Wednesday, June 2, 2010

An Unemployment Conundrum

Today's Spokesman Review brings us an article about guest workers from Jamaica arriving in Brewster, Washington, (pop. 2,090) to work in the orchards.

Five months after Gebbers Farms fired an undisclosed number of undocumented workers during a federal audit, Jamaican guest workers have started to flow into Brewster to fill some of the jobs.

That’s a welcome sign in this town, where residents who held jobs here for 10 and 20 years were suddenly let go following the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement action in December.

Brewster is in Okanogon County which has an unemployment rate of about 12.5 percent.

With the current economic downturn, surely there must be local residents looking for a job, right? And if local people are employed they'll spend their money locally and support local businesses, right?

Business owners said that after the massive firings at Gebbers just after Christmas last year, people stopped spending money.

“That was very painful. Very painful,” said Robert Webster, owner of The Music Store on Brewster’s Main Avenue. “It lasted quite a while. I think the panic of it was as bad as anything,” he said.

Many people stopped spending money because they worried about the impacts of suddenly having so many people out of work. Gebbers Farms would not say how many people were fired, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wouldn’t comment on whether Gebbers had been audited.

Enrique Campos, owner of La Moda clothing store, said his sales are still very low, and he doesn’t expect that guest workers will bring his business back to where it was.

“They come in to work, but they don’t spend money. They keep it all to send home,” he said.

And working in an orchard isn't too menial or too hard, requires certain skills and pays well enough, right? That's why we have to import workers from other countries, right?


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