Importing Poverty?

Importing Poverty?: Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural America

Philip Martin
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Importing Poverty?
    Book Description:

    American agriculture employs some 2.5 million workers during a typical year, most for fewer than six months. Three fourths of these farm workers are immigrants, half are unauthorized, and most will leave seasonal farm work within a decade. What do these statistics mean for farmers, for laborers, for rural America?

    This book addresses the question by reviewing what is happening on farms and in the towns and cities where immigrant farm workers settle with their families. Philip Martin finds that the business-labor model that has evolved in rural America is neither desirable nor sustainable. He proposes regularizing U.S. farm workers and rationalizing the farm labor market, an approach that will help American farmers stay globally competitive while also improving conditions for farm workers.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15600-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Ray Marshall

    InImporting Poverty? Philip Martin shows how the American farmers’ demand for a perpetual supply of low-cost labor transfers poverty from rural Mexico to rural America. He also demonstrates that, as it is currently organized, farmwork is sufficiently undesirable that not even desperate immigrants will continue to do it once they have nonfarm options. This reality causes farmers and their political allies to oppose simply legalizing unauthorized workers, which would enable them to get nonfarm jobs. Instead, farmers agree to legalization only in exchange for large guest-worker programs that give employers considerable control of foreign workers. Farmers and their allies...

  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Prologue: Coming to America
    (pp. xv-xxii)

    As spring approached, 19-year-old José Gonzalez borrowed $2,000 from relatives and left his home in Oaxaca for the United States, promising his mother that he would soon send her enough money to fix up the family house. Although he had never been far from his village before, he did not feel out of place as he joined others traveling by bus to the Mexico-U.S. border, where smugglers waited to guide him across the border and on to California’s Central Valley. José’s group eluded the Border Patrol, and traveled by van to Fresno.

    José bought a driver’s license and green card...

  6. Part One Immigration and Agriculture
    • Chapter 1 Immigration to the United States
      (pp. 3-18)

      Almost 100,000 foreigners arrive in the United States every day. There are three major groups: About 3,000 are legal immigrants, invited to the country to settle and, usually after five years, to become naturalized U.S. citizens. Another 94,000 are temporary visitors, mostly tourists and businesspeople, but also foreign students and guest workers who are expected to return to their countries of origin. Finally, about 1,500 unauthorized foreigners settle in the United States; even more are apprehended just inside the U.S. border.¹

      Should the arrival of so many foreigners be welcomed or feared? There is no single answer, which helps to...

    • Chapter 2 Agriculture and Migrants
      (pp. 19-40)

      Agriculture is a sector of the economy riddled by paradoxes. Farmers are often praised as the independent yeomen who provide a living link to the nation’s Founding Fathers, yet agriculture may be more dependent on federal subsidies than any other U.S. industry. There were too many farmers during the 1950s, prompting a million Americans a year to move to cities, while alleged shortages of farmworkers were the rationale for importing almost 500,000 Mexicans a year to work in the fields in the mid-1950s.

      During the Depression, the U.S. government developed policies to support the incomes of farmers but excluded farm...

  7. Part Two The Changing Face of Rural America
    • [Part Two Introduction]
      (pp. 41-44)

      In 1900, when the U.S. population was 76 million, most Americans were farmers. Many of the millions of immigrants pouring into the United States via Ellis Island from eastern and southern Europe had been farmers, but most found factory and service jobs in U.S. cities. As U.S. farms became fewer and larger during the 1920s, farm families joined these immigrants in the cities, and shared with them an interest in higher factory wages and better schools for their children.

      Today, fewer than 2 percent of Americans live on farms. Most farmers are older white men born in the United States...

    • Chapter 3 California Fruits and Vegetables
      (pp. 45-67)

      California has been the nation’s leading farm state since 1950, primarily because its farms produce high-value fruit and nut, vegetable and melon, and horticultural specialty (FVH) crops such as flowers and mushrooms. California’s farm sales were $32 billion in 2005, double those of Texas, the number two farm state.¹ California produces more than 350 crops, including half of the FVH commodities grown in the United States. Many are labor intensive, meaning that wages and benefits account for a third or more of farm production costs.

      Over the past half century, FVH commodities have almost doubled as a share of California...

    • Chapter 4 Florida Sugar, Oranges, and Tomatoes
      (pp. 68-84)

      About 60 percent of Americans live in the eastern time zone that includes Florida, but more than 60 percent of U.S. fruits and vegetables are produced in the West, including 40 percent in California. Florida is the most important fruit and vegetable state east of the Mississippi River, and the major producer during the winter months, when there is little production of similar crops elsewhere in the United States.

      Instead, Florida fruits and vegetables often compete with those grown in the Caribbean and Mexico. This tends to make Florida farmers protectionist, seeking to limit imports of competitive Latin American crops....

    • Chapter 5 Meat and Poultry
      (pp. 85-102)

      Americans consume almost 300 pounds of meat and poultry (carcass weight) a year, three times the global average of 100 pounds a year.¹ Since 1975, Americans have reduced their consumption of red meats, such as beef and pork, and increased their consumption of poultry. Per capita consumption of chicken first surpassed pork and beef in the early 1970s, when red meat prices were very high because of increased demand and high commodity prices. Chickens are much more efficient than cattle at turning feed into meat, and innovations in poultry production, such as cut-up chicken, have been popular with consumers.


  8. Part Three Migrant Integration
    • [Part Three Introduction]
      (pp. 103-104)

      A typical newly arrived seasonal farmworker is a 25-year-old man from rural Mexico not authorized to work in the United States. Most seasonal farmworkers are employed 1,000 hours a year at wages of $8 to $9 an hour, half as many hours as a full-time worker at half the average hourly earnings in the United States, which explains why farmworker earnings of about $8,500 a year are a fourth of average U.S. earnings. Seasonal farmworkers who transition to a year-round job in agriculture or meatpacking earn higher hourly earnings and, with year-round work, annual earnings double to $18,000.

      Many immigrant...

    • Chapter 6 Seasonal Worker Mobility
      (pp. 105-118)

      For most people, seasonal farmwork is a job, not a career. It is very hard to paint an accurate portrait of farmworkers and the farm labor market because newcomers are constantly replacing those who leave the farm workforce and some farmworkers also have jobs in other industries. Under most definitions, people who do farmwork for wages at any time during the year are considered farmworkers for that year.

      This chapter examines movements into and out of the farm workforce using data reported by employers when paying their unemployment insurance (UI) taxes in California. Since 1978, almost all employers have been...

    • Chapter 7 Migrants: The Integration Challenge
      (pp. 119-136)

      Agriculture is the major port of entry for the least-educated immigrants arriving in the United States. The average immigrant farmworker has less than eight years of native-country schooling. These immigrant farmworkers and their U.S.-born children begin their American journey near the bottom of the U.S. job ladder, often in places that offer pyramid-shaped labor markets, with a broad base of entry-level jobs and fewer higher-wage jobs, schools that have lower than average test and graduation rates, and where there are fewer social services and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to help with integration.

      The federal government spends at least $1 billion a...

  9. Part Four Whither Rural America?
    • [Part Four Introduction]
      (pp. 137-140)

      If current trends continue, the farmworkers of tomorrow will continue to grow up today outside the United States. This raises both immigration and integration questions. Under what terms should farmers and farm-related businesses gain access to workers abroad, and what happens to foreign workers and their families when their U.S. farm jobs end?

      The extremes of the policy debate—open and closed borders—are a convenient starting point to consider the alternatives. Those opposed to slowing or stopping the inflow of newcomers to fill farm and farm-related jobs usually make three arguments. First, sharply higher wages could disrupt rural economies....

    • Chapter 8 Labor Shortages, Mechanization, and Food Costs
      (pp. 141-157)

      One argument for legalizing the farm labor status quo is to prevent shortages of workers that could make fruits and vegetables unaffordable luxuries. This chapter addresses the farm labor shortage issue, explaining that there is no government or economic definition of persisting “shortage” because, in a market economy, prices and wages adjust to bring supply and demand into balance, for example, both for peaches and for peach pickers. If there were persisting labor shortages, one would expect wages to rise sharply, leading to labor-saving mechanization, mechanical aids that make higher-wage workers more productive, or decreased production and increased imports.


    • Chapter 9 Reforming U.S. Immigration Policies
      (pp. 158-171)

      Immigration policy is the central force influencing the number of farmworkers, their earnings and benefits, and whether farmworkers settle in the United States. Immigration policy also influences the production of farm commodities, affecting how and how many labor-intensive crops are produced in the United States.

      U.S. immigration policies, which determine how many, from where, and in what status newcomers arrive, have gone through three major phases: laissez-faire until the 1880s, followed by 40 years of qualitative restrictions, and both quantitative and qualitative restrictions on who can immigrate since the 1920s. This chapter reviews the evolution of U. S. immigration policy...

    • Chapter 10 Regularize and Rationalize Farm Labor
      (pp. 172-184)

      Rural America is on an immigrant labor treadmill. The farmworkers of tomorrow are growing up today somewhere outside the United States, making immigration policy a major concern of farmers, farmworkers, and agricultural communities. Unlike urban areas, which receive immigrants at the top and bottom of the education ladder, most of the newcomers in rural America have not finished high school. The question is whether these newcomers and their children will become a poor underclass of concern in the future.

      The immigrants in rural and agricultural areas often lack both education and legal status. Almost 5 percent of the 150 million...

  10. Epilogue: The Great Migration
    (pp. 185-190)

    In 2007, the world reached a historic milestone: For the first time, a majority of people lived in cities. Agriculture remains the world’s number one occupation, employing 45 percent of the 3.1 billion-strong global workforce. Almost 1.2 billion workers, 35 percent of the global workforce, are employed as farmers, unpaid family workers, and hired workers.

    Rural–urban migration is a universal indicator of economic growth and development. The world’s 30 high-income countries have less than 5 percent of their workers employed in agriculture, while many of the world’s poorer 165 countries have a majority of workers employed in agriculture. Most...

  11. Appendix 1. Farm Employment, Immigration, and Poverty
    (pp. 191-192)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 193-220)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-230)
  14. Index
    (pp. 231-242)