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Average full- and part-year hired farmworkers and agricultural service workers, 1990-2012

Number and Geographical Distribution of Hired Farmworkers According to the Farm Labor Survey (FLS) of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), hired farmworkers (including agricultural service workers) make up a third of all those working on farms; the other two-thirds are self-employed farm operators and their family members. The majority of hired farmworkers are found on the nation's largest farms, with sales over $500,000 per year. The average number of hired farmworkers has steadily declined over the last century, from roughly 3.4 million to just over 1 million. Because the U.S. labor force grew, agricultural employment as a proportion of total employment has declined even more sharply. According to the FLS, the annual average number of people employed as hired farmworkers, including agricultural service workers, decreased from 1,142,000 in 1990 to 1,032,000 in 2007. Since then it has held steady at just above one million. In 2012, the total was 1,063,000 of which 576,000 were full-year positions, 199,000 were part-year positions, and an estimated 288,000 were agricultural service workers brought to farms by contractors. Employment is highly seasonal: in January of 2011, there were 808,000 workers, while in July the figure stood at 1,184,000. Farm employment was less affected by the 2007-09 recession than was nonfarm employment. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, farm wage and salary employment fell by 1.5 percent between 2007 and 2009, compared to 4.7 percent for the nonfarm economy. The Farm Labor Survey found that average farm employment in 2012 was above 2007 levels.

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Last updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013

For more information contact: Thomas Hertz

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