The average salary of migrant workers in the United States is notoriously low and estimated to be $7,500. Migrant workers have harvested agricultural goods in the United States for over a century. According to Ellen Kossek, speaking for the School of Labor & Industrial Relations at Michigan State University, most vegetables and fruits are picked by migrant workers. Migrant workers have been a politically controversial topic and have increasingly come into the public eye in recent years as illegal labor practices and large numbers of undocumented workers have been exposed.
History of Low Wages for Migrant Workers
Migrant workers have harvested agricultural goods in the United States for over a century. Crop workers move to the region where the crops are ready to be harvested, thus the name "migrant." Early in the 20th century, there was a wave of workers from the Mid-South states such as Oklahoma to work in California. In more recent decades, an increasing amount of workers come from Mexico and Central America.
Accusations of Labor Abuses
Migrant farm labor has consistently been one of the most dangerous and lowest paying jobs in existence. For many workers, it is the only work available and cases have been documented of workers being paid under the table and below the minimum wage. Exposure to pesticides and extreme heat and hard toil make the job dangerous and many farms have faced accusations of creating unsafe working conditions. In bad years, when crops are destroyed by a drought, flood or other natural disaster, workers often go for weeks or months without work.
Paying low wages to migrant farm workers lowers production costs for farmers, which makes food cheaper to consumers. Advocates of higher wages for farm workers argue that higher food costs would be worth the cost of treating workers better.
Undocumented Migrant Workers
Most migrant workers in the U.S. today are of Mexican origin, and historically, some have not held work visas or citizenship. A politically heated national debate about the status and treatment of illegal aliens has been underway for many years. Arguments and accusations range from accusing foreign migrants of stealing American jobs to accusing farm managers of abusively exploiting a vulnerable population.