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The National Agricultural Workers Survey

A Profile of U.S. Farm Workers:

Demographics, Household Composition,

Income and Use of Services


This special report written for the Commission on Immigration Reform describes the current U.S. farm workers' population and trace trends since 1988. It relies on data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS).

The information is important to the Commission's work because farm workers represent a large, low-wage labor market which is made up mostly and increasingly of foreign born individuals. Moreover, due to the high turnover in the farm labor market, many of these individuals are young and relative newcomers to U.S. labor markets. The role of young, newcomer immigrants in our labor markets is a crucial issue which the Commission must confront.

The NAWS survey is uniquely well situated to shed light on the issue of immigrant-reliant labor markets. Since 1988, the NAWS, three times a year has surveyed a random sample of the nation's crop farm workers. The interviewed farm workers reveal detailed information about their basic demographics, legal status, education, family size and household composition, wages and working conditions in agricultural jobs, and participation in the non-agricultural U.S. labor force. This information allows for an in-depth look at current farm workers and for the tracing of changes occurring since 1988.

In chapter one, the report describes the current pattern and changing demographics of the farm workers' population touching on the ethnic composition, the age and gender distribution, and the division among immigration and citizenship categories. The survey demonstrates that during the study period (1988-1995), the farm workers' population became increasingly male, increasingly foreign born and that each successive period showed a higher proportion of foreigners working without legal authorization. The second chapter details the household composition of farm workers. The chapter explores, in a novel way, the propensities of some farm workers to live away from their close family members while others tend to be accompanied by family while doing farm work in the United States. In the third and last chapter, the report describes the low level and lack of improvement in income and details the low social service utilization patterns of farm workers. Again, the comparison groups used for analysis are based on ethnicity, age, gender and immigration status.

Unless otherwise stated, the data reported in this paper are from the 1994-1995 period, or the most recent period with useable data. In addition, we include comparisons across all periods where significant trends exist. The term farm worker is used throughout the paper. However, the NAWS interviews only crop workers (not livestock) which the USDA estimates make up about two-thirds of all farm workers.