Rural Migration News

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October 2005 Volume 11 Number 4

Worker Data

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NAWS. The NAWS interviews farm workers three times a year around the US. About 36 percent of all US crop workers are interviewed, and 44 percent of all US workers employed in fruit, vegetable, or horticultural crops, have been interviewed in California. Of the workers interviewed in California, 45 percent of those interviewed were employed in fruits, 40 percent in vegetables, and eight percent in horticultural crops. About two-thirds of these workers were employed directly by growers and a third by FLCs, with FLC employment highest in harvesting fruit.

Almost all California crop workers were Hispanics (99 percent) who were born abroad (95 percent), primarily in Oaxaca (15 percent), Michoacan (12 percent), and Mexico City (11 percent). The first US jobs of these workers were farm work, and those interviewed in California had an average 11 years US farm work experience (only two-thirds had done farm work in their country of origin). About 10 percent of those interviewed were US citizens and 55 percent were unauthorized, with new arrivals were most likely to be unauthorized and from southern Mexico.

The typical California farm worker is a 33-year-old Spanish-speaking male, married and with children, but 40 percent of the fathers did not have their children with them (the average worker entered the US at age 22). The average age of farm worker parents was 36, and 40 percent had three to seven children. The median level of education was six years. Fewer than 10 percent speak English, and just over half said they could read Spanish well.

Almost 20 percent of those interviewed in California were in the US less than two years, suggesting that the harvest labor market is akin to a revolving door that accepts newcomers from abroad who get out of farm work as soon as they can find better US jobs. With a stable crop labor force estimated at 650,000, and an average 11 years farm work experience, this implies that a ninth or at least 72,000 crop workers exit the farm work force each year and are replaced by newcomers. California's crop work force is comprised of a third of workers who have a longer-term attachment to crop farms and two-thirds who "churn" through the revolving door.

Over 70 percent of crop workers interviewed said that they were the only members of their family doing US farm work, and half reported that they owned a car or truck in the US, which helps to explain why 40 percent said they drove themselves to work. About a quarter report paying a raitero $5 a day for rides to work (a raitero is a private person operating a van that usually holds nine to 15 people).

A third of the crop workers interviewed were migrants, defined as persons who travel at least 75 miles to work on farms (migrants may arrive from Mexico and stay in one US residence, that is, they do not have to have two US residences). Only 15 percent were follow-the-crop migrants, meaning that they had at least two farm jobs 75 miles apart, and perhaps two US residences. By definition, newly arrived workers from abroad are "shuttle migrants," meaning that they left usual homes abroad and traveled to the US to do farm work.

Income data are collected in ranges, and over 40 percent of individual farm workers as well as 30 percent of farm worker families had incomes under $10,000 a year. About 35 percent of farm workers reported receiving UI benefits- this is virtually all eligible seasonal workers, since year-round and unauthorized workers are not eligible. About a third of farm workers received means-tested assistance, including cash TANF payments, MediCal, Food Stamps, or WIC; many of the US-born children of unauthorized farm workers are eligible for such assistance.

EEOC. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission collects data on private employers with 100 or more employees by sex and race/ethnic category for occupations from managers and professionals to operatives, laborers, and service workers in selected industries. In 2003, employers provided information on 42 million employees, reporting that their workers were 70 percent white, 14 percent Black, 11 percent Hispanic, and five percent Asian.

A third of US workers reported to EEOC were operatives, laborers and service workers, and they had a different race/ethnic distribution: 57 percent white, 20 percent Black, 19 percent Hispanic, and four percent Asian.

The 677 responding US agricultural employers (NAICS 11) in 2003 reported 150,000 employees in 2003, 67 percent men. Hispanics and whites were each 45 percent of the employees reported. About two-thirds of the agricultural employees were operatives and laborers, and they were 61 percent Hispanic, while the 22,000 managers and professionals employed in agriculture were 82 percent white.

Crop production (NAICS 111) included 64,000 of the agricultural employees, and they were 63 percent Hispanic. Some 84 percent of the laborers in crop production were Hispanic, as were 23 percent of the managers and professionals. Another 28,000 employees were in crop support activities (NAICS 115), such as workers employed by FLCs (115115), and they were 52 percent white and 40 percent Hispanic (other crop support activities include crop harvesting by machine, cotton ginning, and farm management services). However, 74 percent of the laborers in crop support activities were Hispanic, as were five percent of the managers and professionals.

In 1998, the first year for which EEOC data were easily available, 37 percent of the 185,000 employees in agriculture were Hispanic, but Hispanics were two-thirds of the laborers, suggesting that the Hispanic share of laborers declined.

Animal Slaughtering & Processing (NAICS 3116) included 416,000 employees, and they were two-thirds minority. Over half of these employees were classified as laborers, and 80 percent were minorities. About 43 percent of all workers in meat processing were Hispanic, but Hispanics were 53 of the laborers in 2003. The percentage of Hispanics in meat processing was 33 percent in 1998 when 41 percent of the laborers were Hispanic.

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