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Labor Shortage


A labor shortage has been in the news lately. According to one economic report released in April, employers begin to complain of labor shortages when employment drops to 5%. The report predicted that this trend might continue for another fifteen years.

But a labor shortage is not a new problem. On this date in 1900, the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican announced that farmers in the Red River Valley were finding it almost impossible to hire help. Farmers came into towns every day looking for laborers, but there were none to be found. Word had spread that it would be a poor harvest. As a result, the laborers who came from the south didn’t want to take a chance on coming to North Dakota and finding no work. Instead, they went to Kansas where a bumper crop was expected. While it hadn’t taken many people to plant the crop, the region needed thousands of workers for the reaping, threshing and hauling. But those hands were just not forthcoming.

The harvest was a time of movement. Laborers began their work in the south and gradually moved north. But the trains came to North Dakota without bringing a single laborer. The newspaper reported that there were fewer than 10% of the laborers required. Urgent appeals for harvest hands went unanswered. Ordinarily at that time of year, men looking for work lined the streets of every town. In 1900, they were nowhere to be found.

Fields that should have been harvested two weeks ago still sat unattended. Thousands of acres went in need of harvesting. Even though the yield was expected to be small – only six to eight bushels of wheat per acre – no farmer wanted to see the crop rot in the field. Farmer Thomas Nesbit contemplated plowing the crop under.

There didn’t seem to be any immediate remedy for the problem. Some local businessmen proposed approaching the railroads and urging them to ship in laborers without charge. That was a solution they had resorted to several times over the past years. In the meantime, neighbors were expected to band together to harvest as much of the crop as possible.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Marketplace. “Fifteen Years of Labor Shortages Predicted for U.S. Economy.”
www.marketplace.org/2016/04/19/world/15-years- labor-shortages- predicted-us-economy
Accessed 22 June, 2016.

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Laborers Are Scarce.” 28 July, 1900.