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NAWS 2015-16 Crop Farm Workers

February 14, 2019

The National Agricultural Worker Survey released data for FY15 and FY16 based on interviews with 5,342 crop workers employed on over 1,100 farms in January 2019.

The NAWS portrays an aging and settled workforce that is mostly married with minor children. Half of workers are unauthorized, about six percent are follow-the-crop migrants, and low levels of education (seven years for Mexican-born workers) and limited English may make it difficult for crop workers to find nonfarm jobs.

Over 80 percent of workers were direct hires, and a third each worked in fruits and vegetables. The most common task was pre-harvest work such as thinning and weeding, followed by technical tasks such as irrigating or equipment operation. A third of workers were engaged in harvesting, sorting, and field packing.

Workers were employed an average 33 weeks or 192 days during the previous year, an average 5.8 days a week; they reported 45 hours worked during the previous week. Workers interviewed were employed by their current employer an average seven years, and three-fourths of workers expected to continue to do farm work for the next five years.

Almost 90 percent were paid hourly wages that averaged $10.60 an hour in 2015-16. Median person income was between $17,500 and $20,000 a year, and median family income was $20,000 to $25,000 a year, suggesting that the worker who was interviewed contributed 80 percent or more to family income.

Demographics and housing

About 70 percent of workers were born in Mexico and 25 percent were born in the US; 83 percent of all workers were Hispanic, and six percent were indigenous. Among the US-born workers, two-thirds were non-Hispanic.

Half (51 percent) of the workers interviewed were legally authorized to work in the US. Of the three fourths of farm workers born outside the US, almost 80 percent arrived at least 10 years before being interviewed and almost 60 percent arrived 15 years before being interviewed. Three percent were newcomers in their first year in the US.

Men were two-thirds of crop workers, who were an average 38 years old; 44 percent were under 35. Almost 60 percent of crop workers were married, and 55 percent had children. All farm worker parents had at least one minor child living with them, and 30 percent had three or more minor children with them. About 40 percent of crop workers were solo or unaccompanied by family members, and most of the solo workers had no children.

Average years of schooling were eight. Over 40 percent of workers had less than seven years of education, and 10 percent had some post-high school education, including adult education. US-born workers averaged 12 years of schooling and Mexican-born workers seven. Three-fourths of workers reported speaking Spanish most comfortably, and 20 percent English.

There is no consistent definition of migrant. The NAWS defines migrants as persons who move at least 75 miles from a home base to get a farm job or who had two farm jobs at least 75 miles apart, and found that 19 percent of all workers were migrants. Of these migrants, half were domestic migrants, a third international migrants with a usual home base abroad, and the rest were newcomers to the US. Only 30 percent of migrants, and six percent of all crop workers, followed the crops.

A sixth of workers lived in employer-provided housing, usually at no charge, almost 30 percent owned their housing, and 55 percent rented from a non-employer. Over 55 percent lived in single family homes, 20 percent in apartments, and 20 percent in mobile homes. A third of workers had crowded housing, with more than one person per room. Over 70 percent of workers lived within 25 miles of their farm jobs, and almost 60 percent drove a car to work.

Type of Housing, 2015-2016
Type of Housing All Farmworkers Migrant Settled Authorized Unauthorized
Single family home 57% 54% 57% 66% 47%
Mobile home 20% 22% 19% 15% 24%
Apartment 20% 17% 20% 15% 25%
Other 4% 7% 4% 4% 5%
Source: https://www.doleta.gov/naws/pages/research/docs/NAWS_Research_Report_13.pdf

Employment and earnings

Only 20 percent of workers were employed by FLCs; 80 percent were direct hires. Some 37 percent of workers were employed in vegetables, a third were in fruits and nuts, and 20 percent were in horticulture. Among workers employed directly by growers, a third each were in fruits and vegetables. However, among those employed by FLCs, over 60 percent were in vegetables and 35 percent were in fruits and nuts. Similarly, a higher share of migrants were employed in vegetables than fruits.

Primary Crop at Time of Interview, 2015-2016
Crop at Time of Interview All Farmworkers Employed by Grower Employed by Farm Labor Contractor Migrant Farmworkers Settled Farmworkers
Fruits and Nuts 32% 31% 35% 33% 32%
Horticulture 19% 23% a 14% 20%
Vegetables 37% 31% 61% 45% 34%
Field Crops 10% 12% 1%b 7% 10%
Miscellaneous 3% 3% 1%b 1%b 3%
a Estimate is suppressed because it has a RSE greater than 50 percent.
b Estimate should be interpreted with caution because it has a RSE of 31 percent to 50 percent.
Source: https://www.doleta.gov/naws/pages/research/docs/NAWS_Research_Report_13.pdf

A third of workers did pre-harvest tasks including thinning and weeding, almost 30 percent were engaged in technical production tasks such as pruning, irrigating, and equipment operation, a quarter had post-harvest tasks such as field packing and grading and sorting, and a sixth were harvesting when interviewed.

Primary Task at Time of Interview, 2015-2016
Primary Task at Time of Interview All Farmworkers Employed by Grower Employed by Farm Labor Contractor Migrant Farmworkers Settled Farmworkers
Pre-harvest 30% 29% 32% 30% 30%
Harvest 17% 17% 17% 22% 15%
Post-harvest 25% 24% 28%a 29% 24%
Technical Production 29% 30% 23% 18% 31%
Source: https://www.doleta.gov/naws/pages/research/docs/NAWS_Research_Report_13.pdf

Workers were employed an average 33 weeks or 192 days during the previous year, an average 5.8 days a week; they reported 45 hours worked during the previous week. Almost 90 percent were paid hourly wages that averaged $10.60 an hour in 2015-16. Two thirds reported being covered by workers compensation, and almost 20 percent said their employer offered health insurance.

Almost 80 percent of workers had only one farm employer during the previous year. Workers interviewed were employed by their current employer an average seven years, and three-fourths of workers expected to continue to do farm work for the next five years.

A seventh of workers reported that someone in their family received a benefit from a contribution-based program such as UI, while almost 55 percent reported that someone in the family received a means-tested federal benefit during the previous two years, most often Medicaid.

Percent of Farmworkers Who Reported That a Member of the Household Received Benefits from Contribution- or Needs-Based Programs in the Last Two Years, 2015-2016
Contribution-and Need-Based Programs Utilized Percent of Farmworkers
Any contribution-based program 14%
UI 10%
Social Security 3%
Disability 1%
Any need-based program 54%
Medicaid 44%
SNAP 18%
WIC 17%
Public health clinic 10%
Source: https://www.doleta.gov/naws/pages/research/docs/NAWS_Research_Report_13.pdf