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The Number of Farmworkers in Florida
There is no generally accepted estimate of the farmworker population in Florida. The Atlas of State Profiles Which Estimate Number of Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers and Members of Their Families, prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in March 1990 gives an estimate of 182,790 migrant farmworkers and 252,583 seasonal farmworkers for a total of 435,373. These estimates include family members who travel with the farmworkers. The United States Department of Agricultures Farm Labor Survey estimated the number of filled hired farmworker jobs (including livestock workers) to be 233,000 during 1994-95. Another report, the Migrant Enumeration Project, 1993, prepared by Larson and Plasencia, estimated the number of migrant farmworkers and dependents at 238,247. Most recently, the Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing at the University of Florida estimated the number of migrant farmworkers and their dependents at 139,252. The Shimberg Study also concluded that there was a total of 171,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers, not counting dependents.
The National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor has been collecting data on farmworkers throughout the United States since Fall, 1988. Each year, farmworkers in Florida are interviewed as part of the NAWS sample. The following facts are based on 4,890 interviews conducted in Florida during the period from Fall, 1988 through Summer, 1997:
The mean age of farmworkers in Florida is 32 years old.
Overall, one quarter of the workers are women
Approximately one-half of all workers were married.
Approximately 43 percent of the Florida farmworkers migrate to find or perform farm work jobs.
Place of Birth and Ethnicity
Three-quarters of Floridas farmworkers were born outside of the United States; two-thirds of those workers (half of all Florida workers) were born in Mexico. Another one-sixth of the Florida workers were born in Central America. Of the workers born in the United States, about one-third were born in Puerto Rico.
More than four-fifths (82 percent) of the workers in Florida consider themselves to be of Hispanic origins. Three-quarters report that their native language is Spanish.
Nearly one-quarter of the Florida farmworkers are U.S.- born or naturalized citizens of the United States. About one-sixth are legal permanent residents, and one-fifth have some other form of work authorization. One third are undocumented workers.
The average number of years of school completed by Florida farmworkers is almost six years; the median grade completed is sixth grade.
One-half of the farmworkers in Florida report that they do not live with any family members. Another one-third live with one, two, or three family members. Approximately one- third of married farmworkers live away from their spouses, while seventeen percent of Florida farmworkers have children age 14 or younger who live away from them.
The average hourly wage for farmworkers in Florida over the period from 1988 through 1997 was $5.36. The median personal income for Florida farmworkers was between $5,000 and $7,500 per year, and the median family income was between $7,500 and $9,999 per year. Three- quarters of the Florida farmworkers had family incomes that were below $12,500 per year. The families of six out of ten Florida farmworkers had incomes that put them below the poverty line.
Lack of Workplace Protections and Employment Benefits
Farm workers are excluded from the national protections afforded to other workers. Most farmworkers are not entitled to overtime pay for their work. In half of the states, including all of the states in the Southeast except Florida and Virginia, farmworkers are not protected by state worker’s compensation laws.
Agricultural workers are specifically excluded from federal laws guaranteeing
the right to organize or engage in collective bargaining. The General Accounting
Office concluded in 1992 that farm workers "are not adequately protected by
federal laws, regulations, and programs; their health and well-being are at
Social Security is often taken out of farm workers' paychecks just to be pocketed by the labor contractor. Later when farm workers apply to Social Security, there is no record of their contributions. Most farm workers in Florida receive no fringe benefits with their jobs. For the vast majority of Florida farmworkers, this means:.
While all other workplaces require that toilet facilities are provided when
as few as one worker is at the workplace, farms are only required to have
toilets if 6 or more workers are on the fields. Many farms do not provide
toilets even when large numbers of workers are in the fields. Drinking water and
water for washing hands is often unavailable to workers.
Due to stoop labor, pesticide dangers, transportation and farm equipment
injuries, among other hazards, farm work is considered to be one of the five
most dangerous occupations in the nation.
Farm workers stoop down for many hours a day to pick tomatoes, strawberries, and other fruits and vegetables . Stoop labor causes many back injuries due to the constant strain.
Fruit pickers often climb high ladders while carrying bags that weigh up to 95 pounds when full. A typical citrus worker in Florida harvests fruit from a ladder of 18 to 20 feet in length, picking three to five tons of fruit per day. Many injuries occur when workers fall from trees, or strain backs due to heavy loads they must carry.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that as many as 300,000 farm workers are poisoned each year by pesticides. Farm workers suffer the highest rate of chemical-related illness of any occupational group; growers regularly use deadly chemicals such as methyl bromide, which is banned in other industries.
Many injuries and deaths occur during the careless transport of workers to and from the fields. Many are picked up and travel in uninsured vehicles, many of which lack basic safety features. In order to carry as many passengers as possible, many drivers who transport farmworkers remove the seats, forcing workers to sit precariously on the floor or on makeshift benches. Many of the drivers of these vehicles are unlicensed..
Because of their low incomes and itinerant employment schedules, farmworkers have relatively few housing options available to them. While there are several federal farmworker housing rental projects in Florida, these facilities provide accommodations for less than five percent of Florida’s farmworkers. Only a handful of Florida growers provide housing for their employees.
Most Florida farmworkers must scramble to find rental units in the communities in which they work. Because of high rents, farmworkers often pool their funds to rent a dilapidated house or trailer. Many of these units are seriously overcrowded and in severe disrepair.
Conditions for Women
More than one-quarter of all farm workers in the United States are women, but it takes three farm worker women to earn the same amount of money earned by two farm worker men. Farm worker women are regularly subjected to sexual harassment, assault, and rape; and they are exposed to some of the most dangerous conditions in the fields. Monica Ramirez, an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the MFJP, heads a project directed at the widespread gender discrimination and sexual harassment faced by the women who work in Florida agriculture.
News on Florida Farmworkers
The Sarasota/Manatee Farm Workers Supporters maintain a website updated daily with news reports relating to farmworkers, particularly in Florida. The website may be accessed at: www.smfws.com