Farm Workers

In addition to the farm owner, who usually serves as the primary farm worker, other family members often serve as part-time farm workers. Women have been involved in the production of food and fiber for millennia but have only recently begun to take on farm management roles. Children have been pressed into agricultural work at times of high labor need on the family farm and find themselves helping to make ends meet on subsistence farms around the world and as migrant laborers working with their parent(s).

Seasonal agricultural workers are usually employed in agriculture 1 to 5 months a year. Their numbers have decreased in the recent past due to mechanization of many farm practices. Now in the United States, only 1 in 20 agricultural workers is seasonal. Eighty percent of the seasonal workers move considerable distances to find work on a daily basis but never sleep away from their homes for employment purposes. Twenty percent are truly migrant workers. These migrant workers usually travel in one of three streams—in the east from Florida to New York and New Jersey, in the mid-continent from Mexico across the middle of the country as far east as Ohio and as far west as Oregon and Washington, and in the west from Mexico to California and Arizona. Migratory and stable seasonal agricultural laborers are among the lowest paid and least protected American workers. A number of legislative and legal interventions have been undertaken to improve conditions for migrant workers. Child labor has been outlawed, minimum housing standards have been set, systems for forwarding health and school records have been established, and farm labor contractors are required by law to register. Despite these improvements on paper, enforcement is sometimes inadequate. Unionization of farm workers has, in most instances, improved working and living conditions for their members (5).

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