April 2023, Volume 29, Number 2
Northeast, Midwest, Northwest
Maine. Maine has the oldest US population, but its low living costs are attracting migrants from nearby states, which in turn is driving up housing prices and making it harder for local businesses to hire workers to serve the growing population. The ability to work remotely has increased interest in areas with low-cost housing and opportunities for recreation; net migration to Maine was 30,000 between 2020 and 2022.
Portland, Maine’s largest city with a metro population of 555,000, is also attracting migrants who cross the Mexico-US border to seek asylum in the US and are released into the US. Once inside the US, migrants often rely on networks that link earlier arrivals to newcomers and advise them where housing and opportunities are available. NGOs receive government funds to assist the newcomers.
New York. DOL began to investigate Berkshire Nursery & Supply Corp in fall 2022, prompting Berkshire to instruct its Mexican H-2A workers to report only 40 hours of work a week rather than the 72+ hours they were actually working, adding that the workers’ families in Mexico could be targeted by cartels if they did not follow Berkshire wishes.
Several H-2A workers sued Berkshire under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and DOL obtained an injunction that forbids Berkshire from threatening employees.
Overtime for New York farm workers begins January 1, 2024 for hours worked beyond 56 a week; farm employers can receive a tax credit of up to $1,200 for the cost of overtime pay. The overtime threshold gradually declines, reaching 40 hours a week in 2032.
Ohio. Interviews with 285 H-2A workers in Ohio found that 85 percent were 20- to 40-years old, 80 percent completed at least nine years of schooling, most have farming backgrounds, three-fourths have at least one child, and a sixth have settled relatives in Ohio. Almost 80 percent worked in Ohio as H-2A workers previously, including 40 percent who worked at least five years. The average stay in Ohio is six months.
The H-2A workers noted their isolation and loneliness. Many wanted to obtain driver’s licenses, and almost 90 percent wanted to learn English.
Kansas. The Ogallala aquifer, which lies beneath eight western states from South Dakota to Texas, is being depleted as farmers pump water to irrigate grain, cotton, and hay. Some farmers in southwestern Kansas want to draw water from the Missouri river north of Kansas City and send it westward via a 360 mile and $10 billion canal in order to irrigate crops in western Kansas.
Texas. Some 11,655 jobs were certified to be filled with H-2A workers in FY22, up from 8,500 in in FY21. The area around Dalhart accounted for over half of the H-2A jobs, many of which involve potato harvesting and packing for Blaine Larsen Farms, followed by a sixth of H-2A jobs around Coyanosa, where many jobs are in watermelons and cantaloupes produced by Mandujano Brothers. Blaine Larsen in 2023 was required to pay $1.3 million in back wages to H-2A and US workers.
Texas cotton farmers normally harvest four million bales of upland cotton from four million acres; the harvest was reduced by over half in 2022 to 1.5 million bales (California plants Pima cotton). USDA provides Texas cotton farmers with over $1 billion a year in subsidies.
Iowa. The low unemployment rate led to bills in several midwestern states to allow children under 18 to work in some jobs, including those as young as 14 in certain parts of meatpacking plants during the school year. Critics assert that low-income families who encourage their children to work deny them the opportunity to complete schooling and enjoy higher incomes later in life.
Illinois. Chicago and its suburbs are experimenting with basic income payments, using GiveDirectly to send $500 a month to residents using federal American Rescue Plan funds. Families of four with incomes below $75,000 a year, and individuals with incomes below $36,000, are eligible for the payments.
Chicago elected Brandon Johnson as in April 2023, a progressive supported by the teachers union who wants to raise taxes on the rich to help the lagging south and southwestern areas of the city. Johnson promised to invest more in education and housing to tackle crime, while his opponent was endorsed by the police union.
The US experimented with a negative income tax system in the early 1970s, sending checks to poor Americans and monitoring their behavior compared to a control group. However, the recipients of these payments worked less, divorced more, and had children more likely to drop out of school. As a result, welfare programs added work requirements and an earned income tax credit to ensure recipients continued to work.
Michigan. Michigan enacted a right-to-work law in 2012, meaning that employers and unions could no longer make agreements that required employees to become and remain union members to keep their jobs. Democrats won control of the legislature in November 2022 elections, and in spring 2023 repealed the right-to-work law. There are 27 right-to-work states, most in the South and Midwest.
Unions say they negotiate higher wages and better benefits for all workers in a workplace, so that employees who do not pay union dues are free riders. Workers represented by unions earn about 20 percent more than non-union workers.
Missouri. Missouri in 2023 banned camping on state-owned land to restrict visible homelessness. The Austin-based Cicero Institute urges governments to ban camping on public land to push people to seek services, and persuaded Texas to enact a similar camping ban on state land. Many advocates insist on a housing first approach to the homeless, meaning that people should be offered permanent housing before being nudged or forced to receive health services.
Oklahoma. Fast-growing Oklahoma City is the 20th largest US city, surpassing Boston and Washington DC in part by attracting businesses and people with low taxes and housing prices. Fast-growing Austin, with over a million residents, often edges out cities in Oklahoma in attracting new businesses.
North Dakota. Local officials rejected a planned $700 million Chinese-funded corn mill near the Grand Forks Air Force Base, citing security concerns. Chinese investors owned almost 340,000 acres of US farm land in 2020, half in Texas.
New Mexico. New Mexico became the first state to establish an official aroma in 2023, green chile roasting, which normally occurs outdoors in July and August to peel off the pepper’s thick skin. Red and green chiles are from the same plant, but the red peppers are left to ripen and do not have to be roasted.
Oregon and Washington. Oregon and Washington share similar geographies. Most residents live west of the Cascade mountains in the metro areas of Portland and Seattle, and residents east of the mountains sometimes resent statewide policies enacted with the support of western majorities. Some Eastern Oregon residents want to secede from the state and become part of Idaho.
Washington farmers support SB 5476, which would allow them to declare up to 12 special circumstance weeks a year and not pay overtime to farm workers until after 50 hours a week instead of the usual 40 hour threshold beginning in 2024.
Alaska. The Biden administration effectively stopped the Pebble Mine project when the EPA in January 2023 denied Pebble a permit to have waste water flow into Bristol Bay, the largest US salmon fishery. In January 2023, Biden restricted logging and road building in over half of the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest temperate rainforest. Some 70,000 people live in the Tongass, and some say they will have to move because of the ban on logging.
In March 2023, Biden permitted the $8 billion ConocoPhillips Willow project in the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve, the largest new oil project expected to pump 180,000 barrels a day at its peak and 600 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years. Willow is expected to create 300 jobs.