Slaughterhouses Offer Rural Communities Employment but Low Wages

Christopher Walljasper August 2, 2018

Workers in a Hog Slaughter and Processing Plant Use Hooks and Other Tools

Ani­mal slaugh­ter­ing and pro­cess­ing oper­a­tions make up a large por­tion of the total jobs avail­able in rur­al Amer­i­ca, mean­ing these jobs are some of the best options for some Amer­i­cans where steady, full-time work can be scarce.

Slaugh­ter­hous­es employ a half-a-mil­lion work­ers in more than 7,000 facil­i­ties across the U.S., and 38 per­cent are clas­si­fied by the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics as butch­ers and oth­er meat, poul­try, and fish pro­cess­ing workers.”

These are the peo­ple on the floor, tak­ing live ani­mals and turn­ing them into the record amount of meat Amer­i­cans are expect­ed to con­sume in 2018. The USDA esti­mates more than 200 lbs. of read meat and poul­try will be con­sumed per per­son this year.

While these jobs are avail­able across the coun­try, the largest employ­ers oper­ate facil­i­ties with thou­sands of employ­ees in rur­al areas, what the BLS refers to as non­metro­pol­i­tan areas.”

The fol­low­ing maps and graph­ics offer some insights into where these jobs are locat­ed and how much work­ers are paid in those parts of the country.

Map: The biggest meat pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties. To view the inter­ac­tive map and to learn about the pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties, view the orig­i­nal article.

While big cities employ a large num­ber of slaugh­ter­house work­ers, those jobs make up a rel­a­tive­ly small share of the total employ­ment opportunities.

Slaugh­ter­house work­ers — total employment

The parts of the U.S. that employ the most slaugh­ter­house work­ers include many major metro areas. But these jobs make up a rel­a­tive­ly small por­tion of the total jobs avail­able in big cities like Chica­go and LA.

Slaugh­ter­house workers

In many of the loca­tions where meat cut­ter, butch­er, slaugh­ter­er, trim­mer and pack­er jobs are most plen­ti­ful, the mean hourly wage trends at or below $15.00. That means where slaugh­ter­hous­es pro­vide a large por­tion of the avail­able jobs, the pay is below the medi­an hourly wage nation­wide ($17.09).

South­east coastal North Car­oli­na non­metro­pol­i­tan area is a good exam­ple. The top five occu­pa­tions are food prepa­ra­tion (includ­ing servers and fast food), cashiers, retail sales, nurs­ing assis­tants and slaugh­ter­ers and meat pack­ers. When the oth­er two BLS clas­si­fi­ca­tions for slaugh­ter­house work­ers are includ­ed, pro­cess­ing jobs in South­east North Car­oli­na are sec­ond only to fast food and wait­ing tables.

South­east North Car­oli­na Non­Metro area

Slaugh­ter­house work is one of the top employ­ment sources in South­east North Car­oli­na — far high­er than in oth­er parts of the coun­try (loca­tion quo­tient), and slight­ly bet­ter paying.

Wages for meat proces­sors are stronger in some parts of Amer­i­ca. Areas where the mean hourly wage is more than $20 per hour are most­ly in New Eng­land or the west coast, with the excep­tion of a cou­ple loca­tions in Wis­con­sin North Dako­ta. None of the areas pay­ing that wage employ more than 250 people.

In areas where meat pro­cess­ing makes up a larg­er por­tion of total employ­ment, mean hourly wage does improve, but is still well below the nation­al aver­age of $24.34.

(This arti­cle was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on Inves­ti­gate Mid­west. To view the maps and graph­ics inter­ac­tive­ly vis­it the orig­i­nal arti­cle, Slaugh­ter­hous­es pro­vide low, yet sta­ble floor for employ­ment in rur­al Amer­i­ca”.)
Christo­pher Wall­jasper is an inves­tiga­tive reporter and audio pro­duc­er in Chica­go and across the Mid­west. He has cov­ered a vari­ety of issues, includ­ing rur­al Amer­i­ca, busi­ness, tech­nol­o­gy, real estate and nation­al security.
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