Research and Studies, Wages

Farmworker Pay Can Be Boosted at Little Cost to Consumers

From LatinoFoxNews.com, 14 Sept 2011.

San Diego –  Increasing the incomes of migrant farmworkers by 40 percent would add just $15 to what the average U.S. household spends every year on fruits and vegetables, according to a researcher at University of California Davis.

Philip Martin, a professor in UC Davis’ Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, says Americans spend relatively little on food and that the mostly Hispanic workers who harvest U.S. produce get only a small fraction of the retail price.

The total budget for food for an average U.S. household is $6,400 per year, Martin, the author of the 2009 book “Importing Poverty? Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural America,” said in an interview with Efe.

Citing the Consumer Expenditure Survey of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the researcher said that of this amount, about 60 percent represents the spending on food to prepare at home, with spending on meat totaling $841, fruits $220 and fresh vegetables $209.

Meanwhile, he said, an average of $435 is spent on alcoholic beverages annually by each household.

Growers and their employees are receiving an ever smaller portion of the retail price, Martin said.

“Consumer spending on fruits and fresh vegetables means earnings of $118 for the grower. The agricultural labor costs are usually less than a third of a farm’s income on fruits and fresh vegetables, and so an average home spends $38 per year on the wages for agricultural workers,” he said.

This means that for every dollar spent on fruits, consumers are funneling 30 cents to the grower and 10 cents to the farmworkers.

For vegetables, the comparable figures are 15 cents and 8 cents, respectively.

Martin emphasized that about half the farmworkers employed in the United States are undocumented foreigners, which partially explains the low labor costs for these products.

The low salaries, the physical effort and the seasonal nature of the work mean that very few U.S. citizens are willing to work in this sector, jobs in which are usually reserved for people with little knowledge of English, low levels of education or a lack of other opportunities.

“For the typical household, an increase of 40 percent in agricultural labor costs translated into an increase of 3.6 percent in retail prices. If the agricultural salaries increase by 40 percent, and this increase is passed on to the consumers, the annual spending on fruits and fresh vegetables would increase by about $15 per year, the cost of two movie tickets,” said Martin.

A migrant farmworker currently earning $10,000 a year would see his or her annual income increase to $14,000, Martin said.

Source: LatinoFoxNews.com, “Farmworker Pay Can Be Boosted at Little Cost to Consumers” 14 Sept 2011.

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