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Dairy Farmer: Worst Job in America?

Apr 23, 2012

Given this attitude regarding farming, it should not be surprising that our children are told to study computer science instead of agriculture. It also gives tremendous insight into the rural labor crisis and immigration.

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich Straub, attorney

So what do you want to be when you grow up? This is an age-old question for children, and according CareerCast, a child would be wise to choose Software Engineer. CareerCast is an Internet-based job search company, and each year they rank 200 jobs according to categories such as income, work environment, stress, physical demands and hiring outlook.

The top-10 vocations are crowned the “Best Jobs in America.” This year Software Engineer beat competitors such as Actuary, Human Resources Manager, Dental Hygienist and Financial Planner for the top spot.

Of course, CareerCast also ranks the “Worst Jobs in America,” and coming in at 199 out of 200 is Dairy Farmer. At the risk of rubbing salt in the wound, the following jobs ranked well above Dairy Farmer in the survey: Tax Collector (107); Sewage Plant Operator (114); Corrections Officer (129); Janitor (151); and Garbage Collector (160).

So how is it that the person who takes away the trash has a more valued job in our society than the person who puts milk and cheese on the table? One answer may be the radical change in our nation’s attitudes about agriculture over the past century. Most Americans now are born, live and die with no real connection to a farm. For most, food simply comes from a grocery store.

Given this attitude regarding farming, it should not be surprising that our children are told to go to college to study computer science instead of agriculture. It also gives tremendous insight into the present rural labor crisis and immigration. As farmers in Georgia and Alabama have discovered, restricting agricultural immigrant labor did not result in a flood of citizen applicants for farm work, even in an economy with high unemployment. The reason is simple: we have been teaching our children for decades that agricultural work is a vocation to be avoided. This is a cultural shift that is well rooted and will not be instantly reversed by laws that tout “self-deportation” as the answer.

Attitudes can change over time, and CareerCast’s survey may hold out some hope. Coming in at 198 in the survey is Enlisted Military Soldier. It seems that for all the flag waving and pious pronouncements of politicians, serving your country by putting your life on the line is not considered a good career move either. At least Dairy Farmers are in good and noble company.

When faced with sobering news about the vocation pecking order, it is tempting to look at those beneath you. In this case, the lonely Lumberjack comes in at 200. Interestingly enough, another immigration attorney at my law firm had a recent meeting with a famous Lumberjack who also happens to be a Congressman from my state. A Dairy Farmer was also at the meeting, and the purpose was to impress upon the Congressman how critical immigration reform is to the economic health of the dairy industry, which is connected to one in every 10 jobs in my state. The response from the Congressman was straight out of his party’s political talking points: “Well, I would like to help you, but we need to secure the border first.”

How long will it take to “secure the border?” The phrase has eluded consensus on Capitol Hill for years and is now virtually meaningless. How many decades will it take for us to reverse a decades-long trend and convince our children that farm work is a valued and noble profession? Can dairy afford to wait?

I wonder where Congressional Representative would rank on CareerCast’s survey if it were included?

Erich C. Straub is an immigration lawyer who practices in Wisconsin and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, SuperLawyers, and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Firms. Mr. Straub has spoken to audiences throughout the U.S. on immigration, and frequently advises Wisconsin Dairy Farmers on the topic. He has traveled Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials regarding immigration reform. In 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a “national leader on the federal immigration issue.” Contact him at (414) 224-8472 or erich@straubimmigration.com.

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COMMENTS (3 Comments)

There is a guest worker program you can use, you can also pay a dollar more per hour, in fact if all dairymen agreed to all raise the minimum wage paid to herdsmen then they could all get better help and not lose their edge to the competition.

In the long term paying a little more to a good employee doesn't cost as much as replacing him with two worthless employees.

Another factor is "buy-in" in which you have one person who cares because he reaps the rewards and everyone else gets nothing beyond their wages. You have to create a culture in which through say a bonus based on production of the units under a specific guys care.

Another big one is on-site housing in which the worker doesn't pay to commute, lives in a better area with a better school than they could afford and so forth.

I saw an article on respecting your workers, and yes that is a good first step, but if it isn't based on something tangible as well then that wears thin pretty quick.

So if all the guys who milk cows in a 10 mile area all know each other and they all get paid the same hourly wage, but yours get bonus of $50 to $100 per month and maybe they get to split an old cow every winter, then who will not have problems?
11:05 AM Apr 26th
Cindy - Hutchinson, MN
oops! Not "but out" rather "put out." One little letter off and the meaning really changes!
11:30 AM Apr 24th
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