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H-2A Expands; Wages Rise

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June 10, 2022

DOL certified 193,200 jobs to be filled with H-2A workers in the first two quarters of FY22, up 16 percent from 166,000 jobs certified in the first two quarters of FY21. DOL could certify over 350,000 jobs in FY22, up from 317,600 in FY21.

During the first two quarters of FY21, FL accounted for 14 percent of H-2A job certifications, CA 13 percent, GA 11 percent, WA eight percent, and NC seven percent; the top five states accounted for over half of all H-2A certifications. The NC Growers Association was the largest H-2A recruiter with almost 5,900 jobs certified, followed by CA’s Fresh Harvest with 3,800 jobs, CA’s Foothill with 3,600, and CA’s Elkhorn with 2,400 jobs. Eight of the top 10 employers in the first half of FY22 were FLCs.

CA, OR, and WA have about half of US farm worker employment and a fifth of H-2A job certifications, suggesting that the H-2A program is likely to grow fastest in the western states. H-2A workers are the highest share of farm workers in the southeastern states.

Most of the top 10 H-2A states are not among the top 10 farm worker states

Review of Positions Certified FY 2022 Q1-Q2 (% of total certified FY 2022 Q1-Q2)
Top 10 States of Employment
Florida 26,677 13.8%
California 24,428 12.6%
Georgia 20,412 10.6%
Washington 16,033 8.3%
North Carolina 12,895 6.7%
Louisiana 7,620 3.9%
Arizona 7,115 3.7%
Texas 6,951 3.6%
Michigan 5,795 3.0%
South Carolina 4,906 2.5%
Top 10 states: shares of US farm workers, 2002, 2007, 2012, and 2017
2017 2012 2007 2002
California 24.9% 24.8% 29.2% 23.7%
Washington 5.8% 5.7% 4.2% 5.0%
Florida  5.4% 5.0% 7.6% 8.3%
Texas 4.8% 5.2% 5.4% 6.2%
North Carolina 4.3% 3.1% 3.1% 3.3%
Michigan 3.3% 3.1% 2.4% 2.7%
Wisconsin 2.8% 2.9% 2.6% 2.2%
regon 2.8% 3.0% 3.1% 3.3%
Minnesota 2.6% 2.7% 1.9% 2.3%
New York 2.4% 2.1% 2.1% 2.2%

FLS. USDA’s FLS surveys only farm operators, while DOL’s QCEW obtains employment and earnings data only from nonfarm employers, including labor contractors and other nonfarm businesses that bring workers to farms. The FLS estimated 630,000 directly hired workers employed on US farms in April 2022. Over 80 percent of these directly hired workers were employed 150 or more days on the responding farm, and over 20 percent of US FLS farm worker employment was in California.

All hired workers (including supervisors) earned an average $17.22 an hour, up eight percent from April 2021. Farm employers report gross earnings and hours worked by type of worker so that USDA can calculate average hourly earnings. In April 2022, field workers earned an average $16.50 and livestock workers $15.82 an hour. Ag equipment operators and supervisors had higher hourly earnings.

Field workers have higher hourly earnings than livestock workers

Hired Workers, Gross Hours Worked by Hired Workers, and Gross Wage Rates – United States
[Excludes agricultural service workers and Alaska]
Farm employment January 10-16, 2021
(1,000)
April 11-17, 2021
(1,000)
July 11-17, 2021
(1,000)
October 10-16, 2021
(1,000)
January 9-15, 2022
(1,000)
April 10-16, 2022
(1,000)
Hired workers: 150 days or more 442 506 575 578 420 518
Hired workers: 149 days or less 64 107 222 194 87 112
Total 506 613 797 772 507 630
Gross hours worked per week by hired workers 40.2 40.9 41.0 42.0 39.3 39.7
Gross wage rates: Field and livestock combined 15.08 15.06 15.85 15.92 16.37 16.27
Gross wage rates: Field workers 15.23 15.19 16.10 16.08 16.54 16.50
Gross wage rates: Livestock workers 14.87 14.81 15.19 15.45 16.12 15.82
Gross wage rates: All hired workers 16.21 15.97 16.59 16.59 17.63 17.22
1 Benefits, such as housing and meals, are provided to some workers but the values are not included in the gross wage rates.

The average hourly earnings of field workers ranged from a low of less than $14 an hour in the southeastern states and Florida to about $18 an hour in California and the northeastern states.

There was a $5 gap in hourly field worker earnings between the southeast and California

Gross Wage Rates by Type of Worker – Regions and United States: April 10-16, 2022
[Excludes agricultural service workers and Alaska]
Regions and United States Type of Worker Groww Wage Rates for All Hired Workers ($/hour)
Field Workers ($/hour) Livestock Workers ($/hour) Field and Livestock Combined ($/hour)
Northeast I 17.91 16.36 17.32 18.28
Northeast II 16.92 15.08 16.37 17.59
Appalachian I 15.56 15.06 15.44 16.06
Appalachian II 14.67 14.55 14.62 15.44
Southeast 13.16 12.92 13.11 13.76
Florida 13.85 14.30 13.90 14.61
Lake 17.36 16.22 16.73 17.45
Cornbelt I 17.64 15.77 17.13 17.93
Cornbelt II 17.89 17.92 17.90 18.52
Delta 13.23 13.30 13.25 13.69
Northern Plains 17.43 16.56 16.94 17.63
Southern Plains 14.20 14.56 14.39 15.17
Mountain I 16.34 15.10 15.69 16.35
Mountain II 17.53 15.37 16.43 17.34
Pacific 17.27 17.64 17.32 18.35
California 18.25 18.35 18.26 19.71
Hawaii 16.50 18.55 16.84 18.95
United States 16.50 15.82 16.27 17.22

DOL uses the average hourly earnings of field and livestock workers to set AEWRs. The widening spread in FLS average hourly earnings is reflected in AEWRs for 2022, which ranged from a low of $12 an hour in southeastern states to over $17 an hour in the Pacific states.

AEWRs in 2022 range from $12 to over $17 an hour

Over half of FLS directly hired workers were employed on other crop farms, mostly farms growing fruits and vegetables. These other crop workers had higher average hourly earnings than the workers employed on field crop farms in the southeast, but not in CA and the Pacific states. In the Great Lake and corn belt states, workers on field crop farms earned significantly more than workers on other crop farms.

Workers employed on other crop farms (fruits and vegetables) did not always earn more per hour than workers on field crop farms

Combined Field and Livestock Worker Gross Wage Rates by Type of Farm – Regions and 48 States: April 10-16, 2022
[Excludes agricultural service workers]
Regions 1 Field crop farms ($/hour) Other crop farms ($/hour) Livestock and poultry farms ($/hour) All farms ($/hour)
Northeast 2 17.56 17.37 15.59 16.89
Appalachian 3 15.21 15.46 14.56 15.10
Southeast and Florida 13.17 13.47 13.70 13.51
Lake 19.12 16.98 16.22 16.73
Cornbelt 4 19.41 16.99 16.75 17.44
Delta 13.27 13.24 13.01 13.25
Northern Plains 17.75 17.14 16.49 16.94
Southern Plains 13.71 14.39 14.73 14.39
Mountain 5 17.88 15.78 15.73 15.92
Pacific and California 18.14 18.00 18.26 18.04
48 States 6 15.82 16.64 15.84 16.27
1 Region map on page 22.
2 Includes Northeast I and Northeast II.
3 Includes Appalachian I and Appalachian II.
4 Includes Cornbelt I and Cornbelt II.
5 Includes Mountain I, Mountain II, and Mountain III.
6 Excludes Alaska and Hawaii

Large farms hire most US farm workers. Two thirds of directly hired US farm workers are employed on farms with $1 million or more in annual sales, while farms with annual sales of less than $100,000 employ fewer than 10 percent of directly hired workers.

Two thirds of directly hired farm workers were employed on farms with $1 million or more in sales

Hired Workers by Economic Class of Farm
[Excludes agricultural service workers, Alaska, and Hawaii]
Gross value of sales January 10-16, 2021 (percent) April 11-17, 2021 (percent) July 11-17, 2021 (percent) October 10-16, 2021 (percent) January 9-15, 2022 (percent) April 10-16, 2022 (percent)
Less than $50,000 4 4 7 5 5 5
$50,000-$99,999 3 4 4 4 2 3
$100,00-$249,999 7 8 7 7 5 7
$250,000-$499,999 8 8 9 9 7 7
$500,00-$999,999 11 11 11 11 10 11
$1,000,000 and over 67 65 62 64 71 67

Farms with higher sales also hire more workers. Half of directly hired workers were employed on US farms that had 20 or more workers, and a third on farms with over 50 workers. By contrast, farms with one or two directly hired workers accounted for a sixth of all hired workers.

Half of directly hired workers were employed on farms with 20 or more workers

Hired Workers by Number of Workers on Farm
[Excludes agricultural service workers and Alaska]
Number of workers on farm January 10-16, 2021 (percent) April 11-17, 2021 (percent) July 11-17, 2021 (percent) October 10-16, 2021 (percent) January 9-15, 2022 (percent) April 10-16, 2022 (percent)
1 worker 9 8 8 6 8 7
2 workers 9 7 7 7 8 7
3-6 workers 17 18 16 17 14 16
7-10 workers 7 8 7 8 8 9
11-20 workers 11 12 11 12 12 11
21-50 workers 14 13 13 12 16 15
51 or more workers 33 34 38 38 34 35

Larger farms pay higher wages. Farms with annual sales of $1 million or more paid $3 an hour more than farms with sales of less than $50,000. Average hourly earnings rose in lockstep with annual sales, with little difference in hourly earnings on farms with annual sales between $100,000 and $1 million a year.

Workers on farms with higher annual sales had higher hourly earnings

All Hired Worker Gross Wage Rates by Economic Class of Farm – Regions and 48 States: January 9-15, 2022
[Excludes agricultural service workers]
Regions 1 Gross value sales-$,1000 All farms ($/hour)
<50 50-99 100-249 250-499 500-999 1,000+
Northeast 2 (S) (S) 14.82 18.47 (S) 18.16 17.97
Appalachian 3 13.08 15.66 13.44 15.61 15.15 16.52 15.80
Southeast and Florida 14.42 13.02 15.04 12.84 13.10 14.39 14.19
Lake (S) 1289 14.79 16.65 (S) 17.80 17.45
Cornbelt 4 16.81 (S) 16.32 (S) 17.18 18.48 18.16
Delta 12.56 (S) 13.07 13.99 13.53 13.88 13.69
Northern Plains (S) 15.13 17.81 (S) 16.44 18.15 17.63
Southern Plains 12.95 (S) 15.54 14.75 15.12 15.86 15.17
Mountain 5 (S) 14.43 (S) 14.63 (S) 16.70 16.69
Pacific and California (S) 20.70 20.60 18.23 18.96 19.36 19.39
48 States 6 14.45 16.05 16.85 16.90 16.91 17.53 17.22
(S) Insufficient number of reports to establish an estimate.
1 Region map on page 22.
2 Includes Northeast I and Northeast II.
3 Includes Appalachian I and Appalachian II.
4 Includes Cornbelt I and Cornbelt II
5 Includes Mountain I, Mountain II, and Mountain III.
6 Excludes Alaska and Hawaii.

Of the 630,000 directly hired workers in April 2022, 264,000 or 42 percent were crop workers, 149,000 or 24 percent were livestock workers, and 105,000 or 17 percent were agricultural equipment operators.

2/3 of the 630,000 directly hired workers in April 2022 were crop or livestock workers

FLS Farm Labor Regions

QCEW. DOL’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages obtains employment and earnings data from nonfarm employers who participate in unemployment insurance. Most states follow the 10/20 rule, meaning that employers who hire at least 10 workers during 20 weeks, or who pay at least $20,000 in wages in a quarter, must enroll in the UI system.

CA and WA require almost all farm employers to participate in UI

  • CA: 1 at any time and wages in excess of $100 in a CQ
  • DC: 1 at any time
  • FL: 5 in 20 weeks or $10,000 in a CQ
  • MN: 4 in 20 weeks or $20,000 in a CQ; agricultural labor performed by an individual 16 years of age or younger is excluded from agricultural coverage unless the employer is covered under f ederal law
  • NY: 1 at any time and wages in excess of $300 in a CQ
  • PR: 1 or more at any time
  • RI: 1 or more at any time
  • TX: 3 in at least 20 different calendar weeks of the calendar year or wages in cash of $6,250 during a CQ
  • VI: 1 or more at any time
  • WA: 1 or more at any time, excluding workers attending or between terms in school; on corporate farms, does not include services performed by spouses or unmarried children under 18 years of age

Historical Note: When the UI program began, all agricultural labor was excluded from the definition of employment regardless of the size of the agricultural employer. A definition of agricultural labor, added to FUTA in 1939, also excluded from coverage some processing and marketing activities (services performed in the employ of someone other than the farmer) and services in the management and operation of a farm (if they were performed for the farm owner or operator). Amendments made to FUTA in 1970 changed the definition of agricultural labor, effectively extending coverage to some marginal agricultural activities. Additional amendments in 1976 added the current dollar/employment thresholds that resulted in coverage of services performed on large farms

Source: https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/pdf/uilawcompar/2021/coverage.pdf

1976: The Unemployment Compensation Amendments of 1976 that becomes effective January 1, 1978, extends coverage to: agricultural labor for employers with 10 or more workers in 20 weeks or who paid $20,000 or more in cash wages in any calendar quarter; household workers of employers who paid $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter for such services; State and local governments with certain minor exceptions; and employees of nonprofit elementary and secondary schools.

Source: https://www.bls.gov/opub/hom/cew/history.htm

DOL estimates that the average employment of wage and salary workers in US agriculture is 1.5 million. Some 1.2 million or 80 percent of these year-round equivalent jobs are covered by UI and included in QCEW data, while 300,000 are not. Another 700,000 self-employed farmers and unpaid family members are excluded from UI and the QCEW.

The QCEW includes 80% of the 1.5 million average employment in agriculture

Table A. Coverage exclusions in 2020, for selected workers
Group Number Excluded (in millions)  Number Included (in millions)
Wage and salary agricultural workers 0.3 1.2
Self-employed agricultural workers1 0.7 Not covered
Self-employed nonagricultural workers1 8.5 Not covered
Domestic workers 0.4 0.2
Unpaid family workers1 0.1 Not covered
State and local government workers 0.7 18.2
Railroad workers 0.2 <0.001
Source: https://www.bls.gov/cew/publications/employment-and-wages-annual-averages/current/home.htm#Employment

108,000 agricultural establishments offered an average 1.2 million jobs and were included in QCEW data in fall 2019

Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) summary data for 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, 2019 4th quarter (in thousands)
Industry description Number of establishments Employment, October 2019 Employment, November 2019 Employment, December 2019
Total 10,364 149,527 150,260 150,005
Total private 9,303 127,321 127,943 127,781
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting 108 1,361 1,251 1,164
Mining 33 665 653 643
Utilities 19 548 548 548
Construction 840 7,661 7,575 7,438
Nondurable manufacturing 135 4,812 4,801 4,802
Durable manufacturing 222 7,971 8,018 8,026
Wholesale trade 618 5,894 5,906 5,914
Retail trade 1,047 15,588 16,072 16,150
Source: https://www.bls.gov/opub/hom/cew/design.htm

The QCEW reported that 109,000 agricultural establishments had average employment of 1.2 million in 2020, with a high of over 1.3 million jobs in June and a low of 1.1 million jobs in January. Total wages paid were $49 billion, suggesitng an average annual wage of almost $40,000 for each full-time equivalent job, $765 a week, or over $3,000 a month.

QCEW data permit analysis of wage trends by commodity and area. Average weekly wages in US agriculture rose faster between 2016 and 2020 than between 2011 and 2015, and rose especially fast for farm labor contractors. Average weekly wages of FLC employees were much lower than weekly wages for workers hired directly by crop farmers, $580 versus $730 in 2020, but rose 10 percent between 2019 and 2020, versus a seven percent increase for directly hired crop workers. Livestock wages are more than 10 percent higher than crop wages, but increased at a slower pace.

Wages for US livestock workers and directly hired crop workers are highest ($/week)

The four major commodities that employ most of the US farm workers who are hired directly by farmers are vegetables, apples, grapes, and strawberries (most of the workers who pick oranges are brought to farms by FLCs). Vegetable wages are at the top of the wage hierarchy, $775 a week in 2020, followed by grapes, $745 a week, while apples at $565 a week and strawberries at $630 were significantly lower. Strawberry wages jumped almost 10 percent between 2011 and 2012, and again between 2015 and 2016, but increased slower since 2016 than wages in the other commodities.

US vegetable and grape wages are higher than apple and strawberry wages ($/week)

California mirrors the US, with livestock wages higher than crop wages, crop wages higher than crop support and FLC wages, but crop support and FLC wages rising faster since 2016. California FLC wages rose almost 10 percent between 2015 and 2016 and again between 2019 and 2020 to $585 a week, $200 less than the $800 a week paid to directly hired crop workers.

Wages for CA livestock workers and directly hired crop workers are highest ($/week)

The four major commodities, vegetables, apples, grapes, and strawberries, had wage levels and changes in California that were similar to US wage trends. California’s directly hired vegetable workers have the highest weekly wages at $945, followed by grape workers, $790, strawberry workers, $640, and apple workers, $590 (CA has a small apple industry). California produces over 90 percent of US strawberries and almost all US grapes, so state trends mirror US trends in these commodities, viz, faster wage growth between 2011 and 2015 than from 2016 to 2020.

CA vegetable and grape wages are higher than apple and strawberry wages ($/week)

Florida has lower weekly wages and more erratic wage changes. As in other states, Florida livestock workers earn more than crop workers, and FLC employees have the lowest weekly wages, $465 in 2020 when FL crop workers averaged $670. The growth in FLC wages was faster between 2011 and 2015 than between 2016 and 2020 despite 10 percent jumps in FLC wages between 2014 and 2015 and again between 2019 and 2020.

During several years, Florida FLC weekly wages fell, as in 2015-16 and again in 2017-18, perhaps reflecting the relatively few Florida FLCs in the state’s UI system (FL exempts H-2A workers from the UI program, but CA and WA do not).

Wages for FL livestock workers and directly hired crop workers are highest ($/week)

Directly hired orange workers had higher weekly wages than vegetable or strawberry workers, earning over $200 a week more. Workers employed directly by strawberry workers had the lowest weekly wages of $530 in 2020. It should be noted that Florida does not require employers of H-2A workers to pay UI taxes on H-2A wages, so Florida employment and wage data do not include all of the workers employed in vegetables, oranges, and strawberries.

Florida orange workers earned more than vegetables and strawberries ($/week)

Livestock wages are higher than crop wages in Washington, but crop support wages are higher than the wages of directly hired crop workers. One reason for high crop support wages in Washington is that many apple and other tree fruit farms pack their own fruit, so that some packinghouse workers are included in Washington crop support employment. Only 20 percent of Washington crop support employment is with FLCs, compared with two-thirds of California crop support employment. Washington FLC weekly wages rose 11 percent between 2019 and 2020, and were up 30 percent between 2016 and 2020.

Wages for WA livestock workers and crop support workers are highest ($/week)

Washington has a relatively small vegetable sector, with average employment of about 5,000, a quarter of the average 20,000 employment in apple orchards. The average weekly wages of vegetable workers were significantly higher than the weekly wages of apple, grape, and other berry workers. The vegetable wage premium narrowed during the 2010s, in part due to significant wage jumps in apples and other berries between 2011 and 2015.

WA vegetable workers earned more than apple and berry workers ($/week)

Size. Size-of-establishment data are available only for the first three months of the year, only for the US rather than individual states, and only for all agriculture, that is, there are no size-of-establishment data for all crops or apples, oranges, and other commodities.

Most UI-covered ag establishments had fewer than five employees in March 2020. Some 68,000 less-than-five establishments employed an average 109,000 workers in 2020, meaning that the 63 percent of small UI-covered ag employers accounted for nine percent of March UI-covered employment. At the other extreme, 40 US ag employers with 1,000 or more employees in 2020 had average employment of 56,000, so that less than one half of one percent of all ag establishments accounted for almost five percent of March ag employment.

The 1,565 establishments that each had 100 to 999 employees had total employment of 308,000 in March 2020 or 25 percent of average ag employment. The 7,000 establishments with 20 to 49 employees had 213,000 employees in March, 18 percent of average ag employment.

References

DOL QCEW. Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

OFLC. H-2A performance data.

USDA Farm Labor Survey.


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