Sarah Doolin, New American Economy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of new field and crop workers immigrating to the United States fell by roughly 75 percent.
New York—At a time when more Americans are trying to eat fresh and locally grown produce, farmers in the United States do not have the labor they need to expand their operations and keep pace with rising demand. According to a new study released by the New American Economy, the number of field and crop laborers available to farms has been rapidly declining over the past decade, costing fruit and vegetable production $3.1 billion per year. The report, “A Vanishing Breed: How the Decline in U.S. Farm Laborers Over the Last Decade Has Hurt the U.S. Economy and Slowed Production on American Farms,” shows that between 2002 and 2012, the share of new field and crop workers immigrating to the United States fell by roughly 75 percent, and U.S-born workers are not filling the labor gaps.
Read the Wall Street Journal’s “On U.S. Farms, Fewer Hands for the Harvest,” which cites the Partnership’s study.
“Labor shortages on U.S. farms cost the economy tens of thousands of jobs in related industries like trucking, marketing, and equipment manufacturing,” says John Feinblatt, Chairman of New American Economy. “Congress should be deeply troubled by the manpower challenges that our farmers face and should update our immigration policies to address their needs.”
The report utilizes data from the National Agriculture Workers Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Labor Survey (FLS), and the Census of Agriculture to find:
The supply of workers available to U.S. farmers has been rapidly declining.
Between 2002 and 2014, the number of full-time equivalent field and crop workers had dropped by at least 146,000 people, or by more than 20 percent. Wage patterns indicate that this caused a major labor shortage on U.S. farms.
The labor shortage has hurt our country’s ability to produce labor-intensive fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts.
Had labor shortages not been an issue, production of these crops could have been higher by about $3.1 billion a year. Given that farm revenues often trickle down to other industries in our economy, that $3.1 billion in additional farm production would have led to almost $2.8 billion in added spending on non-farm services like transportation, manufacturing, and irrigation each year. That spending would have created more than 41,000 additional non-farm jobs in our economy annually.
The number of potential farm workers immigrating to the United States has greatly slowed over the last decade.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of new field and crop workers immigrating to the United States fell by roughly 75 percent. This led to a drop in the number of entry-level workers available for difficult jobs like hoeing, planting, and harvesting.
Today’s field and crop workers are rapidly aging, signaling even greater potential future challenges when the current generation of workers retires.
New immigrant farmworkers tend to be young, but a drop in immigrant labor has caused the workforce to age dramatically. Between 1998 and 2002, 36.1 percent of field and crop workers had arrived to the United States within the previous five years, but between 2008 and 2012, just 11.5 percent had arrived within that time period. While 14.2 percent of farmworkers were 45 years or older in the 1998–2002 period, by 2008–2012, this figure had more than doubled, reaching 27.1 percent.
U.S.-born workers are not filling labor gaps on American farms.
From 2002 to 2014, the increase in U.S.-born workers offset less than 3 percent of the dramatic decline in field and crop workers caused by dwindling numbers of foreign-born workers.
Some parts of the country were particularly hard-hit by the recent labor decline.
The number of full-time equivalent field and crop workers in California declined by about 85,000 people between 2002 and 2014. The vast majority of this decline happened before the drought started in 2011. The southeastern part of the United States was also hard-hit. Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina lost about 8,500 workers in total, or more than one in four of the crop workers employed in 2002. Colorado, Nevada, and Utah lost 36.7 percent of their full-time equivalent field workforce, or 7,029 people.