Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An Interesting Concept

Georgia governor Nathan Deal is trying to address two problems facing his state.

Georgia's new illegal immigration law goes after employers who hire illegally. While this is one of the only steps available to curb the number of illegals in the state, this means there are employers who previously leaned heavily on the illegal labor pool who are now searching for laborers.

And while you'd think in this economy, people would be willing to find a paycheck wherever they could, agriculture is apparently facing a labor shortage.

So the governor wants to hook employers up with Georgia's significant number of probationers. While this appears a "back to the fields" solution at first glance, there are some things that need to be considered:

Once you have a conviction on your record, it is more difficult to get a job. If you already come from an at-risk population (undereducated, rural, born in poverty, minority), the level of difficulty increases exceptionally. And without some form of gainful employment, the liklihood of recidivism increases.

Then there is the fear that employers will have incredible power over probationer employees in a right to work state. This is definitely a valid criticism of the idea. However, laborers who are on probation would have a more equitable relationship than either incarcerated laborers or illegal immigrants (relationships with such power inequalities that encourage the historical abuse we have witnessed, especially in the South).

Finally, look at the demographics and socio-economic status of Georgia's probation population. What percentage of that population directly overlaps the population most likely to participate in agricultural fields previously staffed by illegal labor? That's a Freakonomics style question, to be sure.

While this won't be a magic solution to all of Georgia's problems, it might actually turn out to have some positive, reality-accepting results in regards to at least two big issues - illegal immigration and criminal justice costs.

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