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Labor Department Stops Collecting Data on Agricultural Workers

posted on January 28, 2005

Lawmakers from the House and Senate said this week they expect to do the bulk of the work on the next farm bill during 2006, with passage expected in 2007. Even so, changes in farm program spending are certain to happen before then.

Iowa Republican Charles Grassley says he will reintroduce legislation aimed at reducing farm program payment caps. Grassley's bill will coincide with the release of the president's Fiscal 2006 budget, which also likely will call for cuts in farm spending.

USDA isn't the only agency likely to see cuts. The Labor Department this week announced it already has suspended a data-rich survey which for years has helped the nation track the status of migrant farm workers in the U.S.

Labor Department Stops Collecting Data on Agricultural Workers The Labor Department announced this week that it will stop collecting data on migrant farm workers even though its own reports show the number of illegal immigrants working in the fields is rising dramatically.

The department's National Agricultural Workers Study is the only comprehensive information source on the demographics and working and living conditions of U.S. farm workers. Data from the study help to determine immigration and guest worker policies.

When the Labor Department began the survey in 1988, the study revealed 7 percent of America's farm workers were illegal immigrants; by the year 2000, the study found 52 percent of those working in the fields were doing so illegally.

Labor Department officials are calling the decision to quit collecting data a "temporary pause." But migrant worker advocates are concerned the study may not be resumed. According to the Farm Worker Justice Fund, the study is the only credible examination of the immigration status of migrant workers. Officials with the United Farm Workers of America claim the study also influences government programs that help the workers and their families.

More than 25,000 workers have been surveyed in the 17-year history of the study. While it's difficult to determine the exact number of farm workers in America's fields, some estimates place it at 2.5 million. According to the Labor Department, the average farm worker currently earns less than $7,500 per year -- well below the poverty line.

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