Gradations of farm workers by national origin and ethnicity

The National Agricultural Workers Survey for 2008–2012 was used to compare characteristics associated with adverse health and safety conditions among US-born and Mexican and Central American-born Latino and Indigenous, documented and undocumented farmworkers, separately for males and females. US-born farmworkers had more secure work, worked less onerous tasks, and earned more per hour than other categories of farmworkers. Undocumented Indigenous workers had more precarious work, worked more onerous tasks, and were more likely to do piece work, than undocumented Latino workers.

In 2012, of 1,063,000 hired farmworkers, 563,000 (53%) were in year round positions,199,000 (19%) were in part-year positions (seasonal), and an estimated 288,000 (27%) were brought to farms by contractors. The majority (78%) of hired farmworkers in the United States were born outside of the United States, principally Mexico.

Of those surveyed, 81% were male, 78% were born in either Mexico or Central America and 51% were working in the United States without legal authorization. Indigenous workers comprise 9% and of those 74% were undocumented. Of all foreign-born workers 92% were born in Mexico and six percent in Central America. Of US-born workers more than 80% reported US ancestry and 15% reported Mexican ancestry.

In general, male US-born farmworkers did semi-skilled tasks and field work in field crops in the Midwest, Southeast and East, and were employed year round. Documented Latino’s did semi-skilled tasks and field work in fruit and nut crops in California and were more likely to be employed seasonally and to have worked for their employer longer than US-born males. Fewer undocumented Latino males and Indigenous males did semi-skilled tasks and undocumented workers worked fewer years for their current employer than US-born males. Documented Latino’s tended to work more hours per week than other workers.

US-born farmworkers were more likely to be paid a salary compared with the other groups and undocumented Latino and Indigenous workers were less likely to receive an employer bonus, and more likely to have a family income below the poverty level compared with US-born workers. If paid by the hour, undocumented workers earned less per hour than their US-born counterparts. This association remained for undocumented workers after adjusting for number of years of farm work, number of years worked for current employer, English speaking and reading ability, region, crop, task, and work type.

On several measures, particularly earnings and access to injury compensation and health insurance, undocumented Indigenous workers fared worse than undocumented Latino workers. In addition, undocumented Indigenous workers had more precarious work, worked more onerous tasks, and were more likely to do piece work, than undocumented Latino workers.

We found a gradient in health insurance ownership that was highest among US-born workers, middling amongst Latino documented workers, and lowest among undocumented Indigenous workers. Likewise ,knowledge of and access to workers’ compensation was lower among undocumented workers. Other research has shown that undocumented farmworkers in California were less likely to have health insurance or receive workers compensation or to have knowledge of worker’s compensation than were documented workers

Source: Alison Reid, PhD and Marc B. Schenker, MPH. Hired Farmworkers in the US: Demographics, Work Organisation, and Services. Am J Ind Med. 2016 Aug;59(8):644-55. Also, Martin P. 2014. Farm Labor and Immigration: Outlook for 2015.University of California.McCurdy SA, Samuels SJ, Carroll DJ, Beaumont JJ, Morrin LA. 2003.Agricultural injury in California migrant Hispanic farm workers. Am J Ind Med 44(3):225–235.

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