Impact of Immigrants on California’s Agriculture

Impact of Immigrants on California’s Agriculture

Impact of Immigrants on California’s Agriculture

            The main concern relating to the entry of into the United States relates to the belief that they adversely affect the labor market for the citizens. Immigrants create competition for the scarce job opportunities denying the citizens the right to enjoy the available employment vacancies and cause wage depression. The impact of immigrants is significantly experienced in California’s agricultural sector because the State has one of the largest agricultural labor markets in the U.S., accounting for about 36 percent of farmworkers. A report dubbed Migrant and Seasonal Enumeration Study published by the Bureau of Primary Care’s Migrant Health Program indicate that there are about 1.1 million seasonal farm laborers working in the agriculture sector in California agriculture, 440,000 of whom are employed year-round. As a result, only about 40 per cent of farmworkers work throughout the year. The entry of immigrants into the state’s agricultural sector has elicited different views, some supporting their involvement in the sector while others believe that they are adversely affecting it.

            In my research, I established that the entry of immigrants into California affected vegetable agriculture. The immigrants have caused the displacement of the citizens in vegetable production agriculture and have also instigated the reduction of wages in the sector. Vegetable production is labor intensive, and about 95 percent of the farmworkers in this agriculture are immigrants (Devadoss and Luckstead 891). The displacements and reduction of wages have been great concerns among the host population. However, these concerns are not valid because the entry of one new immigrant into vegetable farming displaces only 0.0123 domestic workers, and the reduction in wages is inconsequential (Devadoss and Luckstead 889). The entry of immigrants into the agriculture is beneficial to the sector and the State because one immigrant worker increases the vegetable production by over $23,457 and increases the productivity of skilled workers, material inputs, and capital by more than $11,729 (Devadoss and Luckstead 889). They believe that there is a need for immigrants in the sector because the adoption of labor-saving technologies and reduced acreage in vegetable farming in California does not minimize the demand for low-skilled labor since the trends in the sector have continually shifted to labor-intensive crops (Devadoss and Luckstead 880). For instance, there has been an increased focus in vegetable crops more than other crop varieties over the past 30 years (Devadoss and Luckstead 880). Also, there has been an expansion of vegetable cultivation to year-round, resulting in an increased demand for low-skilled labor.

            Studies have also shown that the entry of immigrants into California and their involvement in the State’s agriculture has not adversely affected wages. Workers’ earnings in California’s agricultural sector has increased normally over the years despite the ever-rising number of immigrants joining the sector’s labor market (Martin Hooker, and Stockton n.d.). For instance, the average employment of hired laborers in California agriculture rose by more than 10 percent between 2005 and 2015. Research reveals that during the period, about 16,400 agricultural entities employed an average of 421,300 employees who earned a total of $12.8 billion. The total payment given to the workers accounted for 27 percent of the state’s $47 billion in agricultural earnings (Martin Hooker, and Stockton n.d.). For this reason, a full-time equivalent worker would be paid about $30,300, suggesting a wage of $14.55 per hour for 2,080 working hours. The average annual wage earned by the 848,000 employees who had at least one job on California’s agricultural farms was about $20,500 in 2015. This pay was two-thirds of the average annual wage of a full-time equivalent worker, signifying a combination of lower earnings and less than full-year work.

            The growing number of immigrants in California’s agriculture has caused earning inequalities among U.S. citizens and immigrant farmworkers. From the information presented by the US Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS), there are differences in earnings among farmworkers in the U.S. based on a variety of characteristics (Bowers and Chand 182). Some of these characteristics include gender and age. From the contents of the report, females and workers under 21 are consistently earning less compared to other categories of farmworkers (Bowers and Chand 183). Moreover, workers who are involved in seasonally grown crops are some of the lowest paid farmworkers (Bowers and Chand 183). Workers lacking authorized status are also paid less compared to those who have legal status (Bowers and Chand 182). Interestingly, however, foreign-born US citizens are paid more than their US-born colleagues. On the other hand, migrant workers earn considerably less compared to all other groups. Among immigrant workers, those who move from one state to another working on various crops as seasons change are paid the least (Bowers and Chand 183). Based on these revelations, I conclude that the entry of immigrants has benefitted employers in California’s agricultural sector with cheap labor. However, labor from immigrants has not affected the wages earned by native workers in the sector.

            I learned that the entry of immigrants into California’s agriculture caused minimal or no effect on wages in the sector. There are two broad results arising from the immigrants’ participation in agriculture (Brauw 474). Studies undertaken using Borjas’ methods reveal that the wage elasticity of immigration is less than 0.2 instead of less than 0.3 to less than 0.4. Borjas’s assumption of perfect worker substitutability in cells cannot be accurate because the wages of male and female employees increased as women joined the workforce between 1960 and 2010 (Brauw 475). For these reasons, empirical methods that combine the two assumptions he considered are likely to more accurately reveal the effects of immigration on the wages of natives and that are either very minimal or zero.

            There is also evidence that the entry of immigrants into the U.S. agricultural sector has not affected the sector in terms of wages, especially since there are labor protections that have been enacted at the federal and state levels. The laws ensure a standard of working and living laborers, irrespective of whether they are citizens or immigrants (Rodman, Barry, Clayton, Frattaroli, Neff, and Rutkow 102). Nevertheless, despite the enactment of many protections, farmworkers have been granted fewer rights compared to workers in other industries (Rodman et al. 105). The U.S. states have varying legislation and regulations for minimum wage, overtime payments, rest, and meal periods (Rodman et al. 97). California has legislation touching on all these issues (Rodman et al. 103). For instance, California has overtime protections for workers employed in farms, though they have slighter protections compared to those given to workers in other sectors.

            From these secondary sources, I learned that there is disagreement on whether the entry of immigrants into California’s agriculture affected wages in the sector. Some researchers argue that their entry displaced locals in the sectors’ employment and led to reduced wages. However, others believe that the entry of these people has not impacted the sector since there is a growing demand for labor. In other studies, the wages in the sector has increased normally despite the entry of the foreigners, an indication that they do not affect the industry. Still, there are some people who believe that foreigners have caused an insignificant impact on California’s agriculture. The variance in views display that this topic will remain a contentious issue, therefore, it should be studied in detail.  

Works Cited

Bowers Marianne L. and Chand Daniel E. “An examination of wage and income inequality within the American farmworker community” Sage Journals, vol. 6, no. 3, 2018.

Brauw, Alan, “Does immigration reduce wages?” Cato Journal, vol. 37, no. 3, 2017, pp. 473-480.

Devadoss Stephen and Luckstead Jeff “Contributions of immigrant farmworkers to California vegetable production,” Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, vol. 40, no. 3, 2008, pp. 879–894.11.

Martin Philip L., Hooker Brandon, and Stockton, Marc, “Employment and earnings of California farmworkers in 2015,” California Agriculture, vol. 72, no. 2, 2017, pp. 107-113.

Rodman Sarah O., Barry Colleen L., Clayton Megan L., Frattaroli Shannon, Neff Roni A., and Rutkow Lainie, Agricultural exceptionalism at the state level: Characterization of wage and hour laws for U.S. farmworkers, Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, vol. 6, no. 2, 2016, pp. 89–110.  


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