Skip to content
  ETA Home   National Agricultural Workers>   report9>    

The National Agricultural Workers Survey

Chapter 3: Education, Literacy, and English Skills

NATIVE LANGUAGE, EDUCATION LEVEL, AND ENGLISH SPEAKING AND READING ABILITY

Summary of Findings

  • Eighty-one percent of the workers reported that Spanish was their native language.
  • On average, the highest grade completed by crop workers was seventh grade.
  • Forty-four percent self-reported that they could not speak English "at all"; 53 percent could not read English "at all."

Native Language

Spanish[9] was the predominant native language of crop workers (81%), followed by English (18%). Two percent reported other languages such as Creole, Mixteco, and Kanjobal (fig.3.1). Twenty-two percent of the mainland U.S.-born crop workers also reported that their native language was Spanish.

Figure 3.1  Native Language.  Note: Sum of portions is not equal to 100 percent because of rounding.

Spanish, 81 percent
English, 18 percent
Other, 2 percent

Figure 3.1 Native Language. Note: Sum of portions is not equal to 100 percent because of rounding.

Education

A large share of crop workers reported having completed relatively few years of formal education. Among all workers in 2001-2002, the mean highest grade completed was seventh and the median was sixth. Four percent reported having never attended school and thirteen percent had completed grade three or less. Sixty-six percent had completed between grades four to eleven, 13 percent had completed the twelfth grade, and just five percent had completed some education beyond high school.

Nearly all workers (97%) completed their highest grade in their country of origin: 72 percent completed their highest grade in Mexico, 26 percent in the United States, two percent in Central American countries, and less than one percent from all other countries. The highest grade completed varied by place of birth: on average, U.S.-born workers had completed the eleventh grade and foreign-born workers had completed the sixth. While 56 percent of the U.S.-born had completed the twelfth grade, only six percent of the foreign-born had done so (fig. 3.2).

Figure 3.2  Highest Grade Completed by Place of Birth.  Note: Sum of portions may not equal 100 percent because of rounding.

Highest Grade Completed

All Workers
0 equals 4 percent
1 dash 3 equals 13 percent
4 dash 7 equals 38 percent
8 dash 11 equals 28 percent
12 equals 13 percent
13 plus equals 5 percent

U.S. Born 
0 equals 0 percent
1 dash 3 equals 2 percent
4 dash 7 equals 8 percent
12 equals 40 percent
13 plus equals 16 percent

Foreign-born
0 equals 5 percent
1 dash 3 equals 16 percent
4 dash 7 equals 47 percent
8 dash 11 equals 27 percent
12 equals 5 percent
13 plus equals 1 percent

Figure 3.2 Highest Grade Completed by Place of Birth. Note: Sum of portions may not equal 100 percent because of rounding.

Over time, the education level of foreign-born newcomers entering the hired farm workforce has increased. While six percent of the foreign-born newcomers in 1993-1994 reported never having attended school, only half as many (3%) so reported in 2001-2002. Conversely, the share of the foreign-born newcomers who had completed eight to eleven years of school, rose from 23 percent in 1993-1994 to 37 percent in 2001-2002. On the other hand, compared to 1993-1994, a smaller share of the new foreign-born workers in 2001-2002 had completed the twelfth grade (fig. 3.3).

Figure 3.3  Highest Grade Completed by Foreign-born Newcomers.

Highest Grade Completed

1993 - 1994
0 equals 6 percent
1 - 3 equals 14 percent
4 - 7 equals 49 percent
8 - 11 equals 23 percent
12 equals 7 percent
13 plus equals 1 percent

2001 - 2003
0 equals 3 percent
1 - 3 equals 9 percent
4 - 7 equals 48 percent
8 - 11 equals 37 percent
12 equals 3 percent
13 plus equals 1 percent

Figure 3.3 Highest Grade Completed by Foreign-born Newcomers.

Adult Education

Twenty percent of all crop workers reported that they had taken at least one kind of adult education class in the United States in their lifetime. The most popular of these were English (10%) and high school equivalency (GED) classes (5%). Smaller shares reported having taken job training or citizenship classes (2 percent each) (fig. 3.4).

Figure 3.4  Participation in Adult Education.

Percentage of Crop Workers

Any Adult Education equals 20 percent
English equals 10 percent
GED equals 5 percent
College or University equals 3 percent
Citizenship equals 2 percent
Job Training equals 2 percent
Other equals 1 percent

Figure 3.4 Participation in Adult Education.

Crop workers with the most initial education were most likely to attend adult education classes. Much greater proportions of workers who had completed between the eighth and eleventh grade (23%) or the twelfth grade (31%) had taken a class than those who had completed between grades one to three (8%) or four to seven (14%) (fig. 3.5). Authorized workers were three times as likely to have taken some type of adult education (32%) as unauthorized workers (10%).

Figure 3.5  Adult Education by Highest Grade Completed.

Highest Grade completed

0 equals 7 percent
1 - 3 equals 8 percent
4 - 7 equals 14 percent
8 - 11 equals 23 percent
12 equals 31 percent

Figure 3.5 Adult Education by Highest Grade Completed.

English Language Skills

NAWS respondents are asked, "How well do you speak English?" and "How well do you read English?" Among all crop workers interviewed in 2001-2002, 44 percent responded that they could not speak English "at all," 26 percent said that they could speak it "a little," six percent said "some," and only 24 percent said that they spoke English "well." The responses were similar regarding the ability to read English: 53 percent could not read it "at all," 20 percent could read English "a little," six percent could read "some," and only 22 percent said that they could read English "well."[10]

The ability to speak and read English varied by place of birth and ethnicity. Nearly all (98%) of the US-born, non-Hispanic workers said that they spoke English "well," and nearly as many (93%) responded that they read English "well." Among US-born Hispanics, only two-thirds responded that they could speak and read English "well" (66% to both questions). Workers born in Mexico and other foreign-born Hispanics were at the other extreme of the English language ability spectrum, with the majority of both groups responding that they could not speak or read English "at all" (table 3.1).

Table 3.1 English Speaking and Reading Ability, by Place of Birth and Ethnicity

                       

U.S.-born

U.S.-born

Other Foreign-born

non- Hispanic

 

Hispanic

 

Mexico-born

 

Hispanic

Speak

Read

Speak

Read

Speak

Read

Speak

Read

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not at all

0%

1%

2%

5%

57%

68%

54%

66%

A little

0%

1%

16%

15%

32%

24%

40%

26%

Some

1%

5%

16%

14%

6%

5%

4%

4%

Well

98%

93%

66%

66%

4%

3%

3%

3%


Chapter 2

Table of Contents

Chapter 4