The Harvest ~ La Cosecha : a documentary

Claim 5: The average farmworker makes $17,000 or less a year.

December 3, 2014 · 76 Comments

General Bureau of Labor Statistics Data: not specific enough!

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a good measure of farmworker labor, but of course cannot account for undocumented labor. According to the Bureau’s summary of agricultural labor, the 2012 median pay for farmworkers was $18,910 per year. That means that “half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.” But the claim made by The Harvest documentary was about average, which can vary slightly from the median measure. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data was also collected from farming, fishing, and forestry. 

However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a comparison that contextualizes the two statements, showing that they are each about half of what the median annual wage was in 2012 for all workers, regardless of industry: $34,750 per year.

To get down to the dirty details…

An analysis on specifically cropworkers provides a different story. According to a report that published data from National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), U.S. Department of Labor (different from the Bureau of Labor Statistics),

“Annually, the average income of crop workers is between $10,000 to $12,499 for individuals and $15,000 to $17,499 for a family.”

If the makers of The Harvest had used that statistic, they could have distinguished between individual and family income to get an even lower, more impressive figure. The whole purpose of presenting this figure to the public is to help people understand the minuscule proportion of the revenues that workers take home, as compared to the profits generated by the industry. See the following graph for a visual:

This pie chart shows the share that tobacco industry pickers take of total revenues. This is most likely due to the low wages of crop pickers.

This pie chart shows the share that tobacco industry pickers take of total revenues. This is most likely due to the low wages of crop pickers.

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Claim 2: “Migrant children work in 48 states in the USA,” and it’s LEGAL.

December 3, 2014 · 63 Comments

The legality of child migrant farm labor

As of now, it is COMPLETELY LEGAL for children to work in agriculture. The Labor Standards law passed in 1938 does not apply to youth farmworkers because at the time, many children who worked in the fields did so on their own family farms. Nowadays, this is not the case. As seen in The Harvest, most children are doing work for contracting farms far away from their homes. Here are some statistics from reputable sources to back up this claim made in the documentary:

The Land of Hypocrisy

Although it is legal in the United States for children to work in agriculture, the U.S. government has sponsored many efforts to eradicate youth farm work internationally. These efforts are blatantly hypocritical, as our current law implemented within our borders is so out of date. In a report published in Geneva, Switzerland on October 4, 2011, millions of dollars were allocated to combatting child labor on an international scale. A quote from the article reads:

“U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis released three new reports on child labor and forced labor October 3 and announced $32.5 million in grants to combat child labor around the world.”

But what efforts are being made to change this antiquated law within U.S. borders?

The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act), HR 3564 "would ensure that all working children are protected equally," according to the Human Rights Watch. Click the picture above to see more information about the Bill and its sponsorship in Congress.

The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act), HR 3564 “would ensure that all working children are protected equally,” according to the Human Rights Watch. Click the picture above to see more information about the Bill and its sponsorship in Congress.

The Human Rights Watch, among several national farmworker advocacy groups, has launched a campaign to promote the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act HR 3564). According the the HRW, this act would: 

  • Apply the same age and hour requirements to children working in agriculture that already apply to all other working children, including raising the minimum age for hazardous work from 16 to 18;
  • Preserve the family farm exception that excuses children working on their parents’ farms from the child labor law;
  • Increase fines for child labor violations to $15,000 from $11,000;
  • Strengthen provisions regarding children’s exposure to pesticides;
  • Require better data collection from the Department of Labor.

(adapted from the Human Rights Watch website section on the CARE Act)

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Claim 1: “400,000 children in the US pick our food per year,” and it’s legal.

December 3, 2014 · 51 Comments

According to a findings from the “Demographic and National Agricultural Employment Profile of Workers Survey United States Farmworkers (NAWS) 1997-1998,” six percent of farmworkers were between the age of 14 and 17. Below is an excerpt from the study.

Chart 4. Age Distribution of U.S. Farmworkers 
As might be expected in a physically intense occupation, the farmworker population was relatively young. Approximately 79 percent of all farmworkers were between the ages of 18 and 44. [AGEGRP] Six percent were between the ages of 14 and 17, and 15 percent were 45 and above (see Chart 4). The median age of all farmworkers was 29.

The same study was conducted for the 2007-2008 period, and reported that only three percent of MIGRANT agricultural workers were between 14 and 17 years old. The same paper published data from a 1998 study that estimated that there are over “3 million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States.” After making a simple calculation, we can see that this data shows only 90,000 migrant farmworkers are between the ages of 14 and 17. Of course, this doesn’t include children under 14, a subset that according to The Harvest and other sources, unfortunately comprises a large amount of workers.

Data collection errors and difficulty obtaining adequate sample sizes aside, the discrepancy between these statistics shows the haziness of the data presented by The Harvest. They may have calculated the number of youth workers based on a total from one year, and a percentage from another year. The statistics get even more vague and unreliable when percentages of youth migrant workers are taken from larger pools of the total number of agricultural workers, some of whom are not migratory.


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Claim 3: There is no guaranteed minimum wage for migrant child workers.

December 3, 2014 · 601 Comments

A true (but unfortunate) statement!

The Department of Labor does exclude youth migrant workers from earning a minimum wage. Assuming that it is indeed legal for them to work (such that they are between 14 and 16 years of age) this dictates that they should receive a minimum wage. But according to The Harvest, children accompanying their parents can only contribute so much labor due to physical and mental constraints, even if they work the same amount of hours.

Upon further investigation, it can be seen that these low wages are found across all ages, but are especially exaggerated for child workers because of their inability to work quickly and efficiently using the “piece rate” method. A study by Fritz M. Roka illustrates an example of how the piece rate payment method can be a loophole for small farms to avoid complying with state and federal minimum wage standards.

“If a worker’s productivity is low and at a level where at the stated piece rate he fails to earn the minimum wage, his daily earnings need to be augmented until total daily earnings equal the hours worked multiplied by the minimum wage.”

Are wages really augmented in reality? The very simple answer is no. Why? According to this chart published in 2009 by an advocacy group called Farmworker Justice, only 36 out of 50 states are required by law to augment piece rate incomes. Even if farmworkers were paid by the hour (which 83% of them are according to the National Agricultural Worker Survey), they would still struggle to make minimum wage because either:

a) the season is not long enough for a minimum wage salary to provide an income that is above the annual poverty line,

b) the farm is a “small farm” so does not have to comply with the Department of Labor Standards (according to the Human Rights Watch’s analysis on DOL publications),

c) all of the above.


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Claim 4: 300,000 farmworkers suffer chemical poisoning per year.

December 3, 2014 · 51 Comments

Data from the Environmental Protection Agency point to different, yet still staggering numbers of pesticide poisonings.

According to the CDC… “The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10,000-20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide poisonings occur each year among the approximately 2 million U.S. agricultural workers.”

This estimate is far below the reported 300,000 chemical poisonings cited by The Harvest. But perhaps their number is higher than that of the EPA since it includes an estimate of unreported chemical poisonings. Since agricultural workers often are undocumented (see the National Center for Farmworker Health Factsheet, which states that 47% of U.S. farmworkers are not legally authorized to work), they would experience a major disincentive to not report the poisonings, ESPECIALLY if it meant deportation or loss of a job. This disincentive increases when accounting for the risk associated with families and children.

So why doesn’t the Department of Labor get involved?

“Hazardous Occupation Orders” declared by the U.S. Department of Labor may seem like the answer in preventing exposure of child workers to pesticide poisoning. The following portion of Title 29 labor standards (which, by the way, haven’t been updated since 1971) deals with children directly handling pesticides. It does not, however, deem accidental exposure as a hazardous occupation criteria. In fact, the law mentions in subsequent sections that as long as the child is familiar with the hazards, it is acceptable for him or her to work under such conditions. According to an organization called Farmworker Justice, the Department of Labor proposed revisions to this law in September 2011 that would prohibit youth farmworkers from handling pesticides across the board. The Obama administration reportedly withdrew the proposal in response to industry placations and demands. Thus, the law remains as it was over 40 years ago, allowing children to directly handle pesticides and be subject to toxicity exposure, as detailed in The Harvest.


§570.71   Occupations involved in agriculture.

(a) Findings and declarations of fact as to specific occupations. The following occupations in agriculture are particularly hazardous for the employment of children below the age of 16:
(1) Operating a tractor of over 20 PTO horsepower, or connecting or disconnecting an implement or any of its parts to or from such a tractor.
(2) Operating or assisting to operate (including starting, stopping, adjusting, feeding, or any other activity involving physical contact associated with the operation) any of the following machines:
(i) Corn picker, cotton picker, grain combine, hay mower, forage harvester, hay baler, potato digger, or mobile pea viner;
(ii) Feed grinder, crop dryer, forage blower, auger conveyor, or the unloading mechanism of a nongravity-type self-unloading wagon or trailer; or
(iii) Power post-hole digger, power post driver, or nonwalking type rotary tiller.
(3) Operating or assisting to operate (including starting, stopping, adjusting, feeding, or any other activity involving physical contact associated with the operation) any of the following machines:
(i) Trencher or earthmoving equipment;
(ii) Fork lift;
(iii) Potato combine; or
(iv) Power-driven circular, band, or chain saw.
(4) Working on a farm in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by a:
(i) Bull, boar, or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes; or
(ii) Sow with suckling pigs, or cow with newborn calf (with umbilical cord present)
(5) Felling, bucking, skidding, loading, or unloading timber with butt diameter of more than 6 inches.
(6) Working from a ladder or scaffold (painting, repairing, or building structures, pruning trees, picking fruit, etc.) at a height of over 20 feet.
(7) Driving a bus, truck, or automobile when transporting passengers, or riding on a tractor as a passenger or helper.
(8) Working inside:
(i) A fruit, forage, or grain storage designed to retain an oxygen deficient or toxic atmosphere;
(ii) An upright silo within 2 weeks after silage has been added or when a top unloading device is in operating position;
(iii) A manure pit; or
(iv) A horizontal silo while operating a tractor for packing purposes.
(9) Handling or applying (including cleaning or decontaminating equipment, disposal or return of empty containers, or serving as a flagman for aircraft applying) agricultural chemicals classified under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (7 U.S.C. 135 et seq.) as Category I of toxicity, identified by the word “poison” and the “skull and crossbones” on the label; or Category II of toxicity, identified by the word “warning” on the label;
(10) Handling or using a blasting agent, including but not limited to, dynamite, black powder, sensitized ammonium nitrate, blasting caps, and primer cord; or
(11) Transporting, transferring, or applying anhydrous ammonia.
(b) Occupational definitions. In applying machinery, equipment, or facility terms used in paragraph (a) of this section, the Wage and Hour Division will be guided by the definitions contained in the current edition of Agricultural Engineering, a dictionary and handbook, Interstate Printers and Publishers, Danville, Ill. Copies of this dictionary and handbook are available for examination in Regional Offices of the Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor.
[35 FR 221, Jan. 7, 1970. Redesignated at 36 FR 25156, Dec. 29, 1971]

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The Harvest ~ La Cosecha : a documentary

December 2, 2014 · 37 Comments

Shedding light on the children who toil in the fields as migrant workers, harvesting much of America’s vegetables.

Click the image above to watch the theatrical trailer of the documentary.

Click the image above to watch the theatrical trailer of the documentary.

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