Friday, June 10, 2016

Healing the Divides in America - Farm jobs for city kids

The divides in American society have become so deep that they need healing.

The divide between urban and rural are so bad that these communities no longer have much sense of connection or compassion for each other. Likewise the divide between the various economic classes. These divisions will always be present, but they have grown to a critical state and need to be reduced.

Here's an idea to solve problems for urban and rural communities while also bringing them together: Farm jobs for city kids.

The idea is to solve four problems at once:
  1. Provide jobs for young, unskilled workers. The unemployment among young people raised in poverty is desperately high. These kids need jobs, but their job skills are poor. Let's connect them with employers who need unskilled labor and help  them develop some good work habits.
  2. Reduce the opportunities for undocumented immigrants. People coming to this country illegally are doing so primarily for work. When the job opportunities dry up, the illegal immigration slows down or even reverses. If the farm labor jobs they take are filled by Americans, fewer people will come.
  3. Create human connections between rural communities and the urban youth they fear.
  4. Get urban youth away from the negative influences in their communities.
This program would require a lot of federal money, but it would also save a lot of federal money. Think of it as something like the Conservation Corps, but with farm work in the private sector instead of forestry work in the public sector. The government would arrange a job for these kids, then, each day, feed them breakfast, pack them a lunch, bus them to the job site, pick them up, feed them dinner, and provide them with housing. Childcare and healthcare would also be provided. The farms would pay them $12/hour, but the federal government would provide half of that money, so the net cost to the farm owner would be a six dollar hourly wage, which is what they are used to paying. Surely they would rather hire an American.

Some proposed rules and practices:
  • Provided housing would be modeled on college dormitories, not Army barracks. Two to four to a room, single sex wings in buildings. Family housing would also be needed.
  • A clearly articulated and reinforced sense of purpose
  • Close supervision. Workers who violate rules can be ejected from the program.
  • No drugs, no drunkenness, no violence, no damage to property
  • Regulations on romance?
  • The farmers could fire workers who didn't work well
  • The workers, not having much in the way of living costs, could save a significant portion of their earnings.
  • Any earnings diverted to education fund would be pre-tax, like 401(k)
  • Vans that take workers to job site would also take them to local stores, laundromat
  • Evening programming to include job skills, life skills, also movies, games
A lot of this reminds me of the experience of being a volunteer on kibbutz.

The challenges are obvious. On one side, maintaining the workers' dignity and liberty. They shouldn't be made to feel like slaves or prisoners. The high rate of pay and savings should help there, but care should be taken. When can they have privacy? Rules need to be minimal with a focus on protecting rights, not curtailing them.

On the other side, a lot of young people living and working together is sure to make for some rowdiness and drama. These kids come from a culture in which criminality is commonplace, but we need to keep criminality out of the program. Nothing would confirm the worst fears that rural people have about these kids than for the kids to act inappropriately.

While the idea of providing these young people with food, housing, healthcare, and an income may sound steep, the federal government might already be doing it through food stamps, Section 8, medicaid, and TANF or SSI. Every job they take, takes a job away from an undocumented immigrant and reduces the costs of immigration enforcement. Moreover, giving these young people good work habits, job skills, and opportunities for education are wise investments in our human capital that will save the government down the road.

The program will need administrators who will run the program, supervise and counsel the workers, arrange the work, and provide the programming. The kitchen staff, childcare workers, and bus drivers will be hired from among the workers.

It would be great if kids came back home to their neighborhoods after twelve weeks in this program with new skills, a new outlook, and about $5,000 in their pockets. That would advertise it better than anything else.

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