Hired Hands: Seasonal Farm Workers in the United States

Hired Hands: Seasonal Farm Workers in the United States

Hired Hands: Seasonal Farm Workers in the United States

Hired Hands: Seasonal Farm Workers in the United States

Excerpt

About six million people work on farms in the United States each year. Approximately two-thirds of the people are either farmers and their unpaid family members or employees hired year- round. The rest are seasonal workers -- men, women, and children employed to cultivate and harvest the crops.

The subjects of our study are the seasonally hired hands -- especially those 300,000 who depend on seasonal farm work for a living. Some are migrants who travel hundreds of miles from farm to farm. A larger number are people who commute from their homes to temporary farm jobs in the vicinity. Economically and socially they are a special group of workers, and we will attempt to depict who they are, how they live, and what problems they face on and off the job.

We begin with a chapter that indicates when seasonal farm work became an occupation in the United States, the number and types of people currently involved, where migrants live and work, the extent of child labor, and trends in agricultural employment.

When the Work Became an Occupation

Seasonal farm work first became an occupation in the United States in the middle third of the 19th century. In that period large farms in the midwest and in California began specializing in the production of wheat and hiring itinerant workers for the harvest. This development was described by Paul Taylor, Professor of Economics at the Berkeley campus of the University of California:

As settlers spread over the Appalachians onto the rich virgin soils of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys, they increased the size of their wheat fields. In 1845 Hunts Merchant Magazine and Commercial Review made note of what was impressing eastern farmers, viz., that . . .

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