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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

Executive Summary

This report is the ninth in a series of Department of Labor publications on the demographic and employment characteristics of the nation's hired crop labor force. The findings come from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), a nationwide, random survey that obtains information directly from farm workers. The information summarized herein was collected between October 1, 2000 and September 30, 2002 (federal fiscal years 2001 and 2002), through face-to-face interviews with 6,472 crop farm workers.[1]

Demographic Characteristics

In fiscal years 2001-2002, as in previous periods, the hired farm workforce was predominantly foreign-born. Just 23 percent of all hired crop farm workers were born in the United States; 75 percent were born in Mexico, two percent in Central American countries, and one percent of the crop workers were born in other countries.[2]

Mexico-born crop workers were from almost every state of their native country. The largest share (46%) were from the traditional sending states of west central Mexico: Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Michoacan. However, an increasing share were from non-traditional states. The share from the southern part of Mexico, comprising the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla, Morelos and Veracruz, doubled from nine percent in 1993-1994 to 19 percent in 2001-2002.

In 2001-2002, 53 percent of the hired crop labor force lacked authorization to work in the United States, down from 55 percent in 1999-2000. Another 25 percent of the crop workers in 2001-2002 were U.S. citizens, 21 percent were legal permanent residents, and one percent were employment-eligible on some other basis.

A large share (42%) of the crop workers in 2001-2002 were migrants, defined as having traveled at least 75 miles within the previous year to obtain a farm job. This figure was down from 47 percent in 1993-1994. Among the migrants, 26 percent traveled only within the United States and 35 percent migrated back-and-forth from a foreign country (primarily Mexico). Fully 38 percent of them were newcomers to the United States who had been in the country less than a year when they were interviewed. These foreign-born newcomers comprised 16 percent of all hired crop workers in 2001-2002, an increase of 60 percent from 1993-1994, when they were just ten percent of all crop farm workers. Nearly all (99%) of the foreign-born newcomers were unauthorized.

Crop workers are young: the average age in 2001-2002 was 33, and half were younger than 31. Among all crop workers, 79 percent were male, 58 percent were married, and 51 percent were parents, who reported an average of two children.

This report uses the term "unaccompanied" to describe workers who were living away from all nuclear family members when interviewed. Thirty-four percent of the parents and 30 percent of childless married workers were "unaccompanied". Eighty-seven percent of this subset of unaccompanied workers had at least one child and/or a spouse living in Mexico. Work authorized parents were twice as likely to be accompanied by their spouse and children as unauthorized parents (86% vs. 43%, respectively).

The majority (81%) of all crop workers reported that Spanish was their native language. Forty-four percent reported that they could not speak English "at all"; 53 percent said that they could not read English "at all." On average, the highest grade completed was seventh grade. While 56 percent of the U.S.-born had completed the 12th grade, only six percent of the foreign-born had done so. Twenty percent of all crop workers in 2001-2002 reported that they had taken at least one kind of adult education class in the United States in their lifetime.

Employment Characteristics

In 2001-2002, nine out of ten of all crop workers, including foreign-born newcomers, reported having worked for one or two U.S. farm employers[3] in the previous 12 months. Excluding foreign-born newcomers, who have less than 12 months work history in the United States, workers averaged 34 and a half weeks of farm work and five weeks of non-farm work in the previous year. Again excluding foreign-born newcomers, crop workers averaged 190 days of farm work in the 12 months preceding their interview; 77 percent reported working at least 100 days.

Including foreign-born newcomers, crop workers interviewed in fiscal years 2001-2002 had been employed with their current farm employer an average of nearly four and a half years. Thirty-five percent had been working for their current farm employer for one year or less, and 13 percent had been employed at their current job for ten or more years.

Seventy-nine percent of all crop workers were employed directly by growers and packing firms; farm labor contractors employed the remaining 21 percent. The share of workers who were employed by farm labor contractors increased by 50 percent between the periods 1993-1994 and 2001-2002, from 14 to 21 percent, respectively.

NAWS respondents worked an average of 42 hours per week and had average hourly earnings of $7.25. Average hourly earnings increased with years of employment for a particular employer. Crop workers who had been with their employer for one year or less averaged $6.76 per hour; those with their current employer for at least six years averaged $8.05 per hour. Average hourly earnings increased by 25 percent in nominal dollars and by nine percent in inflation-adjusted (real) dollars between the periods 1993-1994 and 2001-2002. The increases, however, were not steady. Real hourly earnings declined between 1993 and 1996, and then fell again slightly between 2000 and 2001.

Insurance Benefits

Thirty-nine percent of the workers reported that they would be covered by unemployment insurance (UI) if they lost their job. Fifty-four percent reported not being covered by UI and eight percent did not know.[4] Work authorized respondents were much more likely than those not authorized to report that they would receive UI benefits should they lose their job (76% vs. 4%, respectively). A larger share of workers (48%) reported that they would be covered by workers' compensation for a work-related illness or injury; 20 percent said they would not be covered and 31 percent did not know. Unauthorized workers were half as likely (33%) as authorized workers (65%) to report being covered by workers' compensation and were twice as likely (41%) as authorized workers (20%) not to know if they were covered.

Twenty-three percent of those interviewed in 2001-2002 said they were covered by health insurance. Among these insured crop workers, the largest share (46%) said their current farm employer paid for it; 19 percent said the government provided it; 15 percent reported that either they or their spouse paid for all of the insurance; 12 percent said they were covered under their spouse's employer's plan; and seven percent identified an "other" coverage source.


At the time of the interview, a majority (58%) of the workers lived in housing they rented from someone other than their employer. Twenty-one percent lived in housing that was supplied by their employer (17 percent received it free of charge and four percent paid rent either directly or via payroll deduction); 19 percent lived in housing that either they or a family member owned; and two percent lived, free of charge, with family or friends.

Income, Use of Needs-based Programs, Assets

The average individual income of crop workers was between $10,000 and $12,499. Total family income averaged between $15,000 and $17,499. Thirty percent of all farm workers had total family incomes that were below the poverty guidelines. Twenty-two percent said that they or someone in their household had used at least one type of public assistance program in the previous two years. The most common was Medicaid (15%), followed by Women Infants and Children (11%) and Food Stamps (8%). Less than one percent reported that they or someone in their family had received general assistance welfare or temporary assistance to needy families (TANF).

In 2001-2002, 74 percent of all crop workers reported that they owned or were buying at least one asset either in the United States or in their home country. The most commonly held asset in the United States was a car or truck (49%), followed by a home (17%), land (4%), and mobile home (3%). U.S.-born workers were more likely (38%) to own or be buying a home in the United States than were foreign-born workers (11%).

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