Migrant farmworkers are the poorest of America’s working poor. The people who harvest the fruits and vegetables for our daily sustenance survive under unimaginably difficult conditions. They earn the least amount of money working the hardest jobs with the worst living conditions of any group in this country. They follow the harvest, living in dilapidated housing, or sometimes in their cars or in the fields. Their children attend several schools each year and are frequently taken out of school to work the fields, so the family will make enough money to survive.
Migrant farmworkers are exposed daily to a variety of indignities. They must confront employers who pay below-minimum wages, who deduct Social Security payments — but then don’t send them on to the government, or who charge workers so much for housing that the workers are in debt to the company. These employers trust that the workers don’t understand the system well enough to report them.
Tragedies abound. Some years ago, thirteen migrant farmworkers in California died in a collision at 5 a.m. as they drove in a van from tomato fields in which they had just worked for ten hours overnight. The van in which they were riding did not have seatbelts because state law specifically exempted vehicles which transport agricultural workers.
The infant mortality rate for migrant workers is 25 per cent higher than the national average. Other statistics for farmworkers are worse than those in many third-world countries. And the conditions that migrant workers face are deteriorating, due in no small part to the incredibly low wages they earn.