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Immigrants Keep an Iowa Meatpacking Town Alive and Growing
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STORM LAKE, Iowa — When Dan Smith first went to work at the pork processing plant in Storm Lake in 1980, pretty much the only way to nab that kind of union job was to have a father, an uncle or a brother already there. The pay, he recalled, was $16 an hour, with benefits — enough to own a home, a couple of cars, a camper and a boat, while your wife stayed home with the children.

“It was the best-paying job you could get, 100 percent, if you were unskilled,” said Mr. Smith, now 66, who followed his father through the plant gates.

After nearly four decades at the plant, most of them as a forklift driver, Mr. Smith is retiring this month.

The union is long gone, and so are most of the white faces of men who once labored in the broiling heat of the killing floor and the icy chill of the production lines. What hasn’t changed much is Mr. Smith’s hourly wage, which is still about $16 an hour, the same as when he started 37 years ago. Had his wages kept up with inflation, he would be earning about $47 an hour.

The forces that have helped transform this snug lakeside town in northwestern Iowa and others like it during Mr. Smith’s working life have created a complex swirl of economic successes and hardships, optimism and unease.

Fierce global competition, agricultural automation and plant closures have left many rural towns struggling for survival. In areas stripped of the farm and union jobs that paid middle-class wages and tempted the next generation to stay put and raise a family, young people are more likely to move on to college or urban centers like Des Moines. Left behind are an aging population, abandoned storefronts and shrinking economic prospects.

Yet Storm Lake, hustled along by the relentless drive of manufacturers to cut labor costs and by the town’s grit to survive, is still growing. However clumsily at times, this four-square-mile patch has absorbed successive waves of immigrants and refugees — from Asia, from Mexico and Central America, and from Africa.

They fill most of the grueling, low-paid jobs at the pork, egg and turkey plants; they spend money at local shops, and open restaurants and grocery stores; they fill church pews and home-team benches. While more than 88 percent of the state’s population is non-Hispanic white, less than half of Storm Lake’s is. Walk through the halls of the public schools and you can hear as many as 18 languages.

• Category: Economics • Tags: Immigration 
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  1. athEIst says:

    The union is long gone,
    Of course it is.
    The forces have created a complex swirl of economic successes and hardships.
    Without the immigrants the owners of meat-packing plants(success) could not have broken the union(hardship).

    • Replies: @anon
  2. Svigor says:

    This is easily solved; stop favoring foreign producers, start favoring American producers. Foreign countries subsidize their own industry, they exploit their workforce (labor laws cost money), etc. Start taxing them to compensate.


    Fed up with (((liars))).

  3. Patriot says:

    When I was a kid in California, 50 years ago, a guy without a high school education could earn enough at a factory, driving truck, at the post office, or working construction to own a NEW 4 bedroom house, 2 car garage, 2 cars, 4 kids, and wife stayed at home.

    This was in Southern California, 3 blocks from the ocean. I distinctly remember that every family did stuff on the weekends — everyone had a hobby — a life outside of work: gardening, camping, sailing, hiking, snow skiing, water skiing, boating, fishing, ham radio, church, antique cars, motorcycles, kids sports, etc. Everyone was busy, with lots of neighborhood backyard barbeques.

    Today, I see married couples, both with 4-yr college degrees, both working 60 hrs a week. They can’t afford a house, or even to live in LA. Instead, they live in an apartment, in the desert and drive 1 hr each way to work. Of course they can’t afford children, or in rare cases have a single child.

    What happened? Where did the American Dream go?

    Those @#$%^&* globalists first shipped all our factory jobs overseas so that they could make a few more Shekels. But that wasn’t enough — they wanted even more money, so they imported tens of millions of Third-World wage slaves to drive down the wages on the jobs that were left. Those greedy %^*%$# sold this scheme to the sheeple as “humanitarian”. But what is humanitarian about destroying the lives and society of your countrymen? Meanwhile, California went from the most “wealthy” state in the Union to a dystopian nightmare in near bankruptcy. For example, in the 1970′s, California public university education was almost free. Today, it is ridiculously expensive, unless, of course, you are a minority or immigrant, with “financial needs.”

    • Agree: anarchyst
    • Replies: @Pachyderm Pachyderma
  4. eah says:

    The ‘Jew York Times’ strikes again.

  5. Sam J. says:

    Let’s see, it’s a good thing the town grows full of aliens? Put me in the “Not so Sure it’s a Good Idea” column.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    It became necessary to replace the town to save it.

    • LOL: TomSchmidt, bomag
    • Replies: @anon
    , @Sam J.
  7. Patricia Cohen. I’m starting to see a (((pattern))) here.

  8. bomag says:

    They could have been more honest and titled this, “How To Build A Ghetto In The Middle Of Iowa”.

    Dreary stuff, all this immigration boosterism:

    )”embracing change”, but no one saying it was better

    )The usual church members gushing about “extending hospitality” while that hospitality is at the expense of others; and it overlooks the non-return of the hospitality by the “18 languages”.

    )The mandatory story about someone languishing in a refugee camp who is happy to get a dreary, low paying job. I guess overseas refugee camps are started and maintained to supply a source of happy labor.

    )The church member/police chief saying that there has been many problems, but the pros outweigh the cons; no mention of the pros, except that the town has more people than otherwise. Quantity has a quality, apparently.

  9. @Patriot

    You ask… But what is humanitarian about destroying the lives and society of your countrymen? Are you sure they are YOUR countrymen?

    • Replies: @Patriot
  10. Patriot says:
    @Pachyderm Pachyderma


    You hit the nail on the head. Many of these International globalist living in the USA have no loyalty to the USA. In fact, a not insignificant number actually have dual citizenship.

    They are here to mainly make money, any way they can. They don’t really care about traditional Americans, and in fact often despise them.

    This is the problem with “diversity” (which derives from the same root as diverge divide, divisive, disunite, disagree, dispute, disrupt, displace, disorder, discord, disaffect, disease, die, danger, disaster, diabolical, disturb, disunity, distraught, distress, distrust, dismal, disintegrate, disengage, disfranchise, etc.).

    Racial, ethnic, language, and religious diversity is almost NEVER a strength, but almost always a dangerous liability.

    Virtually all wars and conflicts have been caused by “diversity”, i.e., differences. Diversity is dangerous.

    Homogeneous societies are happier and safer.

  11. If we didn’t have such high immigration, these employers would be raising wages and automate. The agricultural sector needs more automation. Machines do not come with their own backward, misogynistic, gang culture, unintelligible language, do not need food stamps and other welfare, do not drag down our school standards with their culture of lack of upward mobility, do not commit crime, terror or raise children who commit crime or terror.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  12. Went through the EXACT same experience in South Philadelphia. I was lucky. I had a college degree and Philly has opportunities of a lateral-move nature. The poor bastards left out, many of them good, hard working men and women, those without a degree or youth on their side, were just abandoned by the company they had worked for, often for decades. Fuck ‘em, right ? Who needs ‘em………..their spouses, their children, their grandchildren…….. Why maintain traditional America when greedy bigshots can destroy it easily while they fatten their own profits and waistlines. Sick.

  13. anon • Disclaimer says:

    Those immigrants are scab labor in all but name.

  14. anon • Disclaimer says:

    Exactly. The town was “saved” but changed forever. Only in the cultural Marxist world of American media can race-replacement be considered “salvation”.

    • Replies: @TomSchmidt
  15. Better title: “Immigrants Infest and Destroy Another Peaceful Harmonious Iowa Community by Big Business Interests in the Name of Low Wages and Cheap Labor.”

    They demolished Postville IA in the NE corner of the state, and they keep looking for other Iowa and midwestern towns to destroy through the same mode.

    The churches and refugee resettlement criminals all are in on the destruction. They call it ‘diversity’ and you are bigoted heartless hater of children and minorities if you object, you bigoted racist that does not even deserve to live in this country. You bigot.

    The leeches swarm in from all over the world, grab their money, and wreck the town. Then move on to the next town and do it again.

    Immigration moratorium NOW. The last thing this country needs is more people, especially waves of third worlders. C’mon Mr Trump, STOP THE INVASION

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    NPR has already mined this genre:

    A Thriving Rural Town’s Winning Formula Faces New Threats Under Trump Administration
    This is a two-part story on immigrants and small town viability.

    A Tale Of Two Kansas Towns: One Thrives As Another Struggles
    In Kansas, some rural towns are booming while others are dwindling. Garden City, Kan., for instance, attracts people from across the globe. The population is young, growing, and extremely diverse.

    Many rural areas across the country are losing population and economic vitality but not every rural town, especially those that learn how to adapt. Frank Morris of member station KCUR has this report on two small towns in Kansas.

    Immigrants Make This Farm Town Work. Now They’re Applying For Citizenship

    … Morgan County has anchored its local economy to agriculture. A meatpacking plant, cheese factory, sugar beet processing plant and large dairy farms provide plentiful yet grueling jobs that require little proficiency in English, just hard manual labor. That has made the rural county a magnet for migrating immigrants and refugees. It now holds sizable Somali, Mexican, Ethiopian, El Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran populations.

    This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America. It comes to us via Harvest Public Media.

  17. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Automation over immigration

    New York Times in March:

    Steve King’s Iowa Voters Rethink Their Support: ‘Way Out of Line’

    … But as talk of a border wall and a Muslim ban overtook the presidential campaign, Mr. Wielenga, the agronomy manager of a farmers’ co-op here in northwestern Iowa, had a change of heart.

    He heard dairy farmers say they couldn’t get their cows milked without immigrants. “You can put an ad in the paper and you won’t get two white guys to apply,” said Mr. Wielenga, who grew up on a dairy farm himself.

    Well that’s the low-wage-immigrant-employers’ lobby heard from. But wait, he has more to say:

    Mr. Wielenga, the agronomist, suggested that northwestern Iowa, with its proud Dutch heritage, may have grown too insular, too complacent, during Mr. King’s tenure in Congress. He called it a safe community and a great place to raise children.

    What a curious juxtaposition of sentences.

  18. anon • Disclaimer says:

    I am familiar with it but thought it was a bit too extreme.

  19. Sam J. says:

    “…It became necessary to replace the town to save it…”

    Best comment. Much amusement!

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