Friday, February 15, 2008

A classic investigative report on immigrant farmworkers

The following quotes are from a 1995 article that I used in the Peace and Justice classes I taught in the Bronx during the 1995-96 school year. Looking over it again today, I'm still wowed by its descriptive power, statistical richness, and incisive commentary. It brings together a close look at one industry with the big picture. Yes, it has a particular point of view which is political and ideological, but it also demonstrates a seriousness at investigating the reality in question. I would be interested in reading complementary or contradictory studies.

a bit of history:
«Philip L. Martin is a professor of agricultural economics at the University of California at Davis and one of the nation's foremost authorities on farm-labor demographics. According to his estimates, during the 1920s there were some two million migrant farm workers in the United States. During the 1940s there were about one million. And during the early 1970s, when Cesar Chavez's labor-organizing drive among migrant workers was at its height, there were only about 200,000. Then the number began to climb. Today it is impossible to gauge the size of the migrant work force with any precision, among other reasons because so much of it is composed of illegal immigrants. Martin believes that 800,000 to 900,000 migrant farm workers are now employed in the United States. And not only are there far more migrants today but they are being paid far less.»

An interesting fact:
«It is risky and expensive to grow, but it can yield more revenue per acre than virtually any other crop except marijuana.»

Source: "In the Strawberry Fields" by Eric Schlosser. Atlantic Monthly. November 1995.

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