Iowa’s Economy Doesn’t Need to Depend on Foreign Labor

The Des Moines Register recently claimed in an editorial that “Iowa’s economy depends on 84,000 immigrant workers,” including legal and illegal aliens. That statement is misleading at best.

The editorial calls for more foreign workers and for elected officials in Iowa to implement E-Verify. E-Verify would be beneficial nationwide and would deter many illegal aliens from entering the United States. However, the problem with the editorial is on the topic of immigration, in which the Des Moines Register states that business owners should “ramp up pressure on Congress for immigration reform that allows for an adequate workforce.”

The editorial board insinuates that an “adequate workforce” doesn’t already exist in the United States, which is a talking point that the farm lobby adamantly pushes as it seeks more foreign labor. But what the Des Moines Register and the farm lobby fail to realize is that farms struggle to find American workers due to the low wages and inhumane conditions offered. When Americans don’t feel they are being offered a fair wage or friendly environment, they will look somewhere else for work. Foreign workers brought to the U.S. through the H-2A program don’t have that option and must work for the farms that hired them or face expulsion.

In an effort to protect both native and legal foreign-born workers from predatory wage abuse, the federal government introduced the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR). Farmers who bring foreign labor to the U.S. through the H-2A program must pay all of their workers at least the AEWR. The AEWR for non-range work in Iowa for 2018 is $13.42 per hour. Non-range farm labor is agricultural work dealing with crops and is important to Iowa as corn and soybeans are two of the states’ largest exports.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data for 2017 lists the average annual salary at $27,700 for crop, nursery, and greenhouse work in Iowa. After doing the math, farmhands on average earn $13.32 per hour. Most farmhands are not earning the AEWR, and even that is below the living wage for a family in the state. If farmers want labor, they need to adjust to the economy and offer better wages.

But how can farmers afford to pay their employees more? The agricultural industry is much better off than in the early 2000s. Profits have seen a substantial increase. In 2002 after subtracting total farm production expenses from the market value of agricultural products sold, Iowa’s agricultural industry had a net profit of $1.97 billion. When adjusted for inflation, that would have been $2.51 billion in 2012. In 2012, Iowa’s agricultural industry had a net profit of $7.11 billion — an increase of 183 percent.

With profits like that, Iowa’s farms could afford to pay employees more before resorting to foreign labor. However, instead of offering a living and fair wage, many Iowa farmers have elected to line their own pockets with the hope that the federal government will allow them to import more cheap labor or look the other way while they hire illegal aliens.

Contrary to what the Register’s editorial board thinks, Iowa’s agricultural industry doesn’t need an “adequate” foreign workforce. It just needs to provide a wage that allows Americans to support their families.

About Author


Casey joined FAIR in 2018. He assists the research team with projects and writes for FAIR’S website. He previously spent a year working in journalism in Washington, D.C. He graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in Journalism in 2017.


  1. avatar
    Veronica M Reimann on

    Why is $27,000.00 so special a number . Most senior citizens do not earn nearly that much in their retirement. My granddaughter with two graduate degrees only earn $15.00 an hr working at a university. So why should you think an illegal should earn more

  2. avatar

    Who Owns the Big Ag Farmland in Iowa?

    China? Japan? Why are we feeding foreigners with H-XYs’ social supports from our federal debt?

    We’ll all see much lower grocery bills if we had a glut and stopped exporting it to raise our prices and lower the supply? Stop the H-XY [all foreign green card] invasions…

    • avatar

      Hollywood bows down to China because they are such a big market for Hollywood films. Gap apologized to China because of an “error” in one of their t-shirts sold overseas, but not in China. The error was it failed to show Taiwan as part of China. Taiwan is right though. Why would they want to be part of such a thuggish dictatorship.

      • avatar

        Yes Leland

        Then fire Roseanne over an innocuous Tweet [IMO], we all get angry some times and say things we could have reworded….fire us all for being human? This is not Racism, its Hate Group pressure to destroy our closed border freedom of speech.

  3. avatar

    I can understand wanting to make a profit, but breaking immigration laws is the morally WRONG way to do it. These farmers know they are breaking the law and continue to get away with it. Until there is a way to make them prove that all their laborers are legal,
    there will be more Mollie Tibbitts and other crimes, sad to say.

  4. avatar

    John McCain is no hero. Being captured during the Vietnam War and imprisoned for some 5 years does NOT make him a hero. He saved himself and managed to do so in a terrible environment . Is that heroic? To me it is self preservation.
    Not wanting our President or Sarah Palin at his funeral was his last mean and petty strike and it shows his true nature….HE was the one who was mean and petty, sad to say.

    • avatar

      If McCain was not a hero. What does that make of draft dodger donald jiving trump? He said avoiding venereal disease while sleeping around was his “personal Vietnam”.

  5. Pingback: Daily Labor Union Report for Friday, August 31, 2018

  6. avatar

    A lot of times it’s simply a refusal by farmers to make any effort to cut down on the use of labor. A lot of crops like tomatoes, lettuces and berries can be grown hydroponically in containers. It’s initially more of an expense to set up but in the end it’s more efficient and less wasteful than stoop labor. All tomatoes for canning are picked mechanically.

    “More workers” was always one of the things that McCain pushed constantly. He not only supported massive and never-ending amnesties but pushed bills that would at least double our already high levels of legal immigration. All you needed to know about him was that he saw to it that Sarah Palin was not invited to his funeral. He had been saying for awhile that his choice of her for VP was a mistake. Very likely it was, because a lot of people felt she was unqualified. But, it was HIS pick to make. He needed to man up and not blame her for his “maverick” choice. Classless and petty.

    • avatar

      Leland, McCain had NO appeal politically when he ran for President. I think that may havd been the intent as his true colors showed he was a leftist all along. Sarah Palin was the only reason his campaign got some traction. The liberals TO THIS DAY attack her relentlessly for the same reason they attack Trump.. She wasn’t politically motivated to follow establishment politicians. She spoke simple truths and both liberals and establishment Republicans hated her for it.
      McCain was aTrojan horse pretending he was something he wasn’t his whole political and military career..