Last Saturday, I was driving back into Valencia along the scenic Highway 126. Just east of Piru, I witnessed a large band of Hispanic farm workers stealing our American jobs — planting peppers into fresh new rows of soil.
They were out in force, bent over, busily planting what would soon be fresh produce for our supermarkets. It didn’t look like easy work, but these workers seemed efficient and highly productive. There’s skill involved in good horticulture, and these men looked like they knew their stuff.
What I didn’t see was 10 or 20 white protesters demanding their jobs back from the Hispanic migrant workers who had stolen them right from under our eyes and in full view of Highway 126.
This is the argument we’re hearing out of the “nationalist” White House, you know. “Mexican immigrants steal good American jobs.” For all the alleged stealing going on, you’d think bands of MAGA hat wearers would picket farms and worksites up and down the state, demanding their hard, laborious jobs back.
But when it comes to the labor trades, frankly, the MAGA folks don’t show up. Not to picket. Not to work.
The issue isn’t that immigrants steal our jobs, but rather, that we’ve abandoned them, leaving jobs, so to speak, “ripe for the picking.” And now, with Trump’s full court press on immigrants, be they legal, illegal, or asylum-seekers, some of the jobs — and some of our food — is going literally unpicked.
I walked a large housing construction site in Oxnard last Friday. The site is huge, with hundreds of homes under construction. During my two hours on the site I saw hundreds of Hispanic workers busy framing, roofing, finishing concrete, grading. I saw only a handful of non-Hispanics. Two or three were plumbers; a couple were supervisors.
Housing construction jobs pay well. Most site trades earn from between $40,000 to $75,000 per year – and that for the non-union stuff. Higher still, for the union commercial construction gigs.
Now, these wages aren’t 25th story Century City executive dough, but they’re certainly solid middle class. Yet, from my observations, there are very few non-Hispanics lining up to jump into construction.
Construction, like the presidency, is “hard work” – but without the continuous three-day weekends out at Mar-a-lago. You’re out in the hot sun, day after day, swinging a hammer, pushing a shovel, driving heavy equipment. Construction workmen earn their wages — honestly.
So it goes for other skilled trades such as auto mechanics, machinists, kitchen chefs. What 30 years ago was the domain of middle class whites and blacks, is now much more often the turf of Hispanics – often, immigrant Hispanics.
So, did immigrants steal these jobs, or did we cede them away?
Well, I’m well enough employed – they didn’t take my job. You’re employed – they didn’t take yours. Ninety-six percent of our state and entire country is employed, so that leaves almost everyone who wants a job, and is qualified to work, with a job. My bet is that you wouldn’t trade what you’re doing right now for a job in a sweaty kitchen, or bent over picking peppers on a farm, or on a hot construction site.
There’s no big lines at the unemployment offices. No marches of 500,000 jobless of any color in Los Angeles demanding their manual trade jobs back. The vast majority of us are too engrossed in our current livelihoods to fret over manual work that went south.
Over the last four decades, exploding technology has ushered in entirely new employment sectors. In computers — hardware, software, programming, networking, operators. Biomed and financial sectors. Millions and millions of new white-collar jobs have been created in just 30 short years.
Along the way, skilled labor trades lost their status and desirability. These jobs require considerable training – much of it from long, on-the-job experience and hard-earned dues. Most job market entrants don’t have patience today to suffer years of apprenticeship just to work into a good skilled trade job. White-collar work is more alluring – and physically easier.
Few kids now graduating high school have their eye on construction work or other skilled trades. Labor trades are out — in favor of what we consider more upscale employment. Yet “skilled labor” remains skilled, and jobs that many view as laborious actually pay quite well.
It’s sad that through our bias toward white-collar work, the so-called “real American” job seekers lost competency in skilled trades. Most young adults used to know how to tune a car or to frame a structure. No longer. Good evidence of our disregard for skilled trades is the lack of shop classes in our high schools. We don’t bother teaching trades and crafts as an official position of public policy.
Sure, we’ve got computer classes and video labs. But years back it took four shop classes to graduate high school. Kids knew how to work with their hands. No longer deemed necessary. Now we expect “better” for our kids. In the process, we’ve created a skills vacuum – currently filled by industrious immigrant workers.
Bluntly speaking, white-centric MAGA kids won’t likely be the framers, roofers and chefs of the 21st century. Hispanics and other immigrants will dominate the skilled trades — and they’ve earned the right. Aiming almost exclusively for white collars, we’ve inadvertently disqualified our children from oodles of well-paying middle-class trade jobs.
So, today, many of the everyday things that you enjoy from America are most likely, “Hecho en U.S.A.” Your groceries, your house, your auto work – all most likely created or crafted by skilled Hispanic, and often immigrant Hispanic — hands.
Rejoice that the economy has been sufficiently robust to create beneficial employment all around — but understand that no one stole anyone’s job.
Immigrants productively fill a void in our economy that we, ourselves, had a hand in creating. They’re not the feared “Raiders of the Lost Jobs” our nationalist president paints them out to be. Immigrants are the hard workers who saw opportunity and took it. And nearly all of us benefit from their labor.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared on Wednesdays in The Signal since 2006.