What Do the Amish Do for a Living?

The Amish are famous for their rejection of the modern world and embracing an ultra-traditional lifestyle that shuns technology.

But as technology becomes more and more a part of daily life — and as the global economy shifts more into that digital landscape — how have the Amish been affected?

In a nutshell, what do the Amish do for a living?

While technology is certainly touching nearly every part of life, the Amish have a handful of career options that allow them to provide for themselves and, to a larger extent, their communities.

Generally speaking, there are five common career paths that you can find among the Amish.

1. Farmer

The first common career for an Amish person is also the most obvious — being a farmer.

Farming is an essential part of the Amish experience, and they provide an enormous quantity of Pennsylvania’s crops from corn to tobacco.

Amish farms tend to be enormous in terms of acreage, and they may be phenomenally expensive to acquire with today’s land prices.

As a result, it’s common to hear of local banks that work with Amish families in particular to purchase large tracts of land, sometimes lending millions for the purchase.

These same lenders understand the life of the Amish though, so instead of making the mortgage duration for 30 years, they’ll make it much longer — sometimes 100 years.

In this scenario, the Amish family gets to buy a farm, so they’re happy to start the work that they want to do. The bank is happy because they’ve just secured regular monthly income for the next century.

But there’s a caveat to this that especially benefits the Amish. As land becomes scarcer and more expensive, the Amish are the ones who possess large amounts of undeveloped land.

So as Lancaster becomes a more popular tourist and retirement destination, there are land developers who need more land with which to work.

These developers then go to the Amish, offer an above-market price for a certian amount of land, and the Amish sell it — sometimes at a cost that’s high enough to pay off their entire farm’s mortgage.

This is why you may notice so much new residential and commercial construction in Lancaster, PA, especially if you live here or visit here often. The influx of new residents has demanded more housing at an affordable cost, and the people with the most land are the Amish farmers.

Even after these sales, though, the Amish will still hold onto a certain amount of land that continues to let them work. Then, with no mortgage and a family-only workforce, they can quickly become some of the wealthier families in the Lancaster area.

But there’s more to the Amish than just farming. Increasingly, you’ll also find them working in our next four career paths as well.

2. Contractor

In addition to being farmers, many Amish choose to work as contractors in the booming construction business in Lancaster, PA.

Commonly, the Amish aren’t directly employed by a “worldly” (or non-Amish) business. Instead, they work as independent contractors or group sub-contractors that help get work done quickly and affordably.

The reputation for quality Amish contractor work has gotten to the point where they’re in high demand outside of Lancaster, especially in areas like West Chester and other Philadelphia suburbs.

However, it’s becoming more common to see Amish contractors go as far as New York for work on a daily basis.

But this gives rise to a problem — if the Amish are required to go to New York for work every day, how do they get there? They can’t take a horse and buggy.

This is where the work of an Amish contractor becomes unique. Amish contract work has given rise to a small sub-economy in the Lnacater area of transporting the Amish from their homes to their work destinations every day.

Sometimes called “Amish hauling,” this is a popular way for retirees in the area to make money when they live in more rural towns, like Quarryville.

All you need is a driver’s license, a van, and some Amish friends. Then, you’re in business.

3. Carpenter

Because the Amish work so frequently with their hands, it’s common for many to take up work as carpenters.

In this situation we’re differentiating carpentry from contract work because carpentry can entail creating furniture, simple toys, and other items that would be placed in a house (instead of creating the building itself).

Amish carpentry is famous for its quality because Amish carpenters tend to work on master and apprentice systems, even if they’re not called that specifically in the Amish community.

This is a system in which you’ll find a successful carpenter teaching nephews and other male members of the family how to become a carpenter.

(You typically don’t find women working in this capacity because the Amish believe heavily in traditional gender norms, including career choices that are oriented by birth sex.)

You may find carpenters and families like this in tourist-oriented locations, like Intercourse, while contractors and farmers live more outside of the towns and in the open land.

4. Tailor

If you’ve ever been in common clothing stores around Lancaster, PA, you may have noticed something interesting — no store sells clothing that the Amish wear (unless you count the tourist stores that sell clothing as a souvenir, as opposed to practical use.)

This is because the Amish still make their own clothes in many areas. As a result, there are Amish tailors.

This career path may be the only one on this list that is becoming more and mor escarce. As the Amish have started integrating more with the “worldy” people of Lancaster, it’s become clear that ti’s easier to buy clothing than make it, in a lot of ways.

o instead of the Amish making their clothing, they’ll get simple white button-down shirts, black vests, skirts, etc. just for the ease of acquisition.

Outside of Lancaster, as you get further into Central Pennsylvania, this changes.

The older denominations of Amish will frequently have individuals who know how to make clothing from raw materials. This is because retail stores and clothing options are much further spread out, and it’s not always easy for the Amish to travel to and from the stores.

As a result, you get Amish in areas like Big Valley who still make their own clothing. Generally, these are the “white topper” or “yellow topper” Amish, but there could also be the more well-known black topper Amish making their own clothing as well.

5. Retail for Family Business

As we’ve mentioned a few times, Amish businesses and careers are often created, grown, and passed throughout an immediate family. This is because the family is the core social group of the Amish experience, with the greater community playing a supporting role in a family’s growth, development, and well-being.

As a result, you have a need for some common jobs in these Amish businesses — namely retail work.

For the Amish, retail work may pertain to running a cash register, restocking shelves, taking customer orders, and more. It’s the common “grunt work” that you can expect to see at a department store or something to that effect.

You’ll also find retial workers — typically children — running roadside stands or going door to door trying to sell the last of a crop harvest, like corn.

This sales work tends to be an introduction to the work and life of an Amish person as children are young, allowing them to gradually acclimate and learn about the family business and way of life.

In addition, you may find more elderly Amish performing this same work since it’s generally safer and lower-impact than the other career choices on this list.

Amish families tend to live together, as opposed to the parents going to live in a retirement community, so they may choose to work in these capacities to help pass the time and keep the family financially secure.

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