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April 2016, Volume 22, Number 2

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

Arizona. The Wall Street Journal on February 9, 2016 profiled Rob Knorr of RK Farms, who reduced acreage of jalapeno peppers and developed a harvesting machine after the state enacted a law in 2008 that required all employers to use E-Verify to check the legal status of new hires. RK's pepper acreage declined from over 500 to 120 in 2015.

The number of unauthorized foreigners in Arizona fell 40 percent between 2007 and 2012, and has been stable since then. Many of the jobs that remained were not filled by US workers, but wages for the low-skilled workers who remained rose. The number of students enrolled in intensive English courses in Arizona public schools fell by half between 2008 and 2012 and has stabilized, and spending on emergency rooms and prisons for non-US citizens fell.

Average farm worker earnings rose 15 percent between 2010 and 2014, and landscapers and construction employers report having to pay higher wages to obtain workers.

Indiana. Carrier announced plans in February 2016 to close a factory in Indianapolis by 2019 and move 1,400 jobs to Mexico, where daily wages of $10 are less than hourly wages in the US. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders oppose free trade, which expanded rapidly because of a bipartisan consensus that trade was good.

Most economists assumed that, with flexible US labor markets, US workers who lose $20 an hour manufacturing jobs would be rehired quickly at slightly lower wages. This has not happened. The often 40- and 50-year old workers displaced from US factories often find that new jobs available to them pay $10 or less, explaining why the remaining 12 million US factory workers feel threatened by more talk of free-trade agreements.

Almost 40 percent of United Technologies profits of $7.6 billion in 2016 came from the climate, controls and security division that includes Carrier.

Iowa. The Renewable Fuel Standard of 2005 required that US gasoline include at least 15 billion gallons of ethanol; Iowa produces four billion gallons. The goal was to reduce US dependence on imported oil, but the fracking revolution means that the US now exports oil.

The ethanol mandate helped to double corn prices, from about $2 a bushel in 2005 to over $4 a bushel in 2014, but has been blamed for raising food costs and benefiting corn farmers at the expense of other Americans. There are few environmental benefits from ethanol because of the fertilizers used to produce corn. Food-based biofuels such as corn ethanol are blamed for hurting the poor.

North Dakota. The fracking boom that led to an economic boom in Williston and other North Dakota cities is slowing, as energy companies lay off workers and there is vacant housing. The question is who will pay the debt taken on by Williston to build schools, roads and other infrastructure for the Bakken energy workers; Williston's population went from 12,000 to 40,000 in a decade.

New York. Bhutanese refugees are taking jobs alongside Mexicans in western New York dairies. The $200,000 a year Refugee Milker Training Program began in 2014, and today five Bhutanese work 12-hour days four days a week, with another 12 waiting to find jobs. About 100,000 Nepalese were expelled from Bhutan in the 1990s, and 40,000 were resettled in the US in the past five years.

Maine. The dock value of Maine's seafood was $631 million in 2015, led by lobsters worth more almost $500 million.

Idaho. Two California workers employed by Assured Performance Network to install irrigation equipment on an Idaho farm were employees of APN, not independent contractors, a federal judge ruled in January 2016. The owner of APN drove the workers to Idaho and provided them with food, housing and equipment to do their work.

The court used a six-factor analysis: (1) the degree of control the company had over the work; (2) the workers' opportunity for profit or loss depending upon their managerial skills; (3) the workers' investment in equipment or materials, or their employment of helpers; (4) whether the services rendered require special skills; (5) the degree of permanence of the relationship; and (6) whether the services rendered are an integral part of the business.

Idaho, with 1.6 million people, accepts 1,000 of the 70,000 refugees resettled in the US each year, giving it one of the highest shares of refugees. Idaho is third in dairy production after California and Wisconsin, and the Idaho Dairymen's Association says that refugees are valuable workers on the state's dairies and at Chobani's yoghurt plant in Twin Falls, the largest in the US.

Oregon. Oregon in March 2016 approved a law that will raise minimum wages to different levels depending on the cost of living, so that the minimum wage will range from $12.50 to $14.75 an hour (Portland) in 2022. Unions pushing for a $15 minimum wage said the increases were "too low and too slow," while businesses decried both the increase and the complexities it creates.

Armed protestors occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney county, Oregon in January 2016, protesting federal control over land in western states. Harney county is larger than Massachusetts but has only 7,100 people, and 60 percent of wages in the county are from federal, state and local governments.

Eastern Oregon is struggling; half of the state's jobs are clustered in three counties around Portland. Three-fourths of Oregon's timber mills closed between 1980 and 2010.

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