Led by Philip Martin, professor emeritus in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, scientists analyzed all Social Security numbers reported by farm employers in 2014. The total number of farmworkers employed in California in 2014 was 829,300. The number of full-time equivalent jobs was 410,900.
“We have lots of people who do farm work in California,” Martin said. “If we could use more of them year round, we would not have to always be looking for immigrants.”
Interest in farmworkers and farm employment is growing in California and in the nation. Comments about illegal immigration by presidential candidates and a new law under consideration in California to require overtime pay for farmworkers have made farm employment part of a national conversation. California's labor-intensive fruit and vegetable production systems, the tightening of border controls and proposals to give some unauthorized workers a temporary legal status have also fueled interest.
“Many farm employers argue that there are farm labor shortages, while worker advocates counter that there is only a shortage of wages to attract and retain farmworkers,” Martin said. “Our objective was to provide a clearer picture of California's agricultural workforce by determining the actual number of wage and salary workers in agriculture.”
The research was based on information from the state's Employment Development Department, which collects data on farmworkers and wages paid when it collects unemployment insurance taxes from employers.
The results of the 2014 analysis are compared with previous analyses of farm employment going back to 1990. The data reflect a shift over the last 30 years away from direct-hire employment on crop farms and toward employment by farm labor contractors.
“Crop support services, like farm labor contractors, surpassed on-farm hires for the first time in 2007,” Martin said. “Since 2010, average employment reported by crop support establishments has been rising by 10,000 a year.”
In 2014, nonfarm crop support firms brought an average of 205,000 farmworkers to crop farms, while direct-hires on crop farms was 175,000.
“Our data show that California has a remarkably stable workforce,” Martin said. “We found that most farmworkers are attached to one farm employer, often a labor contractor who moves them from farm to farm.”
Average earnings for all workers who held at least one farm job during the year was over $19,000 in 2014, while average earnings of those who had their maximum earnings in agriculture was $16,500. Farmworkers who were employed by farm labor contractors had the lowest average earnings at $12,719.
In addition to Martin, the article was authored by Muhammad Akhtar, Brandon Hooker and Marc Stockton of the California Employment Development Department. California Agriculture journal is the peer-reviewed research journal of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.