Front Cover
 BWI labor in Florida sugar
 Conceptual framework
 Data collection
 Preliminary findings
 Tables 1-6

Title: Seasonal migration and household sustenance strategies : a preliminary profile of BWI can cutters in Florida
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00089155/00001
 Material Information
Title: Seasonal migration and household sustenance strategies : a preliminary profile of BWI can cutters in Florida
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: McCoy, Terry L.
Publication Date: 1981
Subject: Caribbean   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: Caribbean
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00089155
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover
        Page 1
    BWI labor in Florida sugar
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
    Conceptual framework
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
    Data collection
        Page 15
        Page 16
    Preliminary findings
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
    Tables 1-6
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
Full Text
r I.

Preliminary Version
Not for Citation


Terry L. McCoy
Charles H. Wood
Center for Latin American Studies
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611

Prepared for delivery at the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Caribbean Studies
Association at the Virgin Islands Hotel, St. Thomas, USVI, May 27-30, 1981.

This research was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health (1-ROL-HD-


Terry L, McCoy
Charles H. Wood

This paper presents the preliminary findings of a study of workers from

five British West Indian (BWI) islands who seasonally migrate to southern

Florida to harvest sugar cane. As the largest and the oldest foreign labor

program in the United States, the BWI workforce is unique in this country.

Analysis of this population therefore offers the opportunity to answer a num-

ber of questions of theoretical and policy significance about labor migra-

tion to the United States. The recent influx of refugees and undocumented

workers, principally from the Caribbean, has stimulated public debate re-

garding the causes and consequences of population movements in the sending

and receiving societies. Among the policy options under consideration is to

expand the H-2 program currently used in the Florida sugar industry, Paral-

leling the policy debate is a discussion within the scholarly community as to

the most appropriate conceptual framework for the study of labor migration,

The data from a survey conducted among BWI workers in March, 1981, is

used to carry out a preliminary analysis of the individual characteristics

of the workers, those dependent upon them, and the impact of seasonal labor

migration on their home societies, The following section of this paper pre-

sents background information on the history of the H-2 program. Part II out-

lines the conceptual framework that is employed, and Part III describes the

data collection procedures. The preliminary findings of the first stage of

this research are presented in Part IV.



' S



Every year since 1943, thousands of workers from the British West Indies

have come to the United States to cut sugar cane in south Florida. At one

time the BWI stream was only a small trickle in the larger flow of overseas

labor into U.S. agriculture. Although there is still substantial foreign

labor migration from the south, especially Mexico, the Florida sugar cane

workers are the largest legal source of overseas labor in the U.S. Since the

early 1970's it has annually supplied some 8,000 workers from Jamaica and

the small British islands of the Eastern Caribbean to harvest sugar from No-

vember to April. Some of these workers also pick apples on the East Coast.

As a stable, seasonal contract labor program, the H-2 program is viewed by

many growers as a model. They would like too see it extended to cover other

overseas agricultural workers who are presumed to be working in the U.S. il-

legally. Because of interest in the program as a prototype, and because of

speculation about the impact of overseas employment on the migrant and his

society, the labor recruitment process in the Florids sugar industry merits

attention. This section presents a brief review of the industry and the over-

seas labor program (for an expanded discussion see McCoy, 19801.

The Florida Sugar Industry

Sugar cane cultivation on a large scale is a recent yet important addi-

tion to the Florida economy. Its emergence was, in the first instance, due

to action taken by the Federal Government in the 1920':s to drain the swamp

land around the lower end of Lake Okeechobee. This public initiative opened

up several hundred thousand acres of rich organic soil in a climate favorable

to the cultivation of sugar cane by private capital. It was not until the

early 1960's, however, that the potential of the region was realized. Because

of deteriorating political relations with Cuba occasioned by the Castro Revo-


lution, a major foreign supplier lost access to the U.S. sugar market. The

increased demand for domestically produced sugar, in addition to the transfer

of Cuban capital and technicians into the Florida industry, stimulated the

expansion of sugar production in the state.

The acreage devoted to sugarcane in southern Florida rose from 50,000

in 1960 to 300,000 today. In 1980-81 these 300,000 acres produced a record

harvest of 1,121,490 tons of raw sugar allowing Florida to surpass Hawaii as

the largest domestic producer. Florida's crop represents about 10 percent of

the sugar consumed annually in the U.S. and generates 25,000 year-round jobs

in south Florida and an estimated $1.7 billion in economic activity (Florida

Sugar News, 17, No. 2:1).

Ownership of the Florida sugar industry is highly concentrated, There are

a total of 135 farms, varying in size from 10 to 60,000 acres with the average

about 2,000 acres CZepp, 1979:81. The U.S. Sugar Corporation, which has its

headquarters in that region, and Gulf and Western Food Products, a major sugar

producer throughout the Caribbean Basin, dominate the industry, while the

smaller producers are linked together in a cooperative. Sugar cane harvested

on the plantations is processed into raw sugar by seven large factories or

mills in the area, with the largest producers owning their own mills. Most

of the refining into table sugar is done elsewhere, although there is one re-

finery in the region.

A number of factors characterize the Florida sugar industry which have a

bearing on the strategies it employs in the production and marketing of the


First, the international sugar market is extremely volatile, characterized

by booms and busts in world prices. In the last decade the world price for



sugar fluctuated from $0.10 per pound in 1973 to over $0.29 in 1974, back down

to $0.08 in 1979 (Johnson, 1979). It was up over $0.50 in late 1980, and then

dropped down to $0.15 by spring, 1981 (The Miami Herald, May 18, 1981:12),

In the face of this uncertainty the U.S. sugar producers (cane and beet) stren-

uously lobby for government protection in the form of price supports and

import quotas. The rationale for federal protection is based, in part, on the

high cost of production in Florida relative to foreign competitors, For ex-

ample, in 1979 when the world price was at eight cents per pound, production

costs in Florida were estimated to he $0.13-.14 per pound (Johnson, 1979:54).

Another factor that increasingly affects U.S. producers in recent years

has been the development of alternative sweetners, namely high-fructose corn

syrup. Largely because of higher prices, sugar's share of the sweetner mar-

ket dropped from 77 percent in 1975 to 67 percent in 1980 (Business Monday,

The Miami Herald, April 20, 1981:351.

Finally, there are ecological constraints that have a direct effect on

the production process and on the demand for labor. The organic soil, which at

one time was underwater, is fertile yet fragile. Exposure to air and sunlight

contributes to a high rate of oxidation. Estimates indicate a subsidence rate

of about one inch per year (Snyder et al., 1979;iii). While the soil is well-

suited to the production of sugar cane, it has not yet become economically

feasible to mechanize the harvest operation. The use of machines is pre-

cluded for two reasons: Because of the recumbent character of Florida cane

it is difficult to cut and load clean cane stalks. Second, the use of machines

on the soft soil destroys a high proportion of the ratoons that are the basis

for the following year's production. The former problem leads to high costs

once the cane reaches the mill; the latter leads to lower yields the next season.

As a result of these circumstances (which do not apply to Louisiana and Hawaii),

the Florida sugar industry relies on manual labor to harvest the crop.

Given the constraints operating on the Florida sugar industry, it is an

industry especially sensitive to production costs. This is particularly true

of labor inputs because of a dependence on manual harvesting. The unavaila-

bility of cane cutters, or a sudden increase in their wages, would reduce the

rate of profit in the industry. Consequently, Florida sugar growers have

worked hard to develop a dependable, low cost source of labor.

History, Regulation, and Recruitment of Off-Shore Workers

The presence of foreign workers in Florida sugar is not only a function of

the industry's need for manual labor. It also reflects structural conditions

in the West Indies which generate a supply of able bodied males compelled to

spend five to six months away from their families cutting sugar cane in a

foreign country. The convergence of supply with demand to produce seasonal

migratory flows from the Caribbean to the United States first occurred during

World War Two. BWI and Bahamian workers, facing growing unemployment and

low wages at home, were brought into southeastern agriculture to replace do-

mestic workers who had migrated north to staff the industries engaged in the

U.S. war effort. Although the bilateral agreement was replaced by a contract

between growers and BWI governments, Caribbean labor continued to flow into

U.S. agriculture after the war, Even under the growing pressures of domestic

unemployment and criticism from organized labor--which resulted in termination

of the bracero program with Mexico--the BWI program has managed to survive.

In fact as the number of Mexican agricultural workers declined during the

1960's, those from the British West Indies increased. This increase coincided

with the expansion of sugar cane cultivation in Florida. Today the only regu-

larly approved seasonal off-shore labor programs are found in the harvest of

sugar in Florida and apples on the East Coast.

Before a temporary work (H-2) visa is issued, it must be certified that

there are no domestic workers available, and that the recruitment of foreign

workers will not adversely affect domestic wages and working conditions. To

obtain certification from the U.S. Department of Labor, sugar growers (working

through the U.S. Sugar Corporation and the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Asso-

ciation, FFVA) every year undertake an extensive "positive recruitment" effort

to substantiate theiclaim that there are no U.S. workers available to cut cane

and that West Indian cutters must be imported. The key to the certification

process is the hourly "adverse wage rate" which the growers and Department of

Labor agree upon for the year. Thr growers must keep it sufficiently low to

discourage domestic workers and protect their rate of profit, yet high enough

to win Department of Labor certification. In practice, this has resulted in

an hourly rate--in 1980-81 it was $4,0.9 per hour--higher relative to other ag-

ricultural labor, yet unattractive to domestic workers. Despite spending nearly

$20,000 a year to recruit U.S. workers to cut cane, plus additional funds to

transport them to the work place (McCoy, 1980:13), no more than a handful make

it through the season, thereby verifying the growers' contention that "American

workers will not cut cane."

Once certification has been obtained from the Department of Labor, the

sugar growers are given permission by the Immigration and Naturalization Ser-

vice to recruit a specified number of foreign workers. From the beginning the

labor force has been recruited from the British West Indies. In 1980-81 the

islands involved included Jamaica, Barbados, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, and

Dominica. The recruitment procedure varies by island. In Jamaica "cards"

are distributed to members of parliament who, in turn, distribute them through

the patronage system to individuals in their district. Once the candidate ob-

tains a card he is eligible to enter the pool from which the workers are se-

elected. While growers have an interest in rehiring the best cutters each

season, they are only allowed to fill 60 percent of their quota with "pre-

ferred" workers. In this way the arrangement guarantees a degree of turnover

from one year to the next. Selection on the other islands is through an open

register supervised by the Ministries of Labour.

The criteria used by labor recruiters favor farm workers and day labor-

ers. Tradesmen and others with special skills are screened out. The rationale

for these priorities is based on at least two considerations. One is the as-

sumption that farmers and farm laborers are better able to withstand the phy-

sical stress involved in cutting cane. A second factor is the cost of compen-

sation should the individual be disabled on the job. Compared to skilled

workers, the compensation rate for farmers and day laborers is lower. The

application of these selection criteria, however, is not always successful,

As noted in section IV, a substantial proportion of workers in 19_80-81 claim

to have specialized skills.

Once selected, a worker is assigned to a grower. The worker's return trans-

portation and room are provided by hhe grower if the worker works for a minimum

period. Workers live in large barracks maintained by the growers. The cost of

meals C$5.00 plus tax for three hot meals per day in 1980-81 according to

State of Florida, Department of Labor and Employment Security, Field Memorandum,

June 4, 1980) is deducted from the worker's biweekly paycheck. The required

work week is six days, although most workers choose to work on Sundays since

there is little to do around the camps. The only diversion is shopping in the

surrounding communities every two weeks after being paid. While the hourly

wage rate constitutes a minimum,the actual wage earned is a function of the

quantity and density of cane cut. This means that workers can earn in excess

of the hourly minimum. It is also customary for the grower to give an across-

the-board bonus at the end of the season. Since amount varies from grower to

grower, the bonus has been a source of contention. Against the possibility of

earning in excess of the hourly minimum, it should be pointed out that workers

can lose wages because of sickness and injury. The latter is a frequent oc-

currence among cane cutters. Although covered by workman's compensation, the

injured worker receives only 60 percent of the average wage. It should also

be pointed out that 23 percent of each paycheck is deducted by the company

and sent back to the islands where it is held in an interest-free government

account until the worker returns home.

The 1980-81 season was the thirty-seventh year that BWI workers had been

brought to Florida to cut sugar cane. It deviated from past seasons in two

ways, neither of which significantly affected the data collected for this

study. First, because of the sudden, massive influx of Cuban and Haitian

refugees into south Florida, the sugar industry was encouraged to use these

refugees as cane cutters. In response to pressure from state officials, in-

cluding the Governor, industry labor recruiters were forced to recruit among

the recently arrived refugees. As a result several hundred Haitians were

hired (no Cubans lasted through the season) and the certification for H-2

visas was delayed about a month longer than usual. In the end, however, the

industry got certification for over 8,QOQ BWI cane cutters, or about the num-

ber usually certified.

The second event, which to a certain extent offset the first, was a se-

vere freeze in January. This meant that additional BWI workers had to be

brought in so that the crop could be harvester before it deteriorated in the

field. With the extra labor, the 1980-81 harvest concluded in mid-March, a

bit earlier than normal. Both of the above developments may mean that 1980-81

total wages per worker are slightly under past years, except that the hourly

rate was up from $3.79 to $4.09.


Despite the size and importance of the BWI labor force in Florida, rela-

tively little is known about the impact of the H-2 program. From one perspec-

tive there are questions regarding its effects on the U.S. labor market,

domestic workers, and the employing industry. Our principal interest, how-

ever, concerns its impact on the BWI worker, his household, and the sending

societies. Key questions include: How much money do the workers earn cutting

cane; what percentage of their annual income does this represent; how many

people does it support; how is it spent or invested; and what is the aggre-

gate impact of these individual decisions on the economies and societies of

the islands? The final issue concerns the structural linkages between the

United States and the British West Indies which generate and sustain this

exchange of labor for income and commodities. The conceptual framework used

to capture these relationships is described in the next section. This is then

followed by a description of the data base and a preliminary profile of the

BWI workforce.


Two theoretical traditions characterize much of the literature on in-

ternal and international migration. On the one hand, the microeconomic ap-

proach, derived from models of consumer behavior, focuses attention on the

cost-benefit calculus executed by the potential migrant (see Rothenberg,

1977; Sjaastad, 1962). In its broadest form, migration flows are conceptu-

alized as the cumulative result of decisions made by individuals based on a

rational evaluation of the benefits to be gained and the costs entailed in

moving (for reviews, see Greenwood, 1975; Ritchey, 1976; Shaw, 1975). In

contrast to the microeconomic model, the structural perspective seeks to

explain the determinants of the spatial distribution of such factors as wage,

employment, and amenity differentials that individuals confront. In the con-

text of international migration, the structural approach has been refined in

recent years. Whereas much of the earlier work merely documented "push" and

"pull" factors in the sending and receiving countries (e.g., Lee, 1966),

more recent theoretical frameworks attempt to place the process of emigration

and immigration in a global context, showing how these movements are part

of an interconnected capitalist system. Rather than a product of discrete

and unconnected "factors" in the sending and receiving societies, migra-

tion is viewed as the consequence of the interrelated character of the over-

all political economy of unequal development (seeCastells, 1975; Portes,

1978; Singer, 1973; Bonacich, 19811.

The basic theoretical propositions of the microeconomic model specify

the economizing behavior that occurs in a given market context. The structural

approach, in contrast, stresses a dynamic view of the economy and the social

and political matrix that constitutes the context within which individual

decisions are made. Each perspective captures an important aspect of migra-

tion. However, an understanding of the causes and the consequences of popu-

lation movement must account for both the structural parameters of behavior

and the factors that motivate individual actors Cfor a comparative critique

see Wood, 1981). An integration of individual and structural approaches to

the study of migration can be accomplished through the analysis of household

behavior as the unit interacts with the socioeconomic and political environ-

ment of which it is a part (discussed in greater detail in Wood, 1981). The

following section describes the concepts that are the principal elements of

this perspective.

Household Sustenance Strategies

Central to the analysis of household is the concept of "full income,"

This includes all of the resources that come into the household in the form

of money or goods that can be consumed or invested. The recompense derived

from the productive activities of members of the unit is derived from several

major sources: (1) monetary income earned by the sale of products and ser-

vices, or by work for a money wage or salary; (2) income in kind earned by

barter of the household's goods and services or by work for wages in kind;

(3) incomes in kind consisting of the goods produced and services provided for

the household's own needs; (4) rent from the use of land, animals, money, or

other assets; and (5) transfer payments including gifts, subsidies, goods, or

services received via kinship or other social networks or provided by the

state, or any other goods and services received without immediate reciprocal

exchange of labor or commodities (derived from Boserup, 1970:160; Schmink,

1979:43; Wallerstein et al., 1979:2).

The proportion of income derived from these sources can take many forms,

These may vary along a continuum from subsistence households, whose full in-

come is derived wholly from the goods and services produced by members of the

unit, to households dependent entirely on wage labor for their survival. Be-

tween these extremes there exists a vast range of activities that combine the

various sources of income, often in highly complex and intricate ways. A de-

fining characteristic of both urban and rural households, particularly under

circumstances of rapid social change, is the multiple activities carried out

by different members of the unit. These activities vary according to the age

and sex of the individual members, and to the size and life-cycle of the house-

hold as a whole. They also vary according to the productive options that are

available. The latter are affected by the household's access to land, the

season of the year, and the employment opportunities generated by the organi-

zation of production. A change in the internal characteristics of the house-

hold, or a change in the constellation of productive possibilities, requires

a readjustment by the members of the household to the new circumstances. House-

hold behavior can therefore be conceptualized as a series of dynamic "survival

strategies" designed to achieve a congruence between the allocation of labor

power and the structurally determined alternatives for productive activity,

The relationship between the resources available to the household and the con-

straints that impinge upon it may call for the seasonal or the permanent mi-

gration of a single member of the unit, or the migration of the household as

a whole. From this standpoint migration is viewed as one component in the more

general household strategy. Given the complex nature of West Indian family

structure, the occupational multiplicity characteristic of the islands, and

the importance of migration, the household concept seemed most appropriate for

our study (Brana-Shute, 1981).

Empirically the household survival strategies can be investigated by col-

lecting data on the characteristics of all members of the unit and on the pro-

ductive activities carried out during each quarter of the previous year. The

complete quantification of full income poses knotty methodological problems

that cannot be resolved here. Nevertheless, a systematic and detailed enumer-

ation of the various activities performed by the household members can measure

key aspects of the full income concept, and provides a general description of

the economic strategies of the household unit at the place of origin. This, in

turn, provides the context within which to analyze the role of transnational

migration. In combination with questionnaire items designed to elicit informa-

tion about how income earned in the U.S. is to be spent, this approach enables

us to carry out a preliminary analysis of the role of the H-2 program.


Household Strategies in Global Perspective

The conceptual framework outlined above calls attention to at least six

different research targets. Each concerns a separate level,or focus, of data

collection and analysis. In order to summarize the overall objective of this

research, and to specify the particular goals of this paper, key relationships

involved are schematically presented in Figure 1. At a global level, it is

assumed that the structure of underdevelopment in the Caribbean is systemically

interrelated with the advanced industrial center, as indicated by the relation-

ship in line 1. The character of development in the sending countries, in

turn, determines the structural constraints that compel subgroups of the pop-

ulation to engage in labor migration as a source of supplemental income. These

constraints, depicted by line 2, include such factors as demographic growth,

employment opportunities, the degree of surplus population, land and income

distribution, and other socioeconomic and political factors that condition the

sustenance capabilities of the population. In the context of the structure

of development in the sending country, individual migrants, who are members

of a household at the place of origin, "voluntarily" sell their labor to em-

ployers in the advanced industrial economy Cline 3). More specifically, labor

is sold to particular sectors of the developed economy that rely on sources of

labor that can be bought at a price below the going rate (for the task involved)

in the center. Finally, as represented by line 4, the sustenance strategies

pursued by the household at the place of origin (which includes transnational

migration) can itself influence the structure of development in the sending


Specific Objectives

A full understanding of the causes and the consequences of the interna-

tional movement of labor from peripheral to core areas of the world capitalist

system necessarily involves an investigation of all of the relationships that

are outlined in Figure 1. Our focus at this point, however, is much more

limited. Specifically we are concerned with relationship 3 and, in a much

more speculative vein, relationship 4. The empirical issues associated with

these objectives include the following: (1) a socioeconomic and demographic

profile of the H-2 labor force; (2) a profile of the households of which indi-

vidual workers are a part; (3) and an analysis of the investment strategies

pursued at the place of origin (the use of remittances, the transfer of con-

sumer durables, investment plans, consumption patterns, etc.),


The Household and Transnational Labor Migration


The number of H-2 workers involved in harvesting sugar cane in Florida

fluctuates during the season. At the height of the 1980-81 season about

8,460 West Indians were employed. The vast majority (82.2 percent) were from

Jamaica, with the remainder from Barbados (6.0 percent), St. Lucia (4.6 per-

cent), St. Vincent (6.7 percent), and Dominica (0.5 percent). In March, 1981,

toward the end of the cutting period, a sample of men was drawn from the

total remaining population of 4,410 workers. Since the distribution of this

labor force by place of origin was known from existing industry records, a

quota system was employed to generate a representative sample of the universe

of workers. Individuals to be interviewed were chosen from the roster of

people living in each labor camp such that the number from the five islands

was proportional to each island's weight in the total mid-March population.

This procedure generated a total of 251 cases. The composition of the work

force in mid-March did not differ significantly from that during the rest

of the season. Reduction in the number of workers occurred just before

our interviewing began as the harvest concluded on some of the farms.

A representative sample of this size has a major drawback. If Bar-

badians are only 6 percent of the universe, a sample of 261 cases implies

a total of only 15 individuals from this island. Similarly, the absolute

number from St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Dominica is also quite low (12, 17,

and 1, respectively). The small number of cases restricts the possibility

of carrying out between-island comparisons. To allow for this possibility,

Barbadians and those from the smaller islands were oversampled so as to have

approximately 50 cases in each subgroup. The total number of interviews

carried out, therefore, was a representative sample of the population (251),

plus additional interviews with individuals from the smaller islands, for a

total of 302 cases. In the analysis presented here the findings for the


labor force as a whole are derived from the unweighted sample of 251 indi-

viduals. Comparative analyses cross islands make use of a total of 45 cases

drawn from Barbados and the 51 cases from St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Dominica


Because of possible biases associated with such factors as camp size

and the company that the individual works for, the sample was selected in

such a way that it is representative of the distribution of the population

by size of the living quarters and by employer. Using this procedure, 17

percent of the sample was drawn from small camps (less than 200 workers);

49 percent from medium-sized camps (201-599); and 34 percent from large

housing units (600 plus). To minimize the possibility of other biases,

an effort was made to select individuals from the camproster on a random

basis. This procedure was not always successful. Because the interviews

were conducted at the end of the season when people were preparing to leave,

there were instances in which individuals chosen from the roster could not

be located. Under these circumstances respondents were selected on an a-

vailability basis. The nature of the bias entailed in this procedure, if

one exists at all, is not known. However, more detailed analysis of the

data will permit us to address this question in the future.

If interviewing at the end of the harvest created difficulties in sample

selection, the timing of the field work nonetheless had a substantive advan-

tage. The respondents, who were on the eve of their departure, were espe-

cially cognizant of what they had purchased to take back home, what they

planned to do with their earnings on their return, how much they had earned

over the season, and other factors central to the objectives of this stage

of the study.

The survey instrument itself contained over 50 items, It took .about

45 minutes to administer. The interviewing was done by 10 trained inter-

viewers during mid-March. It was carried out in the camps, usually in the

mess halls.


As noted in Section I, very little is known about the characteristics

of the BWI labor force in the Florida sugar industry. A first step in the

analysis, therefore, is to construct a profile of the sociodemographic char-

acteristics of the individuals involved in the H-2 program. With this data

as background information, subsequent tables deal with earnings, purchases,

and remittances.


Educational attainment and occupation(s) at the place of origin are

key socioeconomic indicators. As shown in Table 1, the average level of

primary education is 3.9 years. Approximately 13 percent of the sample had

no schooling at all; 4.4 percent had some secondary education.


In the sample of 251 BWI workers, the vast majority 84 percent) resided

in rural areas at the place of origin. The heavy concentration of rural

dwellers is reflected in the occupational distribution of labor force presented

in Table 2. As shown in the first column, 63.8 percent of the respondents

listed either farming or farm worker as their principal occupation in the


islands. Furthermore, 87.5 percent of the sample do some farming or farm

work if we consider all three occupations. Less than 2 percent of workers

indicated that their primary occupation was cane cutting back home. The

findings further indicate that, despite attempts to screen out skilled work-

ers, over nine percent of the labor force included bakers, butchers, car-

penters, electricians, plumbers, or craftsmen. The other most represented

occupations are masons (7.3 percent) and construction workers, day laborers,

factory employees, and drivers (8.8 percent).

Aware of the likelihood that any given individual might have more than

one job, the questionnaire was designed to elicit information about the re-

spondents' second and third occupation. The results, presented in columns

2 and 3 of Table 2, confirm the importance of farm related occupations.

However, not all individuals declared more than one job. About 44 percent

of the sample had no secondary occupation; 88.9 percent had no third occupa-

tion. These findings do not encompass the respondents' work in the United

States cutting cane, which might well constitute thelprimary occupation of

those who migrate on a regular basis.

The occupational data should be regarded with caution, since the cate-

gories presented in Table 2 are based on the individual's self-report. As

a result it is sometimes difficult to know what separates one job descrip-

tion from another. Two individuals may perform identical tasks, yet one

might report his occupation as carpenter and the other simply as a construc-

tion worker. These difficulties notwithstanding, the distribution presented

in Table 2 clearly establishes the importance of farming and farm-related

employment as the primary, second, and third occupations among the indivi-

duals who participated in the H-2 program in 1980-81. Additional data gen-

erated by the survey will allow for subsequent, more detailed analysis of

the respondents' agricultural activities.


The wages earned harvesting sugar cane in Florida are remitted to the

place of origin in several ways. The contract agreement between the employ-

ers and the BWICLO, for example, stipulates that 23 percent of the worker's

biweekly gross pay shall be automatically transmitted to a bank account in

the home island. In addition, workers on their own initiative mail money to

family and friends. Stateside earnings are also used to purchase clothes and

other items that are taken back to the place of origin when the worker returns

at the end of the season. The following data provide rough estimates of the

magnitude of the resources that are transferred from the USA to the Caribbean

through these various channels. Finally, each worker returns home with some

cash at the end of the season. Although the amount varies considerably, it

is usually not a significant percent of total seasonal earnings, around 10


Estimates of income earned derived from individual responses to ques-

tionnaire items are subject to a number of problems. To minimize the diffi-

culty associated with recalling wages earned in the distant past, the item

on gross and net income was restricted to the previous pay period. These

amounts, of course, can vary according to climactic conditions and any other

factor that affects the productivity of aLgiven worker in a given fortnight.

To account for this possibility, a follow-up question was also included that

inquired if the pay during the previous two weeks was "above," "below," or

"the same" as the respondent's usual pay. Fifty percent of the individuals

interviewed indicated that their pay was "about the same," Those responding

that it was higher or lower were evenly split, suggesting that the over and

the underestimations of earnings during the reference period tend to cancel

each other out.


Income estimates are presented in Table 3. The values given in the first

column indicate that about two-thirds of the workers earned a gross pay of

between $3QO. and $500 in the fortnight prior to the interview. The range in

earnings can be explained both by worker productivity and missing work due

to injury or illness, As shown at the foot of the table, workers earned

an average gross wage of $419. After deductions, the mean net pay was $245.

These values, in combination with other information, provide the basis for

generating a rough estimate of the total wages earned over the season, The

individuals in our sample, for example, worked an average of 9,4 pay periods.

The average gross pay, times the mean length of employment, approximates the

average wage an individual earned in the 1980-81 season, or $3,939.2 Since

there are a total of 251 individuals in the sample, this implies that about

$989,000 was earned as gross pay. The sample, in turn, is only .03 percent

of the total labor force (8,40Q). It follows that the overall wages (gross)
paid to H-2 workers is in the neighborhood of $32,953,000. Of this amount,

23 percent is automatically transferred to the respondent's bank account at

the place of origin. These figures therefore suggest that approximately

$7,579,000 are remitted to the islands through the mandatory savings program.

Needless to say, these amounts should be regarded as crude estimates. The

number of caveats which apply to the procedure adopted above are too numer-

ous to detail in the text. Nevertheless, the data analyzed thus far suggest

the magnitude of the BWI program in Florida sugar both for the individual

workers and their households and for the island governments which hold the

required savings in interest-free accounts until the workers return home,


In addition to the compulsory 23 percent savings, the workers also send

wages earned in Florida back home by mail during the season. The question-

naire was designed to generate data as to the amount sent, the frequency,

and the relationship of the recipient of the remittances to the respondent.

The results, presented in Table 4, indicate that an average of $66 was sent

to the first recipient mentioned an average of 7.1 times during the season.

As shown in rows A, B, and C, the amount sent, the frequency of the number of

respondents mailing money steadily declines for recipients 2, 3, and 4. This

pattern is consistent with what one would expect given the changing destina-

tion bf the money. As noted in panel D, wives, girlfriends, and mothers are

priority recipients. Sons and daughters, sisters and brother, and other, more

distant associates (friends and others) assume importance as the second and

third recipients of wages sent through the mail.

The total amount of money transmitted by mail to the place 'of origin

is given by N.(Amt. Freq.) where N. is the number of respondents sending

money to recipient i, Amt. is the average amount sent, and Freq. is the av-

erage number of times that money was mailed Cto recipient i). This procedure

suggests that about $130,055 was mailed by the respondents in our sample. If

we generalize to the total labor force, this estimate implies that about

$4,334,000 was voluntarily remitted to the islands by mail over the period of

the 1980-81 season.


An analysis similar to the one above can be carried out with respect to

the items purchased in the United States that are taken back to the place of

origin when the workers return home. As shown in Table 5, 177 individuals paid


an average of $419 on item 1 (defined as first item mentioned by respondent);

151 respondents paid $207 on item 2; and so on. In this case the total spent

on items 1-7 is given by (Item..N.), or about $135,000 for the sample. Gen-
1 1
eralizing to the labor force suggests a transfer of about $4,500,000 worth of

goods. As for the nature of the items purchased, clothing was the most popular

with the entire sample reporting purchases in this category. The next most

frequent purchase was electronic entertainment equipment.

Taken together these various estimates provide some idea of the amount

of resources that enter Caribbean economies as a result of the H-2 labor pro-

gram. In other words, the sum of the money deducted through automatic savings

(7,579,000) and the amount voluntarily sent by mail ($4,335,000) implies a

cash transfer of about $11,914,000. If to this figure we add the value of

the goods purchased in the USA and the estimated $2.5 in cash which the work-

ers return with, the total reaches $18,749,000.


Given the magnitude of the resources that are remitted to the islands

it is important to investigate the way in which earnings are allocated at the

place of origin. Respondents were asked how they planned to spend the money

they had earned in the United States once they returned home. The activities

and items targeted for investment were then collapsed into eight general cate-

gories or strategies. As shown in Table 6, sixty percent of the respondents

interviewed intended to apply their resources to housing. This includes those

who planned to build or add on to an existing structure or buy land or furn-

ishings for a house. (Since each respondent was allowed to specify more than

one investment, the columnsi.in Table 6 add up to more than 100 percent). About


20 percent of the sample indicated that they wanted to buy land to farm, or

intended to purchase farm equipment, fertilizers, or seeds (farming); about

one in three planned to buy livestock. Just over ten percent expected to use

their wages for living expenses. These patterns differ somewhat by island,

as shown in columns 2, 3, and 4. Livestock and farm related investments are

more salient in Jamaica and the smaller islands, but less so in the case of

Barbados. Similarly, the proportion of invididuals who intended to allocate

earnings to business ventures and savings is higher in the smaller islands

compared to Jamaica and Barbados.


The preliminary findings presented in this paper address only a limited

number of the relationships posited by the conceptual framework outlined in

Section II. Nonetheless, the data do provide a rough estimate of the magni-

tude of the resources that are transferred from the USA to the Caribbean as

a result of the H-2 program, and offer an overview of the way individual

workers intend to use these funds at the place of origin. The results clearly

indicate that a substantial transfer of resources is involved, and that the

program affects a large number of people in the Caribbean. With an average

household size of 6.1 persons, the migration of approximately 8,400 workers

implies that about 51,240 people, or roughly 2 percent of the combined popu-

lation of the five islands (circa 1978), are directly influenced by the

seasonal employment in the USA.

A central question is: What is the impact of this phenomenon on the

place of origin? This issue can be addressed at the micro or at the macro

level of analysis. At the level of the individual worker, there is little

doubt that the benefits entailed in coming to the USA to cut cane outweigh

the costs in doing so. Indeed, the respondents in our sample were quite

explicit on this point. Microlevel rationality, however, does not speak

to the impact of the H-2 program on the structure of the economies in the

Caribbean. Given the predominance of farmers in this labor force the ef-

fects are undoubtedly felt in the agricultural sector. But what are these

effects? Are they positive ones? Does the input of outside resources into

small farms lead to greater productivity? Does the H-2 program, through the

remittances of wages, affect the technology applied to agricultural produc-

tion? Does it affect land tenure arrangements or significantly influence

the foreign exchange reserves in the countries involved?

To this list we would add many other salient questions that come to

mind. Inquiries as to the structural effect of the H-2 program, however,

cannot be assessed on the basis of data generated from interviews with in-

dividual workers. To do so will require additional fieldwork in the five

sending islands, which is planned for the second phase of this study.

Table 1

Primary and

Secondary Educational Attainment
of BWI Labor Force*

A. Primary Education

Grade 1
Grade 2
Grade 3
Grade 4
Grade 5
Grade 6
Grade 7
Grade 8






Standard Deviation

B. Secondary Education






Mean .1

Median .02

Standard Deviation ,6

*In Percent


Table 2

Distribution of Principal, Second and Third Occupation
At Place of Origin of BWI Labor Force, 1980-81*

Principal Second Third
Occupation Occupation Occupation

Farmer, Farm Worker 63.8 20.8 2.9

Cane Cutter 1.7 1.4 .8

Baker, Butcher, Carpenter,
Electrician, Plumber, Craftsmen 9.3 6.9 .9

Mason 7.3 5.2 1,0

Construction Worker, Day Laborer,
Factory Worker, Driver 8.8 12.5 1.0

Sales, Clerk, Waiter 2.5 1.2 .8

Fisherman .4 .8 .5

Other 6.2 7.5 3.2

No Second Occupation --- 43.7

No Third Occupation --- --- 88.9

Total 100.0 100,0 100.0

N of Cases 251 251 251

*In Percent


Table 3

Gross and Net Pay, Previous Fortnight*

Income Gross Net

1-199 3.9 26.1
200-299 5.7 45.1
300-399 31.0 22.6
400-499 33.7 4.0
500-599 17.6 1.8
600-699 5.7 0.4
700+ 2.6 -

Mean $419 $245

N of Cases 218 238

*Percent of respondents in each catetory


Table 4

Average Amount of Money Mailed Home,
Average Frequency of Remittances,
By Category of Recipient

1 2 3 4

A. Average Amount Sent $66 $34 $32 $15

B. Average Frequency 7.1 5.0 4.8 3.3

C. % of Labor Force 91.6 43.8 8.8 1,6
N of Cases 230 110 22 4

D. Recipient (0)
Wife '53,0 5.7 4,1 ---*
Girlfriend 23.8 25.0 13,3
Mother 15.5 38.5 --- --
Father 2.2 8.6 4.1 ---
Son/Daughter .4 3.9 17.0 -
Sister/Brother 1.7 4.3 16.4
Friend .4 3.5 16.0
Other 2.5 10.5 29.1 --
Total 100.0 100.0 100,0 -

*Insufficient number of cases


Table 5

Average Amount Spent on Items Bought in the United States

Item Average Amount Spent N of Cases

1 $491 177
2 207 151
3 145 95
4 80 27
5 70 9
6 43 4


Table 6

Investment Strategies of BWI

Workers by Island*

Investment Total Smaller**
Category Sample Barbados Jamaica Islands

Housing 60.0 68.9 59,2 64.7

Farming 19.9 6.7 19.9 23.5

Livestock 27.9 4.4 30.5 17.6

Schooling 6.0 4.4 7.3 ----

Living Expenses 10.4 13.3 9.7 12.7

Business 4.4 4.4 1.9 13.7

Personal Expenses 2.0 4.4 1.5 2.0

Savings 8.8 13.3 6.5 15.7

N of Cases 251 45 20.6 51

*Percent of respondents who plan to allocate earnings by category

**Includes St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Dominica




The authors would like to recognize the assistance and cooperation of
George Sorn and Les Dean of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and
Harold Edwards of the British West Indies Central Labour Organization. We
would also like to thank our interviewers: Cecil Shields, Ron Kephart,
John Butler, Beth Higgs, David Griffith, Mary Anne Burg, Bill Santulli,
Sandra Witt, Trudi Cornish, and Scott Davis.

2This compares with the average reports by 150 respondents of $3085.
The discrepancy in the two estimates of seasonal gross pay is probably due
to confusion over gross versus net pay in the questionnaire item. Subse-
quent analysis will allow us to clarify further the issue.
Forty-two respondents in our sample also worked in East Coast apples,
earning an average of $667 for the 1980 season. This represents a total of
$28,014 for the sample, or $933,800 in additional earning for those in the
BWI workforce who also picked apples.




Bonacich, Edna and L.C. Hirata
1981 "International Labor Migration: A Theoretical Orientation"

Boserup, E.
1965 The Conditions of Agricultural Growth. Chicago: Aldine.

Brana-Shute, Gary
1981 "A Critical and Annotated Bibliography on Family and Household
Organization, Migration and Remittances, and Occupational Multi-
plicity in the Caribbean."

Castells, Manuel
1975 "Immigrant Workers and Class Struggles in Advanced Capitalism:
The Western European Experience." Politics and Society 5(1975):

Greenwood, M.J.
1975 "Research on Internatl Migration in the United States: A Survey."
Journal of Economic Literature 12(June): 397-433.

Johnson, Robert
1979 "Sugar Takes Its Lumps." Florida Trend (May): 54-63.

Lee, E.
1966 "A Theory of Migration." Demography 3: 47-56.

McCoy, Terry L.
1980 "The Political Economy of Caribbean Workers in the Florida Sugar
Industry." Paper presented at 1980 meeting of the Caribbean Studies
Association, Curacao, May 7-10.

Portes, Alejandro
1978 "Migration and Underdevelopment." Politics and Society 8(1): 1-48,

Ritchey, Neal P.
1976 "Explanation of Migration." Annual Review of Sociology. Palo
Alto, California: Annual Reviews, pp. 363-404.

Rothenberg, J.
1977 "On the Microeconomics of Migration." Internal Migration, edited
by A. Brown and E. Neuberger. New York: Academic Press, pp.

Schmink, Marianne
1979 "Community in Ascendance: Urban Industrial Growth and Household
Income Strategies in Belo Horizonte, Brazil." Unpublished Ph.D.
dissertation, University of Texas at Austin.

Shaw, Paul
1975 Migration Theory and Fact: A Review and Bibliography of Current
Literature. Philadelphia: Regional Science Research Institute.

Singer, Paul
1973 "Migragoes Internas: Consideracoes Teoricas sobre o seu Estudo."
Migragoes Internas e Desenvolvimento Regional, Vol. I, Belo Hori-
zonte, Brazil: Centro de Desenvolvimento e Planejamento Regional
(CEDEPLAR), pp. 169-208.

Sjaastad, L.
1962 "The Costs and Returns of Human Migration." Journal of Political
Economy 70(5): 80-93.

Snyder, George et al.
1978 "Water Table Management for Organic Soil Conservation and Crop
Production in the Florida Everglades." Agricultural Experiment
Stations, IFAS, University of Florida, Bulletin 801 (November).

Wallerstein, I., W.G. Morton, and T. Dickinson
1979 "Household Structures and Production Processes; Theoretical Con-
cerns Plus Data from Southern Africa and Nineteenth-Century United
States." Paper presented at Colloquium on Production and Repro-
duction of the Labor Force, Fiori, Italy, June 18-20.

Wood, Charles H.
1981a "Equilibrium vs Historical-Structural Perspectives on Migration:
A Dialogue of the Deaf." Paper presented at the Conference on
"New Directions in Theory and Methods of Immigration and Ethnicity
Research," Duke University, May 15-17, 1981.

1981b "Structural Change and Household Strategies:i. A Conceptual Frame-
work for the Study of Rural Migration." Forthcoming in Human

Zepp, G.A.
1979 "The Florida Sugar Industry: Its Past, Present, Prospects."
Unpublished paper.

University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs