Community Development

Changes in Nebraska's and Iowa's Counties With Large Meatpacking Plant Workforces Gao ID: RCED-98-62 February 27, 1998

Meatpacking plants in the United States, which are today often found in rural areas, are experiencing changes in the composition of their workforces. Increasingly, workers are coming from areas outside where the plants are located--from areas with high unemployment and from abroad. Some of these workers are illegal aliens. In response to congressional concerns about the impact of this trend on communities in Nebraska and Iowa, this report answers the following questions: (1) What population changes have occurred in communities with large meatpacking plants? (2) What changes have occurred in school enrollments, health care costs, economic conditions, and crime rates? (3) What are the housing conditions of plant workers and their families? (4) Does evidence exist that meatpacking companies have hired illegal aliens?

GAO noted that: (1) from 1980 to 1990, 5 of the 16 counties with large meatpacking workforces in Iowa and Nebraska gained population; (2) minority populations (American Indians or Alaskan Natives, Asian or Pacific Islanders, African-Americans, and Hispanics) as a percentage of the total population grew in all 16 counties; (3) despite this growth, as of 1990, the proportion of minority populations in 11 of these counties remained smaller than the statewide proportions, which were 7.5 percent for Nebraska and 4.1 percent for Iowa; (4) school enrollments in 15 of the 23 counties with large meatpacking workforces increased more rapidly than statewide enrollments between 1987 and 1997; (5) furthermore, these counties experienced a large increase in the number of students with limited proficiency in English; (6) in 13 of the 23 counties with large meatpacking workforces, the increase in the number of Medicaid recipients per 1,000 in population exceeded the statewide increase of 54 percent in Nebraska and 39 percent in Iowa between 1990 and 1996; (7) in 18 of the 23 counties with large meatpacking workforces, there were improvements in at least one of two indicators of economic well-being--per capita incomes or taxable retail sales--from 1990 to 1995; (8) in many cases these improvements exceeded statewide gains; (9) the level of serious crime increased from 1986 to 1995 in 14 of the 19 counties with large meatpacking workforces for which crime data were available; (10) despite these increases, crime in 11 of the 19 counties was below statewide levels; (11) officials of nine Nebraska and Iowa communities said that the physical condition of housing occupied by newly employed workers is generally adequate; (12) the affordability of housing is a concern, especially for newly employed workers, and overcrowding has occurred among some workers and their families; (13) the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has often found illegal aliens employed at meatpacking plants; (14) the Service's District Director for Nebraska and Iowa estimated that up to 25 percent of the workers in meatpacking plants in Nebraska and Iowa were illegal aliens; and (15) the efforts that meatpacking companies have made to avoid hiring illegal aliens have been hampered, according to INS officials, primarily because of the proliferation of forged documents and limited methods to ensure that those seeking employment are eligible to work in the United States.

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