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The National Agricultural Workers Survey

Findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2001 - 2002
A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farm Workers


This report describes the demographic and employment characteristics of hired crop farm workers - an important segment of the U.S. labor force whose performance of numerous and varied agricultural tasks helps produce a large share of the nation's food supply and contributes significantly to U.S. exports. The information summarized herein was collected from the U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) between October 1, 2000 and September 30, 2002 through face-to-face interviews with 6,472 crop farm workers.

The NAWS interviews workers engaged in "seasonal agricultural services," a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designation of workers who perform "field work" in the vast majority of nursery products, cash grains, and field crops, as well as in all fruits and vegetables. The NAWS also includes persons who work in the production of silage and other animal fodder. As such, the population sampled by the NAWS consists of nearly all farm workers in crop agriculture, including field packers, and supervisors, and even those who simultaneously hold non-farm jobs. The sample does not include poultry, livestock and fishery workers, secretaries, mechanics, or H-2A foreign temporary workers.

The NAWS is the only national information source on the demographic, employment, and health characteristics of this population. Since its inception in 1988, the survey has benefited from the collaboration of multiple federal agencies, which continue to share in the design of the questionnaire. Information provided through the survey informs the policies and programs of the many federal government agencies that protect and provide services to migrant and seasonal farm workers and their dependents.

Topics Covered

This report is organized in six chapters, each beginning with a summary of the chapter's key findings. The report also contains two appendices: Appendix A describes the statistical procedures used to analyze the data and Appendix B is a table of the means and percentages of the principle variables presented in the report.

Chapters 1 through 3 summarize the demographic characteristics of farm workers, including place of birth, ethnicity and race, employment eligibility, gender, age, marital status, household size and structure, education, and language ability. Chapter 4 gives an overview of farm workers' participation in U.S. agricultural and non-agricultural sector employment, and Chapter 5 summarizes the characteristics of farm jobs, including crops and tasks, recruitment and retention, hours worked, and wages and benefits. Chapter 6 presents information on crop farm workers' income, assets, and use of social services. It covers personal and family income, assets in the United States and home country, family poverty status, and use of government programs.

Survey Method

NAWS uses multi-stage sampling to account for seasonal and regional fluctuations in the level of farm employment. Seasonal fluctuations in the agricultural work force are captured by three interviewing cycles, each lasting ten to twelve weeks. Cycles begin in February, June, and October. The number of interviews conducted during a cycle is proportional to the amount of crop activity at that time of the year, which is approximated using administrative data from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics and the USDA's Census of Agriculture.

NAWS samples workers in 12 regions, which are aggregated from 17 USDA-designated agricultural regions. Within the 12 regions, sampling locations are selected from a roster of 80 clusters. Clusters are either single counties or aggregates of counties that have similar farm labor usage during the particular cycle. The clusters are selected in each region with probabilities proportional to size of farm labor expenses. Within clusters, counties are then selected, also based on probabilities proportional to size of farm labor expenses.

The penultimate sampling stage is the selection of agricultural employers. In order to maintain regionally representative data and yet have an adequate distribution of rare events, simple random sampling is used. The employers are randomly selected from public agency records. Principal among these are unemployment insurance files, Agricultural Commissioners' pesticide registrations, and lists maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and various state agencies. The availability of these data varies by state. NAWS staff review and update these lists annually.

The end stage of sampling is the selection of farm workers at the establishment. Once the sample of employers is drawn, NAWS interviewers contact the selected growers, explain the purpose of the survey, and obtain access to the work site in order to schedule interviews. Interviewers then go to the farm, ranch, or nursery, explain the purpose of the survey to the workers, and ask a random sample of them to participate. As such, only workers who are employed in agriculture at the time of the interview are included in the sample. Interviews are conducted in the worker's home or at another location of the worker's choice.

Executive Summary

Table of Contents

Chapter 1
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