If farmworkers earned more, could we afford what they pick?

Published: Friday, January 31, 2014 at 11:50 PM.

Income inequality and the minimum wage have become national buzzwords, but noticeably absent from the conversation is the economic plight of American farmworkers.

“Almost half the people laboring in our fields are U.S. citizens and legally authorized immigrants, but Americans tend to think they’re all illegals, so they accept the situation,” Michael Harpold said. Harpold is a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and author of the new book “Jumping the Line,” (www.jumpingtheline.com) a realistic and dramatic portrayal of an illegal immigrant and a Mexican-American farmworker family.

“We’re terrified food prices would skyrocket — a fear perpetuated by some in the agriculture industry — if we don’t keep the lid on labor prices.”

Ask the farmers and they’ll say, “I’m paying far more than the minimum wage,” and that’s often true, Harpold says. “What’s not said is that the work is seasonal, so the laborer works only 100 days a year. His annual income falls far below the poverty line.”

Non-supervisory farmworkers earned an average hourly wage of $10.80 in 2012, well over the federal minimum wage of $7.25, according to the Farm Labor Survey conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The same survey found nearly half did not have year-long jobs.

The impact of extreme poverty on farmworkers — more than 2 million, including undocumented immigrants — affects all of us.

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