Religion and Spirituality

amish factory, amish farm, amish workers, amish family
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Recession Has Serious Impact on Amish Way of Life

May 14, 2009 07:00 AM
by Anne Szustek
The closure of factories, a prohibition on accepting unemployment benefits and lower prices for food are leading the tradition-steeped Amish to review their practices.

Current Economic Conditions Affect Age-Old Lifestyle

Rising land prices and an ever-growing population forced much of America’s Amish population out of farming and into other professions. In fact, only an estimated 10 percent of America’s 227,000 Amish still rely on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.

Some of them have turned toward furniture making and construction, crafts often associated with the Amish; unfortunately, those industries are also suffering during the recession. Others took up work in factories, including much of the 23,000-person Amish community in northern Indiana. A 2007 poll of 3,358 Amish households in the area showed that 53.3 percent of them earned their primary income from factories, reports the Associated Press.

With the economic downturn, the thousands of layoffs at factories have left many Amish without work. According to the Chicagoist, LaGrange and Elkhart Counties, which are home to much of the Hoosier State’s Amish community, had an unemployment rate in March of just below 19 percent; that’s 10 percent higher than the U.S. jobless rate was that month.
In addition to prohibiting electricity use and most forms of motorized transport, the tenets of the Amish faith require self-sufficiency and refusing all government assistance. Previously, that meant refusing unemployment checks. “We want to be producers … and not be dependent upon the nation for our livelihood or for the federal or state governments” to do so, Mount Hope, Ohio Amish minister David Kline told the AP.

But during this recession, several Amish church leaders are permitting those who have exhausted all other options to collect unemployment benefits, arguing that it’s acceptable because the benefits come from money Amish workers have already paid the government. Despite this permission, many of those now receiving unemployment prefer not to talk about it.

Background: Amish clash with outside world

In addition to contending with sluggish milk prices, Amish dairy and cattle farmers are also facing regulations that require them to use radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which conflicts with the Amish interdiction on technology.

The USDA National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is creating a network of registered livestock by implanting identification devices called 840s into individual animals. Although the USDA intended the NAIS devices to be voluntary, the Michigan Department of Agriculture has made implementing the system mandatory, findingDulcinea reported in November. The Bush administration argues that the case should be dismissed, noting that the USDA never made the radio frequency ID chips mandatory.

Some Amish farmers have also been prohibited from selling their milk. In 2006, an Amish farmer contested an Ohio law forbidding the sale of raw milk, claiming that it infringed upon his faith by prohibiting him from sharing food he produced with others.

Reports of such conflicts between the Amish faith and secular law may be on the rise as the U.S. Amish population quickly grows. America’s Amish population expanded from 125,000 in 1992 to 231,000 in 2008, due largely to the threat of excommunication for marriage from outside of the faith and its traditionally high fertility rate. Amish couples have an average of five children, some four-fifths of whom continue with the Amish faith through adulthood.

Related Topic: Recession forces older workers to seek hourly wage jobs

After being laid off from his factory job in September, 65-year-old Missouri resident Dorie Clark is training to become a police officer to pay the bills. Clark’s instructor at the University of Missouri’s Law Enforcement Training Institute has noticed a recent increase in older recruits. As the national unemployment rate hits record highs, a growing number of baby boomers have sought out hourly jobs and deferred their retirement. Restaurants, discount stores and amusement parks have reported taking on an older workforce, to the detriment of teenagers and college students searching for summer and part-time work.

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