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Illegal Immigrants and the Price of Chicken

At first thought, there probably doesn’t seem to be any connection between people who enter the US illegally and how much chicken costs in a store, and there really isn’t any. However, a question was asked if we could expect to see an increase in the price of chicken and a drop in availability, in relation to the news that 680 illegal aliens who worked at a chicken processing plant were arrested in Mississippi. The person who asked the question was serious, as near as I could tell.

The simple answer is that this shouldn’t make much difference in the price of chicken or availability, except for in that specific area and only temporarily. Working at a chicken processing plant is far from being a glamorous job, but it isn’t as if there aren’t citizens who won’t do the work. The implication of the question, of course, is that arresting illegals might cause a price increase all over the country. That simply isn’t the case.

In 2015, the US produced 8,680,000,000 broiler chickens, amounting to 53,360,000,000 pounds of chicken, 19% of which were exported around the world. It should be obvious that not all of these were processed in Mississippi. In fact, Mississippi doesn’t raise the most chickens or process the most in the US. They are ranked as the 5th leading chicken producing state, In 2015, Mississippi accounted for 4.55 billion pounds of chicken produced.

The same year, Arkansas produced 6.16 billion pounds, North Carolina produced 6.42 billion pounds, Alabama produced 6.17 billion pounds, and Georgia produced 7.9 billion pounds. There are chicken processing plants in every state that produces chickens that end up in stores, which is to say at least all of the lower 48 states. Further, these states usually have several such processing plants.

Think about the total number for a moment; 53.36 billion pounds of chicken and over eight and a half billion birds. How many people do you suppose that it takes to process that many chickens? I can guarantee that it takes far in excess of 680. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if several hundred times that many people work in chicken processing plants in the US. Six hundred eighty might sound like a lot of people, but it is insignificant for the industry and not enough to change the price of chicken, or the availability, throughout the US.

That said and explained, the price of chicken could increase, for an entirely different reason. America’s economy is booming and there are now a lot more jobs than there are people to fill them. Because of this, companies find themselves needing to pay workers more in order to keep them. That is obviously good for the workers. However, businesses must increase their revenue in order to pay people more, in order to retain them. That can mean that chicken processing plants might charge more for chickens. Of course, they can’t increase prices too much or people could stop buying their product.

Either way, any increase in prices of chicken that we might see, except for very temporarily in the Mississippi area, wouldn’t have to do with the arrest of 680 illegal aliens. It would have to do with having a robust economy.

Incidentally, if the US produces over 53 billion pounds of chicken per year, just imagine what the world total must be. It staggers the mind.

  • Did you know that the US produced so many chickens each year?

    • Yes
    • No

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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18 Comments

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  1. Thanks, Rex, These stats are very useful, I had no idea so many chickens were consumed in the USA. Once, about 20 years ago, my wife and I did a bit of scratch-farming, growing white Leghorns. I miss the simplicity of it all. We grew them organically to average broiler size, 1 kilo, give or take. The butcher would take them alive and had a commercial facility to dispatch and process them. Although the broiler-breed were not actually top egg-layer we produced a lot of eggs too. Regards, Andre’

    • In a way, it isn’t surprising. Our family of three eats chicken about three times a week, in a typical week. That would be 156 nights with chicken for dinner per year for just one family. If even the majority of Americans are the same way, that amounts to a huge amount of chickens.

      Our chickens are strictly egg-layers, though, and they think they are pets, so I wouldn’t consider butchering them. Still, I have memories from my youth of helping my mother butcher 100 chickens, cleaning them and plucking them in three days. It was hard and stinky work. I can think of far more pleasant tasks that a person could do.

    • There is a reason for that, too. Most chickens that are raised for the market only take about 6 weeks to get large enough to butcher. Beef and pork take substantially longer, so there are a lot more chickens available as meat, which drives the price down. It is simple supply and demand.

    • It really doesn’t take a lot of thought to figure out that this would have minimal impact on prices, though you are right; it could be used as an excuse. Less-than-honest businesses often look for such excuses, relying on the ignorance of the consumer to get away with it. Many people simply refuse to think it through.

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