Economics normally teaches us that efficiency is a good thing to advocate, but as we have seen in some of the bad trade deals the U.S. has negotiated with other countries, efficiency can bring its share of negative consequences.
As barriers to trade continue to fall with the full implementation of NAFTA, and the efficiency of transportation between Mexico and the U.S. improves, a variety of fruits and vegetables that were once thought too perishable to be considered for export are now making the trek north to America.
Sales of Mexican guacamole easily passed the $100 million mark for the second year in a row in 2000, and that figure is expected to rise in the future. The reason? Restaurant owners are now switching from paying their restaurant workers $6 an hour to pit and mash avocados into guacamole to paying Mexicans to do the work instead. Although $6 an hour seems like quite a low wage in the United States, Mexicans can perform this task for about $50 a week. And it's just not avocados. Mexican exports of fruits and vegetables in general increased over 30% in 1998 alone.
Despite the claims of free traders, there are many areas or industries where one job filled by a Mexican worker equals one job that is not filled by an American worker. The Mexican food export industry has grown 25% since NAFTA was passed, and the number of Mexican workers employed in this industry now tops 12,000. Any way you slice it or dice it, that amounts to at least 12,000 less jobs in America.
A $6 an hour wage certainly is not a high wage, but many of these restaurant jobs are filled by college students who are trying to earn extra money to help them get their education. For them, these jobs are merely stepping stones to better jobs they will obtain after they graduate, and helps relieve at least some of the financial burden on the student's parents until graduation. Despite NAFTA claims that we can retrain and relocate displaced workers, the college students working these jobs are not candidates for retraining.
Next time you are in a restaurant that serves guacamole, you might ask the manager who supplies the jobs for converting avocados to guacamole. If the answer is Mexico, you may not completely boycott the restaurant as a result, but if you are concerned enough about America to be reading this column, you'll never think of guacamole in the same way ever again.