Underpaid and overlooked, migrant labor provides backbone of Maryland Eastern Shore’s local economy

Every summer, thousands of people come to Maryland to feast on blue crabs. The name is derived from their sparkling sapphire-colored claws and claws; the blue crabs are one of the most famous species found in the Chesapeake Bay. The scientific term given to blue crabs, Calinectes Lapidus, refers to “beautiful savory swimmer.”

In the restaurants as well as on the table at home, guests place cooked and seasoned blue crabs on top of tables covered in newspaper. With small mallets, knives, and bare fingers and hands to break off the tough shell and remove the succulent meat from its interior.

It’s a messy affair. It can be messy, particularly when you use Old Bay seasoning and the local beer known as Natty Bohs, which is distinctively Maryland.

Although many people are aware of the difficulty of having to clean and pick crab meat, many do not realize how crabs are processed before it’s sold in shops already cleaned and cleaned. A lot of people do not realize that catching crabs is a source of livelihood for many women, primarily the poor.

For a long time, African-American women from Maryland’s rural maritime communities worked for crab houses along the Eastern Shore.

Today, only a handful of crab houses remain on the Shore. The majority of the workforce are female workers from Mexico who have to do the exhausting job of picking crabs 8 to 9 hours every day from the end of spring until early autumn. They earn, on average, US$2.50 to $4.00 for each pound of crabmeat that they take.

This is about one-tenth or one-twelfth the wholesale cost of a pound – or roughly half one kilogram of seafood they select in the range of $35 to $44. For comparison, the Maryland minimum wage for a worker is $13.25 per hour, whereas the minimum wage in the federal government is $7.25.

The rise of immigrants in rural America

More than 2.1 million immigrants and migrants are employed in the fields of processing and growing food products in the United States, playing a vital role in feeding Americans.

As an anthropologist and a researcher in global health, My research has revealed that these are a major part of the growing tendency in rural America. Since 1990, people have been moving into small cities and rural areas at an unprecedented rate, accounting for 37 percent of the total population growth in rural areas between 2000 and 2018.

Certain rural counties, such as Stewart County in Georgia and Franklin County in Alabama, have experienced a growth rate of more than 1,000 percent in the foreign-born population, that have helped boost local economies as well as slowed declining rural population.

Rural Maryland’s Eastern Shore, for instance, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants since 2000. From 2010 until 2019, Migration was the primary factor behind the growth in population as the population of immigrants grew by 90 percent.

A migrant worker dumps the crabs in a bushel to be cleaned and picked up by two other workers. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Many immigrants move to the region to work in poultry, agriculture, and seafood processing. Many come out of Mexico, Central America, and Haiti.

Most farmworkers are granted temporary visas. They arrive at the end of spring and early summer and remain through their growing seasons. Migration Mexican women working in the crab processing industry also adhere to the same seasonal employment pattern. Some, such as those who work in processing facilities for poultry, are settled longer-term, either illegal or permanent residents.

The risk of being a victim

Immigrants working in rural areas perform at risk and are subject to environmental pollution, poor living conditions, and inadequate education in safety.

In addition, immigrants are among the least paid and do not have access to health information, preventive treatment, and medical treatments. Dry skin, scrapes, cuts or rashes, constant pain, and broken bones are typical for immigrants working in farmingpoultry, and seafood processing.

They also suffer from many intangible injuries, including discrimination, harassment, and verbal and physical abuse.

Health challenges in rural areas

Despite the constant risk of injury, workers who are migrants in rural areas are unable to access access to medical care and depend on mobile clinics as well as local health departments and community-based health centers.

A delicious portion of crabmeat can be served atop the fillet of rockfish. Edwin Remsberg/VW PICS/UIG via Getty Images

However, these establishments are not equipped to handle special needs or emergencies. They are also not easily accessible due to their location or operating hours. Additionally, many employees are unable to afford to miss work or are reluctant to inform their bosses that they require care.

Many do not visit their healthcare providers completely because they feel not well treated or feel they are misunderstood.

Important but undervalued

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of “essential” workers became part of the vocabulary of the country as a way of describing those who were required to remain working under restrictions. These included workers in the food industry.

The epidemic revealed the high proportion of workers from immigrants in the poultry, agriculture, and seafood sectors in the rural areas of America.

It also showed how the policies that were enacted during the outbreak to protect public health and the essential workforce were not enough to stop people from working in hazardous workplace conditions without adequate protections.

Incapable of self-quarantine in the home, a lot of workers in the food industry were ill or passed away due to working in extremely crowded environments with no personal protective equipment or adequate ventilation.

A young waterman draws into a crab trap in Dundalk, Md. Sun goes down behind it at Dundalk, Md. Edwin Remsberg/VW PICS/UIG via Getty Images

In many ways, the COVID-19 epidemic has highlighted the ongoing health crisis for healthcare services for people who live in rural America.

However, despite the evidence that nearly 2.5 million foreign-born residents are employed and living in rural America, there is very little information available on their health.

The lawmakers’ inattention is harmful and risky since it leaves health care professionals as well as social professionals with a lack of knowledge of the experiences of immigrants in small towns and sparsely rural areas.


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