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"North Carolina ranks sixth in the nation in the number of migrant farmworkers. There are approximately 150,000 farmworkers and their dependents in North Carolina each growing season, but this estimate is considered low. In the United States there are two to three million farmworkers. Even though the overall number of farmworkers in North Carolina has decreased over the last 20 years, the number of migrant farmworkers has nearly doubled. Ninety-four percent of migrant farmworkers in North Carolina are native Spanish speakers. Nationally, most farmworkers are unaccompanied males whose families still live in their home countries. The US Department of Labor reports that 53% of farmworkers nationally are undocumented (working without legal authorization), 25% are US citizens, and 21% are legal permanent residents. "





"Agriculture, including food, fiber and forestry, contributes over $59 billion annually to North Carolina’s economy and represents 22% of North Carolina’s income. Each farmworker’s labor contributes over $12,000 in profits to North Carolina’s economy annually. Major North Carolina crops requiring hand labor include: tobacco, Christmas trees, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, apples, bell peppers, and other fruits and vegetables. Many farmworkers also work in greenhouses and nurseries."






"Poverty: Nationally, farmworkers’ average annual income is $11,000; for a family it is approximately $16,000. Farmworkers on the East Coast earn about 35% less than the national average.Hard work, low pay: At 40¢ per bucket (5/8 bushel), a farmworker must pick and haul two tons of sweet potatoes to earn $50. Few wage protections: Most farmworkers are exempt from minimum wage laws, and all are exempt from overtime provisions, despite long work days during peak harvest. Few benefits: Despite pervasive poverty, less than one percent of farmworkers collect general assistance welfare nationwide. Only ten percent of farmworkers report having health insurance through an employer health plan. Fewer than four out of ten workers interviewed said that they would receive unemployment benefits if out of work. Hunger: Nearly five out of ten North Carolina farmworkers cannot afford enough food for themselves and their families."



  • There are an estimated 3 million migrant and seasonal farmworkers employed in the United States. The federal government estimates that 60 percent of farmworkers are undocumented immigrants; farmworker advocates say the percentage is far higher.

  • The National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) published by the Department of Labor reports that about 22% of the farmworker population is female. Thus, there are an estimated 630,000 women engaged in farm work in the United States.

  • The average personal income of female crop workers is $11,250, compared to $16,250 for male crop workers.

  • A mere 8 percent of farmworkers report being covered by employer-provided health insurance, a rate that dropped to 5 percent for farmworkers who are employed seasonally and not year-round.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor, farmworkers suffer from higher rates of toxic chemical injuries and skin disorders than any other workers in the country. The children of migrant farmworkers, also, have higher rates of pesticide exposure than the general public.

  • Each year, there are an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 cases of physician-diagnosed pesticide poisoning among U.S. farmworkers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Farmworkers are not covered by workers’ compensation laws in many states. They are not entitled to overtime pay under federal law. On smaller farms and in short harvest seasons, they are not entitled to the federal minimum wage. They are excluded from many state health and safety laws.

  • Because of special exemptions for agriculture, children as young as 10 may work in the fields. Also, many states exempt farmworker children from compulsory education laws.




Olivieri, VJ. US Dept. of Ag., 1993; 2 Quandt, SAF. Public Health Reports, 2004; 3 Public Law 104-299, 1996; 4 Larson, A. Farmworker Enumeration Study, 2000; 5 Report of the Commission on Agricultural Workers, 1992; 6 NC Employment Security Commission, 2005; 7 National Agricultural Workers Survey, US Dept. of Labor, 2005; 8 NC Dept. of Ag., 2004; 9 Sutter, S. NC State University, 1988; 10 Ward, L. East Coast Analysis of NAWS, 1998; 11 Fair Labor Standards Act, 1938, 1978; 12 US Dept. of Labor, Prevailing Wage Surveys, 2002; 13 Early, J. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 2006; 14 NC Migrant Housing Act, 1989; 15 Housing Assistance Council, 2001; 16 Arcury, T. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 2006; 17 National Center for Farmworker Health; 18 Krejci-Manwaring J. Journal of Ag. Safety & Health, 2006; 19 NC General Statute 97-13b; 20 WRAL, 2005; 21 National Farm Worker Ministry, 2006. Full citations available at

Published by the NC Farmworker Institute with funds from the Office of Rural Health and Community Care, NC Farmworker Health Program, 2007

Southern Poverty Law center

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