July 2001, Volume 7, Number 3
COA, NASS, OES/CES Data
The 1997 Census of Agriculture reported that the total hired labor expenditures of farmers were $14.8 billion in 1997, 10 percent of total farm production expenditures.
Labor-intensive agriculture is often defined as commodities in which the labor share of production costs are higher than average. By this criterion, horticultural specialties such as flowers and nursery products were most labor intensive, with labor representing 40 percent of production costs, followed by fruits and nuts, in which labor represents 27 percent of production costs, vegetables and melons, in which labor represents 23 percent of production costs, and tobacco, in which labor represents 17 percent of production costs.
USDA-NASS. USDA's quarterly survey of farmers reported that the average employment of hired workers on US farms was 890,300 in 2000, ranging from 700,000 in January to 1.1 million in July. In October 2000, the federal minimum wage was $5.15, the average hourly earnings of field and livestock workers were $7.76, and average hourly nonfarm earnings were $13.69.
OES. Data from the Occupational Employment Statistics program are used by the Alien Labor Certification Program to determine prevailing wages for employers seeking labor certification. OES data are collected in October from employers (establishments) in the Unemployment Insurance system, and they cover an estimated 96 percent of wage and salary jobs. For more information: http://stats.bls.gov/opub/hom/homch5_a.htm).
Federal law requires farm employers to provide UI coverage for their workers if they: (1) pay $20,000 or more in cash wages in any calendar quarter; or (2) hire 10 or more workers in each of 20 different calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. This 20-10 rule is believed to cover about 75 percent of US farm workers.
OES data are collected for occupations, which are grouped into seven divisions, such as managerial and administrative occupations (10,000 to 19,999) and agricultural, forestry, fishing and related occupations (70,000 to 79,999).
In California, OES survey forms are mailed to 35,000 to 37,000 establishments to obtain data on 750 to 800 five-digit occupations, but only agricultural services (SIC 07) are included. Reporting establishments are classified by their Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and number of employees. Employers distribute their employees in each occupation across 11 hourly wage categories or annual pay ranges. For example, employers report the number of cashiers paid less than $6.75 an hour, the number paid $6.75 to $8.49, which allows the calculation and reporting of mean and median wages by detailed occupation.
Could the base for calculating the prevailing wage for farm workers be shifted from the USDA employer survey to the OES? The immediate problem with using the OES is that the sample does not currently include farm employers with SIC codes 01 (crops) and 02 (livestock). Secondly, if the sample were expanded to cover farm employers, only farms employing at least 10 workers would be included.
Worker advocates have explored the possibility of using the OES to determine the prevailing wage that would have to be paid to farm workers. OES code 79856 is for Farmworkers, Food and Fiber Crops, and for the state of California in 1998, there were an estimated 129,050 workers employed, their entry-level wage was $5.93, the mean hourly wage was $6.46 and the mean annual wage was $13,436 ($6.46 x 2,080 hours). When workers were arrayed from the lowest to the highest hourly wages, the 25th percentile wage was $5.87, meaning that 25 percent of the workers earned less and 75 percent more, the 50th percentile wage was $6.07, and the 75th percentile wage was $6.60 an hour. For more information: http://www.calmis.cahwnet.gov/FILE/occup$/oeswages/ca$oes98.htm).
The minimum wage for California was $4.75 an hour on October 1, 1996; $5.00 on March 1, 1997; $5.15 on September 1, 1997; and $5.75 on March 1, 1998.
For the 8,820 Farm Equipment Operators, OES code 79021, the entry-level wage was $6.56, the mean hourly wage was $8.47 and the mean annual wage was $17,620. The 25th percentile wage was $6.46, the 50th percentile wage was $7.69, and the 75th percentile wage was $9.22 an hour. The mean hourly and annual wages of equipment operators were 31 percent higher than for farm workers.
OES data are available by MSA and county. For Napa and Solano counties, wages for OES code 79856 (1,500 farm workers) in 1998 were as follows. The entry-level wage was $6.06, the mean hourly wage was $7.34 and the mean annual wage was $15,270. The 25th percentile wage was $5.99, the 50th percentile wage was $6.37, and the 75th percentile wage was $8.04 an hour. For 440 farm equipment operators, OES code 79021, the entry-level wage was $7.11, the mean hourly wage was $9.75 and the mean annual wage was $19,900. The 25th percentile wage was $7.33, the 50th percentile wage was $9.37, and the 75th percentile wage was $11.44 an hour.
In Fresno county, by contrast, wages for OES code 79856 (28,050 farm workers) in 1998 were as follows. The entry-level wage was $5.91, the mean hourly wage was $6.21 and the mean annual wage was $13,080. The 25th percentile wage was $5.85, the 50th percentile wage was $6, and the 75th percentile wage was $6.45 an hour. For 1,650 farm equipment operators, OES code 79021, the entry-level wage was $5.91, the mean hourly wage was $7.11 and the mean annual wage was $14,790. The 25th percentile wage was $5.90, the 50th percentile wage was $6.69, and the 75th percentile wage was $7.99 an hour.
Fresno county includes about 20 percent of the state's farm workers. Farm worker wages in Fresno are very close to statewide farm worker wages at all points, from entry-level to median wages. Napa-Solano farm worker wages, by contrast, are about the same at the entry level and the 25th percentile, but significantly higher at the high end of the scale- at the 75th percentile, Napa-Solano farm worker wages are 22-24 percent above California-Fresno levels.
The picture is slightly different for farm equipment operators, where Fresno wages are consistently below statewide levels, and Napa-Solano wages are above statewide levels, with the largest Napa-Solano wage premium once again at the highest wage levels.
A similar nonfarm occupation, landscaping laborers, shows the same pattern, with Fresno below state-wage levels for this occupation and Napa-Solano above. However, the Napa-Solano wage premium is not as pronounced at the highest wage levels.
Current Employment Statistics. California has since 1991 been collecting data on the employment, average hourly earnings, and average hours of work of production workers on the state's farms, using the methodology that was developed to collect the Current Employment Statistics data http://stats.bls.gov/ceshome.htm). EDD has now made the employment data available for 1991-99 at http://www.calmis.ca.gov/htmlfile/subject/agric.htm
Employment rose 10 percent during the 1990s, from an average 366,000 in 1991 to 404,000 in 1999. Peak-month employment in September rose three percent, to 490,000 in September 1999, but the most dramatic increase was the 15 percent jump in trough-month employment, to 309,000 in February 1999.
The employment data highlight the shift to hiring farm workers through farm labor contractors and other intermediaries. Average employment rose by 38,000 during the 1990s, reflecting: (1) a decrease in average direct-hire employment of 12,000; and (2) an increase of 50,000 in average agricultural services employment, including an increase of 45,000 in average FLC employment. FLC employment averaged 115,000 in 1999, peaking at 152,000 in July and hitting a low of 80,000 in February. Average employment fell most sharply for general crop farms, down 13,000 between 1991 and 1999, and for tree and other fruits, down 4,000.