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October 2003, Volume 9, Number 4

Data, Mobility, Census

NASS. USDA reported that there were 1.3 million hired workers employed on US farms the week of July 6-12, 2003, including 75 percent directly hired by farmers. Of the directly hired workers, 71 percent were hired for 150 days or more on the responding farm, and 25 percent were hired in California.

Field and livestock workers earned an average $8.28 an hour, up three percent from July 2002; their hourly earnings ranged from $7.35 in the mountain states to $9.30 an hour in the Cornbelt states. Hourly earnings for hired workers were generally highest for the largest farms, those with sales of $1 million or more. In the Pacific states, workers on farms with sales of less than $50,000 a year had average earnings of $8.44 an hour, while those on farms with sales over $500,000 a year had average earnings of over $9 an hour. About two-thirds of the hired workers were employed on farms with annual sales of $250,000 or more.

Economic Mobility. Do the workers in the bottom 20 percent of the earnings distribution stay there? An analysis of a five percent sample of California workers with earnings in all four quarters of 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000 found only 42 percent of 1988 workers persisting in the sample. However, most (80 percent) of those in the bottom 20 percent in 1988 had moved to a higher quintile by 2000.

In 1988, workers employed in agriculture and retail trade were most likely to be in the lowest 20 percent of earners- 46 percent and 42 percent, respectively- and only six and seven percent, respectively, were in the highest 20 percent of earners.

Those employed in agriculture in 1988 and 2000 earned a median $22,161 in 1988 (in 2000 dollars), and received a median five percent increase. Those employed in agriculture in 1988 but not 2000 earned a median $19,015 in 1988 (in 2000 dollars), and received a median 46 percent increase. The same was true for retail trade: stayers had higher 1988 median earnings, but small increases, while leavers had lower 1988 earnings and faster earnings growth. The only exception to this pattern of leavers experiencing faster earnings growth was in durables manufacturing.

Census. Migrant service providers have long urged the Census to modify its housing-based sampling frame in order to better locate and enumerate farm workers. GAO recommended that Census develop protocols to allow migrant service providers to provide addresses and thus improve Census coverage; Census agreed to do so.

There are about 120 million living quarters in the US, and GAO noted that Census lacked protocols governing when and how to use address information from outside sources such as advocates who provide, for example, lists of nonstandard housing units. The GAO noted that many camps that house farm workers are posted with "No Trespassing" signs.

GAO. 2003. Decennial Census: Lessons Learned for Locating and Counting Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers. July. GAO-03-605

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