Thursday, July 15, 2010

Poorly treated crab pickers

One of our state's most famous resources is our blue crab. The Chesapeake is the source of half the blue crab produced in the US. From 1997-2001, crabmeat production was a $20-$30 million per year business supporting over 1000 jobs, of which 3-400 were pickers, brought in mostly from Mexico. Total employment has probably declined due to regulations limiting harvesting over the last few years, and I can't find more current information that's split out by job types. 1900 people were involved in seafood production in Maryland in 2008, but that includes non-crab people, obviously....

Anyway, the Baltimore Sun has a writeup about a report by human rights groups who investigated the the process by which the Mexican workers are brought in. The investigators say the process has been pretty nasty, with workers charged lots of fees they initially aren't told about, being forced to live in unsavory conditions, and being easily hired and fired, brought in and deported at the whim of their employers.

The reality of economics is so much less clean than the lines we draw on a chalkboard! We economists say, "Here's the cost curve- the more we produce, the more it costs to produce it." But in reality the costs are shifting all the time, and consumers and producers are doing everything they can to shift things in their favor. Hopefully the problems that are discussed in this report will be addressed, and the true, full costs of hiring are paid for. Also, hopefully Maryland crab producers will continue to be competitive even when paying a higher price for labor!

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