From WhiteHouse.gov, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, 13 Dec 2011.
Last Thursday the Office of Public Engagement hosted 20 regional and national farm worker organizations at the White House for a Community Leader Briefing. Senior Administration officials from the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development as well as the Domestic Policy Council participated in the briefing to discuss issues related to migrant health, education, work protections, and immigration to name a few.
Among the organizations who attended Thursday’s briefing were the Association for Farmworker Opportunity Programs, Farm Worker Justice, Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, United Migrant Opportunity Services, MAFO, and the United Farm Workers.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries.
- Approximately 1,783,000 full-time workers were employed in production agriculture in the U.S. in 2009. During this same year, 440 farmers and farm workers died from a work-related injury for a fatality rate of 24.7 deaths per 100,000 workers.
Other note able facts about farm workers include:
- 80% of farmworkers are men who often must leave their families behind while they seek work.
- The average farmworker age is only 31 years since it is difficult for older workers to perform such physically demanding labor.
- There is only a 50.7% high school graduation rate among migrant teenagers.
- 12% of all farmworkers earn less than the minimum wage and half of all farmworkers earn less than $7,500 per year and half of all farmworker families earn less than $11,000 per year, far below the 2002 U.S. poverty level of $18,100 for a family of four.
The Administration has taken proactive measures to improve the quality of life of farm workers throughout the country who frequently work in unique and grave conditions and help put food on our tables every day. Over the course of the last three years, the Obama Administration has done more to improve conditions for farm workers and their families than any previous Administration.
Specifically this Administration has strongly supported AgJOBS, immigration reform legislation that would benefit farm workers and the agricultural industry as a whole as a part of its blueprint to fix the broken immigration system in a comprehensive manner. We have worked to improve the existing regulatory framework of the H-2A Temporary Agriculture Program so that it works for both workers and employers. The Department of Labor has also investigated wage and hour violations in agricultural industries winning back pay wages and settlements for workers. Not to mention, standing up a new Office on Farmworker Opportunities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the first Office for farm workers in the Agency’s history.
We know based on the alarming statistics that there is a lot of work to be done to improve living and working conditions for farm workers but this Administration has made tremendous strides to ensure that farm workers and their families can enjoy the bounty of their labor.
Julie Chavez Rodriguez is the Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement.