.

In the past, I've talked glibly about not caring about justice for migrant farm workers if it meant saving 50 cents a pound on broccoli. I didn't realize broccoli would have to cost on the order of $8/lb for that to begin to be possible.

Now, no doubt there are dozens of other factors to consider about the causes and effects of changing farm worker wages, but if the above statistics are roughly correct, then even substantial changes in their wages would have very little effect on the retail price of fresh fruits and vegetables, and essentially no effect on most consumers. That's something to keep in mind the next time the discussion turns to just wages for migrant workers.

The UC Davis report implies that it's also something to keep in mind the next time the discussion turns to the need for loose immigration to supply inexpensive farm labor; if tighter immigration causes wages to rise, that benefits the workers at the cost of a few cents a day to consumers. If social justice were simple, we'd have it.