Migration and agricultural work often interrupt formal schooling. Moving regularly can make it difficult for farmworker children to complete their education. The median highest grade of schooling obtained by foreign farmworkers is at the eighth-grade level.(5) Children and young adults often work to contribute to the family income. They may miss part of the school year, attend multiple schools each year, face discrimination or have little time for their studies or any extracurricular activities. Educators estimate that only 45% to 60% of children in migrant households nationwide graduate from high school.(9) In addition, students from farmworker families may struggle with language differences or confront low expectations from educators. Through funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Migrant Education and Head Start programs provide children of migrating families with supplemental education and development programs designed to help close the educational gap experienced by migrating children. Migrant Education and Head Start programs are typically accessed through a local school district. Despite the added challenges of interrupted education and migrant life, farmworker children and teens have plans and aspirations that include pursuing higher education.
Farmworkers work long hours in the fields throughout all seasons and weather conditions to accomplish their tasks according to nature’s schedule. They plant, cultivate, harvest, process and package food for shipment and sale. Their labor often involves stooping, working with the soil, climbing, carrying heavy loads and directly handling plants and pesticides.
Farmworkers contribute to the production and distribution of crops in almost every state in the nation. California and Florida employ the largest numbers of agricultural laborers. The Great Lakes, Northern Pacific, Corn Belt and Southern Plains regions also employ large numbers of farmworkers each growing season.(5) In general, farmworkers harvest crops that bruise easily, such as apples, asparagus, beans, blueberries, cherries, chilies, cucumber, eggplant, grapes, melons, mushrooms, onions, oranges, peas, peaches, peanuts, peppers, pumpkins, raspberries, squash, strawberries, sugar beets, tobacco and tomatoes.(10) The fruit, nut, vegetable, greenhouse, nursery and grain industries also depend on the labor and skills of farmworkers. Currently, 20% to 25% of vegetable acreage and 30% to 40% of fruit acreage is dependent on harvesting by hand.(10)
Farm labor results in unique challenges to the health of farmworkers and their families. Farmworkers tend to experience health problems more frequently than the public. In addition, their health problems are often more severe, and farmworkers are more likely to experience multiple health problems simultaneously. Health concerns that farmworkers may face include poor dental health, diabetes, hypertension and behavioral health issues.(11) Farmworkers also face significant occupational dangers. Agriculture is one of the most accident-prone industries in the United States, and workers in the industry face the highest fatality rate in the nation.(12) Some challenges faced by farmworkers that can be linked to their occupation include pesticide exposure, infectious diseases, respiratory issues, hearing and vision problems and musculoskeletal conditions.(13)
Child and adolescent farmworkers are especially at risk for adverse health effects and consequences of agricultural work. Many children working as farmworkers suffer more frequent respiratory, parasitic, and skin infections, diarrhea, nutritional deficiencies and oral health issues.(2) Agricultural work by nature presents health risks, but children who are still developing are particularly vulnerable to these hazards.(2) Other factors commonly faced by farmworkers, like poor living conditions, can negatively impact health outcomes. Housing can often be overcrowded, poorly maintained, or lack clean drinking water. Female farmworkers face the additional risks of sexual harassment and sexual violence. While the national prevalence of sexual harassment and/or violence experienced by farmworkers is unknown, some studies suggest up to 80% of farmworkers may be experiencing this issue. Often, the problem of sexual harassment is left unaddressed due to fear of deportation or job loss, embarrassment or shame, and barriers like language and available resources.(14)(15)
Most farmworkers do not have access to regular, affordable health care. Farmworkers rarely have coverage through their employers or public programs, and they do not earn enough money to pay for health insurance. Only 36% of farmworkers report having health insurance. (4) Over half of the farmworkers surveyed in the National Agricultural Workers Survey cited cost as the major difficulty to accessing health care. (4) In addition, farmworkers typically cannot afford to take time off from work or to risk losing their jobs to seek medical care. Transportation problems, language and cultural differences and limited clinic hours also create barriers. Since 1962, federally-funded Migrant Health and Community Centers have served farmworkers. However, only 20 percent of insured workers and 40 percent of uninsured workers utilize these services. (4) Follow-up and continuity of care present additional challenges; many farmworkers relocate several times each year and do not maintain permanent addresses or phone numbers.
Farmworkers are extremely resilient. They endure and, in many cases, overcome the difficulties of hard labor, poverty, discrimination, interrupted schooling and health problems or fragmented health care. Dedication to family and community provides many Latinos with a strong support system. Farmworkers take pride in who they are and their indispensable role in providing food for the nation. They work hard to provide a bright future for themselves and their families.
Many farmworkers work with local, regional and national organizations to improve conditions and health for all farmworkers and their families. Farmworkers have helped develop and sustain successful Community Health Worker (CHW) programs, called Promotor(a) programs, in their camps and communities. A Community Health Worker is a trusted member of the community who empowers their peers through education and connections to health and social resources. CHWs in these programs build on community strengths; farmworkers teach each other and address the unmet health needs of their friends and neighbors through education, referrals, peer support, advocacy and networking with service providers. This is at the heart of MHP Salud’s mission, as migrant farmworkers were some of the first communities to adopt Promotor(a) programs created by MHP Salud.
MHP Salud has over thirty years of experience implementing CHW programs and training organizations looking to start and/or strengthen their own CHW programs. For more information about MHP Salud, our services, and how we can help you, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org