Skip to navigation

Skip to main content


Summary Report of the Conference focused on Yuba City, CA

Changing Face Conference, Davis, CA
September 2-4, 1999

Philip Martin, Michael Fix, and Edward Taylor


Immigration and Integration

Guest Workers

Sacramento Valley Communities

Immigrant Integration Options

Field Trip/Policy Implications

Farm Labor




The fourth "field conference" of the changing face project was held September 2-4, 1999 in Davis, CA, with a field trip on September 3 to the Marysville-Yuba City area. This conference focused on the challenges and opportunities posed by immigration in the Sacramento Valley, an area with high poverty rates and smaller shares of immigrants in its population than the rest of California. Increased agricultural production and exits from the farm work force are attracting a steady influx of immigrant farm workers, so that the face of the Sacramento Valley, like the face of California, is changing.

There were three major themes:

The Sacramento Valley offers a very useful contrast to other areas of the state. Agriculture is more mechanized than elsewhere, and unemployment and poverty were problems in this natural resources based area long before significant immigration became noticeable. The arrival of immigrants to an area that already has an underclass highlights immigrant-US resident interactions in the labor market and society.
Immigrants do most of the seasonal farm work in the Sacramento Valley—farmers prefer immigrants to unemployed local residents, and local residents do not want to work in the fields. Wages and conditions for farm workers are highly variable, and there was general agreement that the higher wage equipment operators and irrigators with families in the area were most likely to benefit from publicly subsidized farm worker housing and child care.
The key to eliminating poverty in the Sacramento Valley is to increase the number of high-wage jobs that offer benefits and upward mobility. This generally means creating nonfarm jobs, because higher farm wages are likely to increase mechanization. However, nonfarm employers such as call centers initially attracted by low wages and a pool of unemployed workers in several cases concluded that the workers available in the Yuba City-Marysville area do not have the characteristics they are seeking.
We hope to continue the changing face project, and to hold changing face conferences in 2000, 2001, and 2002. One of these conferences will focus on how 1996 changes in immigration and welfare laws as well as NAFTA are affecting the Mexico-US border area, another will focus on how the spillover from the booming Bay Area affects immigrant farm workers in Napa and Sonoma, and the third will include analysis of 2000 census data in rural and agricultural areas. Researchers doing studies that deal with the characteristics and impacts of recent immigrants on California communities or commodities are invited to contact us at:


Immigration and Integration
Jeff Passel emphasized that rapid population growth in California and the Central Valley is due to three major factors: immigration; high fertility, especially among immigrant women; and spillover population growth from the Bay area and Los Angeles. The Central Valley had about three million residents in 1970, almost six million in 1999, and is projected to have 12 million in 2025.

Immigration in the 1990s is at its highest-ever levels—some 11 million legal and unauthorized immigrants are expected to arrive in the US, exceeding the 9 nine million who arrived in the first decade of the 20th century. California had eight million, or 30 percent, of the 25 million foreign-born residents in 1998, a slight drop from the state’s share of US immigrants, reflecting the fact that more immigrants are settling in non-traditional areas of the US, such as the midwest and southeast. About 25 percent of California’s 33 million residents are foreign-born, and six percent of the state’s residents are unauthorized. By contrast, five percent of the population in the rest of the US are immigrants, and one percent are unauthorized.

The Central Valley had 5.6 million residents in 1998, including 20 percent immigrants. Most of the immigrants—55 percent—were born in Mexico, followed by 30 percent from Asian countries. The major socio-economic problem of immigrants in the Central Valley is low incomes and large families, leading to very low per capita incomes—an average $4,700 per person per year in households headed by Mexican immigrants, only slightly higher than Mexico’s per-capita income of $4300 and far below the state average of $28,000.

Elias Lopez emphasized that the 300,000 residents of Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba counties are 66 percent non-Hispanic white, 20 percent Hispanic, and 10 percent Asian in 1999. By comparison, California’s residents were 51 percent non-Hispanic white, 30 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent Asian. Sutter and Yuba counties, like the Sacramento Valley, are changing demographically, but slower than the rest of the state. California in the 1990s added an average of about 370,000 residents a year. Natural increase averaged 280,000 a year and immigration averaged 200,000 a year, offsetting the outmigration of residents to other states, which averaged 110,000 a year.

Lopez’s report, "Latinos and Economic Development in California," calculated that Latinos, who comprised 28 percent of the 15.6 million wage and salary workers in California in 1998, received only 19 percent of the $460 billion earnings in the state. All employed workers averaged $21,000 in 1998; non-Hispanic whites averaged $27,000, Asians, $24,000, and Hispanics, $14,600.

The major explanation of lower Latino earnings is low levels of education—45 percent of Latinos in the California labor force did not complete high school; only eight percent had a college degree. For non-Hispanic whites, 7 percent did not complete high school, and 33 percent had a college degree; for Asians, it was 12 and 43 percent.

Lopez regressed the annual earnings for 6,000 individuals on factors such as weeks worked, education, age, etc., and concluded that the key factor explaining lower Latino earnings was their lower level of education. US-born Latinos also had lower levels of education than other US-born workers: 21 percent of the US-born Latinos did not complete high school, versus 7 percent of non-Latino workers born in the US. The education gap continues even for third and later generation Latinos with US-born parents: 17 percent did not have a high school diploma in 1998, versus 7 percent.

The report concluded that if Latinos had the same level of education as the general population, Latino earnings would increase by $28 billion. However, in Fall 1997, when there were about 120,000 Latinos of high-school completion age in California, and about 23 percent did not complete high school, 34 percent completed but did not go on to college, and 45 percent were enrolled in college. For non-Latinos, these percentages are 10, 27, and 64. Increasing levels of education for Latinos would be mutually beneficial for individuals and California.

Philip Martin emphasized that (1) California's labor-intensive agriculture has been expanding, so that farm worker employment has remained stable even as some farm jobs are lost to mechanization; (2) there is no technological or trade development on the horizon that will eliminate the farm labor problem by eliminating farm jobs; and (3) that the policy options being debated in Washington do not include mechanisms that will solve farm labor problems in the long run.

The major farm labor issue remains seasonality: how can large numbers of workers be assembled to fill jobs as needed at minimum or slightly higher wages? In theory, a central hiring hall or registry, operated by employers, unions, or government, could minimize unemployment and uncertainty in a seasonal industry such as agriculture, with employers registering their demand and workers their supply. However, farm employment is fragmenting, as more workers are hired through middlemen, including farm labor contractors, resulting in inefficiency and uncertainty for both farmers and workers. Farmers have an incentive to request more workers sooner than they are truly needed, since they do not pay for waiting time, and FLCs may not have the information to arrange a succession of farm jobs for workers.

Most farm workers are recently arrived immigrants. With a stable farm labor force, the farm labor market resembles a revolving door, with immigrants entering at age 18 to 25, and exiting 5 to 15 years later. The revolving farm labor door raises two integration issues: what to do with ex-farm workers in their 30s who have not developed skills useful in the nonfarm labor markets or accumulated retirement savings, and what to do about farm worker children who do not follow their parents into the fields? Farm worker children educated in the US reject seasonal farm jobs.

Michael Fix examined immigrant children and the US-born children of immigrants in K-12 schools, and found that supplemental funds for such children are concentrated in the elementary grades, even though the need for assistance is greatest in the secondary grades. About 20 percent of K-12 children are immigrants or the children of immigrants, so that education policy is one of the most important immigrant integration policies. However, immigrant children are increasingly segregated physically from US-born children in largely immigrant schools. Fix concluded that more public investment in education may be needed to promote immigrant integration and to enhance the contributions of immigrants and their children to the economy.


Guest Workers
Bob Bach emphasized that guest workers tend to be isolated workers-- isolated from the communities in which they live and work, Guest workers thus aggravate rather then reduce the barriers between immigrants and newcomers in a manner that can lead to division and segregation. Bach’s research and experience suggest that political leaders need to create institutions and events—from schools to sports clubs—that bring diverse people together to breaks down barrier of language and culture that can otherwise lead to isolation and prejudice.

There is a widespread sense that the current mix of legal and unauthorized workers in rural and agricultural areas is sub optimal—the legal immigrants tend to be very unskilled, and many foreign workers are unauthorized. There is agreement that something the number and mix of immigrants in rural and agricultural areas should be changed, but a wide gulf between farm employers want a new guest worker program, with temporary workers required to return when their US jobs end, and immigrant advocates want another amnesty, and no tighter controls on unauthorized immigration.

Dan Walters asserted that California today is what the US will be demographically in the future, and that many of the issues being debated in California today may thus be the subject of national debates in another generation. In the early 1990s, when especially southern California experienced a severe recession and the state experienced droughts, fires, riots, floods, and earthquakes--every one of the state’s 58 counties was at some point declared a disaster area--there was a perception that the state’s golden era had passed, and that California would become a state of problems rather than promise.

The economic boom of the late 1990s has restored optimism, but Walters stressed that (1) "anti-immigrant" initiatives such as Propositions 187, 209, and 227 remain as popular in 1999 as they were in 1994, 1996, and 1998, when they were approved by about 60 percent of the voting electorate; and (2) politicians recognize that non-Hispanic whites are 50 percent of state residents but about 75 percent of state voters. Latinos are becoming more important politically, in part because of term limits, but they cast only about 12 percent of the statewide vote despite being almost 35 percent of state residents. Governor Gray Davis, committed to polling before making decisions on most issues, is well aware of the gap between the ethnicity of voters and residents, and tries to walk a tightrope on sensitive issues.


Sacramento Valley Communities
There is no standard definition of the Sacramento Valley. For the purposes of the EDD California Agricultural Bulletin, a monthly report of farm employment and earnings, the Sacramento Valley is the 18-county region that includes all the non-coastal counties from Placer, Sacramento, Solano, and Yolo counties in the south to the Oregon and Nevada borders. The six most agriculturally dependent counties in the Sacramento Valley are Colusa, Sutter and Yuba in the south, Glenn and Butte to their north, and Tehama county further north. Almost half of the residents of these six agricultural counties live in Butte county, home of California State University Chico.

Ed Taylor noted that Sutter and Yuba counties, with a combined population of 137,000 in 1999, were quite different from the San Joaquin Valley counties of Fresno and Tulare. In 1990, Sutter county was 77 percent non-Hispanic white and 15 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 36 percent of Hispanics had incomes below the poverty line. Yuba county was similar, although the ratio of Hispanic to white poverty rates was 2-1 instead of 3-1. Fresno and Tulare counties had much higher percentages of minority residents: 35 to 40 percent of their residents were Hispanic. However, like Sacramento Valley counties, they had high ratios of Hispanic to white poverty --32 to 35 percent of Hispanics in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley in 1990 had incomes below the poverty line, versus 13 to 15 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Yuba county seems to be the exception to many rules. It has a very low labor force participation rate: only 54 percent of those 16 and older were in the labor force in 1990, versus 59 percent in Sutter county. Most of those in poverty in Yuba county received welfare assistance in 1990, reflecting a relatively large number of long-term welfare recipients.

Taylor’s analysis emphasized that Latino immigrants are arriving in Sacramento Valley counties and filling entry-level jobs, leaving hard-core poor whites, Asians, and settled Hispanics largely unaffected. There are two major options to reduce poverty in the Sacramento Valley: (1) raise wages and earnings in farm jobs or (2) create nonfarm jobs that offer year-round work, higher wages plus benefits, and result in the hiring of local residents, rather than migrants attracted to the area.

Ed Kissam explored the impacts of immigration on Winters in Yolo County and Lindsay in Tulare County, emphasizing that diverse social processes must be examined in addition to census data to understand immigrant integration in rural California. Winters, with a population of 4,700 in 1990, is a mostly white community with a poorly educated Hispanic minority. Many educated residents work at nearby UC-Davis. Lindsay is a majority Hispanic community with a much lower median income and more residents who have very little education; it has been buffeted by periodic freezes that destroyed the winter citrus crop that many residents pick and pack.

Both Winters and Lindsay have added at least 10 percent to their voter rolls because of recent naturalizations. Kissam emphasized that local governments have no clear-cut mandate to promote immigrant social integration and promote civic participation. Many of the immigrants Kisssam interviewed wanted to naturalize to retain their eligibility for Food Stamps or Social Security, not necessarily because of strong feelings about the need to vote on local issues. Many local decisions, including levying surcharges on the residents in Lindsay to clean up pollution from a closed olive processing plant, involve complex trade offs that may not be readily understood by newly enfranchised voters.

In some cases, the interests of residents are similar across ethnic lines. Many of the white residents of Winters live there because housing costs less than in nearby cities such as Davis. All young families seeking lower housing costs share an interest in more and better schools, helping to explain why a recent school bond measure was approved by Winters voters 82 to 18 percent.

A number of projects are encouraging immigrants to naturalize and participate in local government. However, unlike the Americanization movement of the 1920s, these projects aim to involve the immigrants in their own integration, relying on the children of immigrants to help teach English and civics or using peer groups to preserve the immigrants cultural heritage as they integrate. In Lindsay, immigrants were motivated to get involved in politics by the end of the 245(i) provision, which allowed unauthorized foreigners in the US when their immigrant visas became available to pay a fine and adjust status without returning to their country of origin. In Winters, the catalysts for activism was the need for affordable housing and better schools. Kissam concluded that outside assistance from foundations and other groups is necessary to organize and motivate immigrants to participate in local government.

Arbuckle is an unincorporated city in Colusa county, the leading US rice producer and one of the most agriculturally dependent counties in California, with farm sales of $307 million in 1997. The county has several rice mills as well as several tomato processing facilities. Rice is a low-value, water-intensive crop: the 550,000 acres grown in California generate about $400 million a year in revenue, or about $725 an acre. Rice is grown on clay soil that minimizes seepage of water away from plants; the land would probably not be farmed if it was not used to grow rice. Amber Lopez emphasized that the production of processing tomatoes has increased rapidly in the county, in part because one of the largest and most modern tomato processing plants in the world, the Morningstar plant, was opened in WIlliams. Grapes have also been planted in Colusa county.

Bert Mason noted that the Sacramento Valley has been considered an economic back water for decades. In the 1970s, welfare and poverty rates were high, and there were worries about young people having to leave the area to have a future. Mason noted that, if water becomes scarcer in the San Joaquin Valley, some labor-intensive crop production may shift to the Sacramento Valley, which would likely accelerate immigration, and aggravate housing and other issues associated with seasonal farm labor. Mason also observed that one growing city in an otherwise depressed area, such as Visalia in Tulare county, can draw sales and revenue away from other areas such as Lindsay, hastening its decline.


Immigrant Integration Options
Susan Martin emphasized that the federal immigration system needs to make three changes to expedite the integration of immigrants: restore the eligibility of working poor immigrants to obtain means-tested programs such as Food Stamps, improve the capacity of local governments to integrate immigrants, and reduce the time between application and naturalization for immigrants who want to become Americans. Martin emphasized that, even if the 1996 welfare policy changes are reversed, immigrant integration will not be assured. Business—the employers who are the reason why many immigrants are in rural and agricultural areas-- needs to be actively involved in integration, either by acting alone to offer English-language and citizenship education classes, or by partnering with community-based organizations to make English and basic skills education available to adult immigrants, to facilitate home ownership, and to ensure that health care is provided to immigrant workers and their families.

Martin noted that business has an incentive to facilitate immigrant integration—integrated workers can ease supervision problems, reduce turnover, increase productivity, and make the communities that immigrants and employers share more livable. Most US and immigrant workers are employed in service industries, and some employers, including Marriott, offer English and GED education in the work place in order to increase customer/client satisfaction—hotel guests who can communicate with maids and other staff tend to be more satisfied, while good employees who can speak English are more likely to be candidates for promotion. In some cases, employers provide space for CBOs/NGOs to provide trainers/teachers, and workers are encouraged to participate by receiving their base wage while learning.

Most immigrants come to the US for upward mobility—they want to achieve the American dream of a home of their own, and they hope that their children do better economically than they did. Many immigrants who want to buy homes are not familiar with credit and mortgages. An example of win-win integration occurs when financial institutions and employers cooperate to achieve help immigrant employees to become homeowners—immigrants get the houses they want, banks find sound borrowers, employers get more stable workers, and communities are stabilized.

In Rogers, Arkansas, the First National Bank and Trust Co taught workers at local poultry plants about credit and offered to help them develop credit records for $30. The bank offered employee-borrowers a $500 loan that is repaid in six monthly payments. The $500 does not leave the bank, it is invested in Certificates of Deposit that earn interest, which reduces the cost of the loan to employees. The borrower develops a credit history after 12 months of repayments, and thus permit the bank to provide mortgage financing for home purchases.

Another potential win-win situation is the provision of health insurance, especially for the families of immigrant workers. Many immigrants have no health insurance—they do not receive it at work, and they do not purchase it on their own. Expanding health insurance coverage would make it easier for immigrants to obtain health services for themselves and their families while reducing the amount of uncompensated care in rural areas. Martin noted that the Mexican social security system’s IMSS-Amigo program permits Mexican migrants in the US to obtain health services for families when they are in Mexico for about $307 per year.


Field Trip/Policy Implications
The group visited a tomato grading station, melon picking and packing operations, tomato and peach processing, meat preparation, mechanical plum harvesting, and farm worker housing and child care. The tomato sorting station highlighted the potential of mechanization in the harvesting of fruits and vegetables. In the early 1960s, about 80 percent of the processing tomatoes grown in California were harvested by Mexican workers admitted under the Bracero program, and farmers as well as processors argued for a continuation of the Bracero program. Their argument was that without Bracero workers, the US could no longer grow processing tomatoes.

The predictions of growers worried about the loss of Braceros were wrong. California harvested about 337,000 acres of processing tomatoes, obtaining a record 12 million tons of tomatoes in 1999, up from nine million tons in 1998, and surpassing the previous record production in 1994 (other states produced 0.5 million tons of processing tomatoes). Growers received $58 a ton, up from $53—each double trailer of tomatoes holds 25 tons, making processing tomatoes a $700 million industry. About one-third of the California acreage, 112,000 acres, is in Fresno county, followed by 62,000 acres in Yolo county. Each tomato harvesting machine costs about $300,000, and the usual ratio is one machine for each 800 acres of tomatoes to harvest. A machine can harvest the 25 tons needed to fill a double trailer truck in about 30 minutes.

The processing tomato industry has expanded by almost 50 percent in the 1980s and 1990s, as per capita consumption of processed tomato products rose to the equivalent of 93 pounds per person.

Processing tomatoes are floated out of trucks that carry two-12.5 ton tubs, washed, and then cooked and peeled before being diced, sliced, or converted into paste. Processing tomatoes are mostly water—the solids content of processing tomatoes has been doubled over the past 20 years to 5 to 10 percent--- processing involves taking the water out of the tomatoes, and then restoring it when the paste is used to make catsup and other products.

Honeydew melons are cut and rolled into raised rows by a cutting crew, and then picked up by a separate harvesting crew, placed on a conveyor belt that moves slowly through the fields, and loaded into trucks. At the melon packing plant, trucks are tilted to remove the melons, which are sized and packed—4, 5, or 6 to a carton--for piece rate wages—other workers involved in melon harvesting are paid hourly wages. The cartons are then loaded on pallets before being shipped to markets out of the area.

The Yuba-Sutter area produces about 40 percent of the state’s peaches. About 30 percent of Yuba-Sutter peaches are picked by machine, at a cost of about $15 a ton; the other 70 percent are picked by hand, at a cost of about $30 a ton. Canneries, which pay about $200 a ton for the peaches grown in the area—most are canned--discount machine-picked peaches by $15 to $35 a ton, encouraging some growers who could pick by hand to instead pick by machine. Most hand pickers earn $11 per 900 to 1000 pound bin (4x4x2.5 feet). Peaches are taken in bins to local processing facilities, where they are cooked, peeled, sliced, and canned.

Local leaders want to create year-round nonfarm jobs that pay more than minimum wage and offer benefits; they are hoping that, after they attract one outside business to the area, there will be a cascade of success. Local leaders are somewhat frustrated by their inability to attract job-creating businesses -- some thought that more emphasis should be placed on preserving and assisting existing businesses.

Ilene Jacobs, the managing attorney for CRLA in the area, enumerated the problems of the Yuba-Sutter region—insufficient housing, low wages, high unemployment, and lack of leadership. She was critical of local leaders who believe that a rising tide will lift all boats, i.e., she does not believe that, if the economic boom continues for a few more years, prosperity will reach the Yuba-Sutter area. She advocated higher farm wages and more government assistance to provide housing, especially for solo male farm workers.

Jacobs assertions and recommendations provoked a discussion of the housing policy conundrum in the area. On the field trip, participants visited newly-constructed government-subsidized migrant farm worker housing in Sutter County which was empty. Migrant farm workers and their families in 1999 were being charged $7.50 per night to live in this housing; $7.50 covers less than one half of the cost of building and maintaining the units, implying a public subsidy of at least 50 percent.

Only farm worker families who are legally authorized to be in the US can live in this housing. The housing manager and Jacobs thought that $7.50 might be too much for some workers, who could find cheaper albeit substandard or overcrowded housing by renting in the local market. The conundrum is that even heavily subsidized housing for farm workers may be "too expensive" given (1) the availability of even cheaper housing in the area or more flexible rules on the number and types of residents allowed to live in the housing; (2) rules and regulations—residents may not change the oil in their cars in the migrant housing parking area; and (3) migrant savings goals, such as maximizing savings to build homes in Mexico. The housing story suggests that simply building more subsidized housing will not eliminate substandard housing.

Jacobs emphasized that the Census undercounts farm workers, and that rural communities lose federal funds that are based on the number of poor residents. In order to get a more complete count of farm workers, she urged the Census to improve its identification of labor camps where migrant workers live, recognizing that many live in very nontraditional housing; to make a special effort to enumerate farm workers, especially in areas where they are liked to be employed in April 2000; and to work with local NGOs to achieve a "Complete Count."

Agriculture is the bedrock of the he 18-county Sacramento Valley economy, as defined by EDD, but none of the counties in the Sacramento Valley are among the top ten farm counties in California. The most recent EDD data are for 1996, when there were an average 29,300 wage and salary workers employed in the Sacramento Valley, including 26,700 agricultural production workers. Employment peaked at 33,000 in August, and reached a low of 16,000 in January-February. Average weekly earnings of production workers were $296 in 1996, or $6.49 an hour.

For comparison, the 1996 statewide annual average employment level for agricultural production workers was 349,400, and ranged from a low of 262,700 in January to a high of 413,500 in September. Statewide, there was one manager or office worker for each 13 production workers.

Sutter county had farm sales of $306 million in 1996; leading commodities were rice, prunes, tomatoes, peaches, and lettuce. Yuba county had farm sales of $137 million in 1997; leading commodities were rice, prunes, peaches, walnuts, and fruit and nuts. Peaches are the major labor intensive commodity. In 1997, peach growers in Yuba and Sutter counties produced 216,000 tons of peaches worth $48 million, or almost 40 percent of the state's 572,000 tons of peaches. Peaches are picked by hand and machine, with most of those involved in harvesting earning $6 to $8 per hour in 1998. Many of the peaches grown in the Sutter and Yuba counties are machine harvested.

UC Extension in 1998 estimated the cost of producing cling peaches in the Sacramento Valley at $3,800 an acre, including $600 an acre to thin the peaches, and $900 an acre to hand pick and haul cling peaches. With a yield of 22 tons an acre, and at a price of $210 a ton, revenues are $4,600 an acre, and profits about $800 an acre. Yields in the Sutter-Yuba area were 16 to 17 tons an acre in the mid-1990s. Hourly labor costs were put at $8 for skilled labor (tractor drivers, etc) and $5.75 for unskilled labor, the minimum wage. UC Extension estimates that payroll taxes and benefits add 34 percent to these hourly wages, bringing total labor costs to $10.69 and $7.71 an hour (one grower says that, in tree fruits, 40 percent overhead over hourly wages is standard).


Farm Labor
Richard Steven Street provided a photographic history of California farm workers that opened with Dorthea Lange’s 1930s photo of Migrant Mother and ended with early 1970s photos of sheriffs arresting striking farm workers. The 1930s photos portrayed migrants as victims—victims of the Depression, large farms, and/or capitalism—while the 1970s pictures showed farm workers fighting to improve wages and working conditions. In the 1980s and 1990s, real (that is, inflation-adjusted) earnings for farm workers declined.

Jack Runyan reviewed data on Farm Labor Contractors. He documented a significant change in the structure of the farm labor market after the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)—more workers are being hired by labor middlemen such as FLCs. IRCA’s employer sanctions, which impose penalties on employers for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants, accelerated the shift towards farm labor contractors (FLCs), who often act as a risk buffer for farmers. If there is a labor or immigration violation, the FLC, not the grower where the workers were employed, is liable for the fine or back pay. Even if the violations they commit are discovered, many go out of business rather than pay fines or back wages.

Daniel Carroll reported that DOL’s National Agricultural Worker Survey data beginning in 1996 showed that half or more of the workers on crop farms are unauthorized. The percentage of unauthorized farm workers increased in the 1990s, from about one-sixth to one-half. As US citizen, legal immigrant, and legalized Special Agricultural Workers exited the farm work force, many were replaced by unauthorized.

Wallace Huffman documented technological change in California, Iowa, and Florida since 1960. In all three states, crop output increased faster than livestock output; labor usage decreased as private and public innovations speeded up biological processes or increased output from the same quantity or fewer inputs. In the case of labor, however, USDA statistical series include workers hired through labor contractors as "materials" rather than as labor inputs, so that USDA measures of total factor productivity (TFP) may be misleadingly high, because FLC workers are mis-classified as material.

California’s crop output grew by an average 2.4 percent a year between 1990 and 1996, Florida’s by 2.9 percent a year, Iowa’s by 2.3 percent, and the US by 2.3 percent. Despite growing output, labor inputs declined, by an average 0.6 percent a year in California, 0.4 percent a year in Florida, 2.5 percent a year in Iowa, and 2.4 percent a year in the US as a whole.

Most of this decline in labor inputs was the result of farmers and their families getting out of agriculture. Family labor inputs declined 2.8 percent a year in California between 1990 and 1996, but hired labor inputs increased an average 0.1 percent a year. In Florida, family labor declined 1.4 percent a year, while hired labor increased an average 0.1 percent a year. In Iowa, by contrast, family labor declined 2.6 percent a year, and hired 1.1 percent a year. In the US as a whole, family labor fell 2.4 percent a year, and hired labor decreased 1.7 percent a year.

Farmers combine labor and non-labor inputs in a manner that maximizes their profits. Farmers outside of California and Florida substituted capital for labor faster than farmers in these states, which leads Huffman to conclude that "in CA and FL (i) the price of capital services relative to the agricultural wage remained unchanged and (ii) new technology has not been labor saving." Huffman examined labor input trends before and after 1986. In California, hired labor fell 1 percent per year between 1960 and 1986, but increased 3 percent a year between 1986 and 1996. In Florida, hired labor was stable between 1960 and 1986, and then increased 0.2 percent a year after 1986. In Iowa, by contrast, hired labor was stable between 1960 and 1986, and fell 4 percent a year after 1986.

Huffman attributed increased labor usage after 1986 in California to farmers hiring the immigrant workers who became more available as a result of immigration reform. The relatively slower technological change in California agriculture limits the growth in productivity per worker and thus wage growth. This makes low wages and rural poverty a vicious circle, that is, farmers pay low wages, and low wages in turn discourage farmers from adopting labor-saving technologies.


Lopez, Elias, Enrique Ramirez, and Refugio I. Rochin. 1999. Latinos and Economic Development in California. Sacramento. California Research Bureau. CRB-99-008.


Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural California
Focus on the Sacramento Valley

Meeting: Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center, UCD campus (tel 530-752-8111)

Lodging: Aggie Inn, 245 First St, Davis, CA tel 530-756-0352, fax 530-753-5738
Thursday-Saturday, September 2-4, 1999

The purpose of this Changing Face workshop is to assess the prospects for integrating the immigrants who have arrived in the Sacramento Valley since 1990 to fill agricultural and farm-related jobs, and to examine the effects of 1996 immigration and welfare reforms on migration flows and integration prospects. This workshop received support from the Rosenberg and S.H. Cowell Foundations. The agenda and papers are posted at: //

Thursday, September 2, 1999. Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center, AGR Room

8-9AM Continental breakfast

9AM Welcome and overview: Philip Martin, UC-Davis and Michael Fix, Urban Institute

9:15AM Immigration Patterns in the US and Central California:
Jeff Passel, Urban Institute
Elias Lopez, California Research Bureau

10:15AM Break

10:30AM Immigration, Welfare and Farm Labor, Philip Martin, UCD
Immigrant Integration Policies, Michael Fix, Urban Institute

11:00AM Break

11:15AM Keynote Panel: Immigration and Integration: Challenges and Opportunities
Bob Bach, INS Executive Associate Commissioner
Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee

12:45PM Lunch

1:45PM Community Studies. Chair, Michael Fix, Urban Institute
Sacramento Valley Overview, Ed Taylor, UCD
Winters, Ed Kissam, Aguirre International
Arbuckle, Amber Lopez and Don Villarejo, CIRS
Discussant: Bert Mason, ALRB and CSUF

3PM Break

3:15PM Discussion

3:45PM Options for Local Communities
Susan Martin, Georgetown/US Commission on Immigration Reform

5:30PM Adjourn

6:30PM Drinks and BBQ Dinner outside Buehler

7:45PM Farm labor: a pictorial history. Richard Steven Street, Stanford


Friday, September 3, 1999, Field Trip to Yuba City area
7:30AM Depart Davis. En route to Yuba city: peach, plum, tomato, and melon harvesting.
Meet Bhupinder Sonny Kalkut, tel 530-673-6661/ 916-799-2545

10AM Danna and Danna, 625 Cooper Ave, Yuba City, Steve Danna, 530-673-5131

11AM California Fruit Packing Company, 1321 Harter Road, Yuba City, Ron Yoshimura,

12:15PM Lunch: El Zarape, 1085 Gray Ave, Yuba City, 530-755-2888. Dennis Cook,
Yuba City, Jerry Crippen, Marysville, David Shirah, Yuba Education, Mike Noda,
Yuba Welfare

2:15PM Depart for Excel Specialty Products, 1109 Chestnut St, Marysville, Victoria Delgado,

3:15PM Richland Migrant Center, 448 Garden Hwy, Garden Highway and Percy Ave., Yuba
City, Bill Rosenberger, 530-671-0220x119 Migrant Child Care, Eva Woodward,
530-822-4358 (drive to migrant units at back of complex)

4:30PM Return to Davis (possible stop at prune drying)

7PM Dinner at Sudwerk, 2001-2nd St, Davis, 530-758-8700


Saturday, September 4, 1999, Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center, Founders Boardroom
8-9AM Continental breakfast

9AM Discussion of Field Trip, Chair, Philip Martin
Ilene Jacobs, CRLA

10AM Break

10:15AM Farm Labor and Policy Implications, Chair, Ed Taylor, UCD
Farm Labor Contractors, Jack Runyan, USDA-ERS
NAWS Data, Daniel Carroll, US Department of Labor
The Labor Intensity of Agriculture: CA vs Other States, Wallace Huffman, ISU
Discussants: Bert Mason, ALRB/CSUF, Philip Martin, UCD

11:30AM Adjourn and WCC-076 meeting