Meat & Livestock News

Housing Challenges for Meatpacking Workers: Industry Takes Action

Bearded butcher dressed in a fleece shirt serving fresh cut meat in a market.

The Housing Crunch in Small Towns

The housing shortage in small American towns, especially those hosting animal protein processing plants, has become a pressing issue.

This was starkly highlighted by the experience of Cargill plant manager Selia Perez, who, upon moving to Fort Morgan, Colo., for her job, struggled to find a suitable home for her family.

Eventually, Perez had to settle for a house 20 minutes west of Fort Morgan, a situation that reflects the broader housing frustrations faced by working families nationwide.

Impact on Meat Packing Facilities

In Fort Morgan, like many other towns, the growth of meatpacking plants has outstripped the housing capacity of the local community.

For Perez, this housing shortfall made it challenging to maintain adequate staffing levels at the Cargill Protein plant, where about 1,850 of the 2,000 employees are line workers operating in shifts, including overnight maintenance.

Housing: An Operational Challenge for the Industry

The housing issue has evolved from a community concern to an operational problem for the meatpacking industry, posing a direct threat to productivity. Finding solutions is complex, involving navigating government programs, nonprofit partnerships, economic development issues, and balancing corporate and employee interests.

Despite these challenges, major employers are actively developing programs to address this issue.

Expert Insights on the Housing Market

Geoff Smith, executive director of the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University, notes that the market alone is unlikely to resolve the housing shortage in small rural towns. These areas typically don’t attract residential developers due to their profiles.

Broader Context of the Housing Shortage

The housing market difficulties are well-documented, from daily news to house-hunting TV shows. The shortage of affordable housing for middle-income households is particularly severe in communities where the demands of dominant industries do not align with the available housing.

This issue affects not only resort towns like Vail, Colo., where service workers struggle to find housing, but also extends to places like Beardstown, Ill., demonstrating the widespread nature of this challenge.