Unemployment and partial employment of hired farm workers in four areas (a summary report)


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Unemployment and partial employment of hired farm workers in four areas (a summary report)
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United States -- Bureau of Agricultural Economics
United States -- Bureau of Employment Security
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Bureau of Agricultural Economics and U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Employment Security ( Washington, D.C )
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Unemployment and

Partial Employment




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Washington, D. C.



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April 1953



Farm manpower problems have mounted in intensity since the outbreak of
hostilities in Korea. These problems are sometimes cast in a framework of
shortages, either of seasonal or year-round workers. While these shortages
have occurred in some areas, local underemployment sometimes exists in
other farming areas because of the seasonal character of employment. To
utilize most effectively all domestic manpower resources, more information
is needed about the characteristics of farm workers and the nature of their
attachment to the labor force.
Because of their common interest in problems of farm labor, the Bureau
of Agricultural Economics and the Bureau of Employment Security together
planned and conducted a survey of unemployment and partial employment of
hired farm workers in four areas in the spring of 1952.
Although these Bureaus have cooperated in many ways in the past, this is
the first of several major projects of a research nature in which both agencies
are participating. The information secured has been utilized in the adminis-
trative planning and operations of the farm labor program of the Bureau of
Employment Security. The findings are now being published in the belief that
they may be of interest and value to others concerned with the agricultural
labor situation.
In the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, the Division of Farm Population
and Rural Life and the Division of Special Farm Statistics participated in
carrying out the study. The offices in the Bureau of Employment Security
participating were the Farm Labor Analysis Section of the Division of Reports
and Analysis and the Program Division of the Farm Placement Service. Field
survey operations were conducted under the direction of the State Agricultural
Statisticians in each of the States involved Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana,
and New Mexico- in consultation with the State and local Employment Service

0. V. Wells,
Chief, Bureau of Agricultural Economics
U. S. Department of Agriculture

Robert C. Goodwin,
Director, Bureau of Employment Security
U. S. Department of Labor



May 1951-May 1952

A Summary Report


Purpose of the Survey .................................................. 1
Summary ................................................................... 1
Description of the Areas............................................... 2
Characteristics of Workers Surveyed ............................. 4
Attachment to the Labor Force ...................................... 6
Patterns of Employment ............................................... 9
Unemployment ........................................................... 12
Availability for Off-Season Employment ......................... 14
Methodology of the Survey................................................ 17

May 1951-May 1952

Cordele, Georgia
Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Opelousas, Ville Platte, Eunice,
Washington, and several smaller
towns and villages of St. Landry
and Evangeline Parishes in
Roswell and Artesia, New Mexico


Since the middle of 1950, as defense preparations have gone forward in the
United States, agriculture has been called upon for progressively higher levels of pro-
duction. Meanwhile, one of the essential instruments of farm production, the farm
labor force, has continued to decline. The result has been a widening public interest
in farm manpower problems and an intensification of efforts to achieve better utiliza-
tion of the services of the remaining force of workers.

This problem may be viewed from several standpoints. The farmer is concerned
with the risk factor involved in committing his resources to increase production, with-
out having reasonable assurance of an adequate labor supply when it is needed. The
farm laborer is confronted with the need for employment which, in turn, is frequently
Complicated by seasonal fluctuations in labor demand. The broader public interest is
concerned with the optimum use of manpower throughout the economy and in the armed
services. Information about the current farm manpower situation is a basic need in
connection with each of these interests.

This study was undertaken cooperatively by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics
and the Bureau of Employment Security to obtain information helpful to government
agencies concerned with programs to provide employment for American farm workers.
This information would be particularly relevant to efforts made to assure a supply of
seasonal farm workers for essential harvest and cultivating work in agriculture. In
recent years the domestic farm labor force has been supplemented with workers from
Mexico, Canada, and the British West Indies brought into the United States under
government auspices. The question has been raised by the Subcommittee on Low-
Income Families of the Congressional Ioint Committee on the Economic Report as to
whether domestic farm workers are fully utilized. The President's Commission on
Migratory Labor, in its 1951 report, also described underemployment and unemploy-
ment of domestic farm workers. In 1952, the Senate Subcommittee on Labor-
Management Relations of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare held extensive
hearings which pointed to the need for more study of the two-headed problem in agri-
culture of seasonal unemployment and partial employment on the one hand and acute
labor shortages elsewhere.
The main purpose of this study, then, was to determine how widespread seasonal
unemployment is among the group of people who normally supplement the farm labor
force, at what seasons of the year it occurs, what these people do when not actually
employed in agriculture, their willingness to migrate to fill in their employment with
work elsewhere, and related data. It is intended that the results of the study may be
translated into specific plans for better utilization of domestic labor resources.

The results of this study will be published in more detailed reports for each of the
four areas studied. This report is of a summary nature showing some of the data


concerning the characteristics of the group of workers surveyed, their status in the
farm labor force, patterns of employment and unemployment, and willingness to accept
farm and nonfarm jobs during off-seasons. The survey was made in May 1952 and
most of the data relate to the 12 months preceding that date.

The four areas in which the study was conducted are Cordele, Georgia; Pine Bluff,
Arkansas; several cities, towns, and villages in St. Landry and Evangeline Parishes in
Louisiana; and Roswell and Artesia, New Mexico. In each of these localities, cotton
is a dominant agricultural crop. Needs for hand labor in cotton are so acute during
periods of cultivation and harvest of cotton, that many persons living in small towns in
the area, who may not be regular farm workers, are drawn into the farm labor force
for varying lengths of time for supplementary work. The movement of these persons
in and out of the labor force is determined largely by the seasonal requirements of the
cotton crop and to some extent by other seasonal agricultural activities.

It was among such seasonal hired farm workers residing in towns and villages that
the study was made. Because all persons in each sample household who performed any
farm work for wages during the year were considered for purposes of this study to be
members of the farm labor force, heads of households and other primary workers
were in the minority. Most of the farm workers in the sample were wives, sons, or
daughters of primary workers, with little education or experience in nonfarm occupations.

The length of time during the year that this group spent in farm work varied from
a few days to 10 months or more. Usually farm employment in two or more seasons
during the year aggregated less than four months per worker.

When not employed as seasonal farm workers, some had nonfarm jobs as domestic
service workers, packing house operatives, or in other unskilled occupations. Most
of the women returned to their household duties during off-season periods, and young
people withdrew from the labor force to return to school.

Actual unemployment, in the usually accepted sense of the term, was difficult to
measure among this group of supplementary workers with a marginal attachment to
the labor force. The concept of unemployment involves two things: the person is either
actively seeking work, or if not looking for work, it is because of a knowledge or be-
lief that no work is available in the area. In each of the four areas studied, the degree
of unemployment varied considerably according to the personal characteristics of the
workers. Adult males who were most continuously in the labor force generally re-
ported the most unemployment; of these about half or more were without jobs and
seeking work at sometime during the year in three of the four survey areas. These
seasons of unemployment were closely identified with lulls in crop activity. In
periods of peak activity, on the other hand, practically no unemployment was reported.

In spite of the seasonal peaks and troughs of employment, workers interviewed
were reluctant to consider non-local employment. Except in New Mexico, where the
study was made among a group more accustomed to migration, few were willing to
entertain the thought of working away from home. The surveys indicate that although
there is a large reserve for local work both on and off the farm, relatively few of
these people were available for work outside of their home communities.


The areas surveyed were selected because they were known to contain concentra-
tions of seasonal farm workers who lived in population centers of various sizes.
Similarly, each area was believed to be affected by relatively high rates of unemploy-
ment during certain periods of the year. The survey areas were: Cordele, Georgia;
Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Opelousas, Ville Platte, Eunice, Washington, and several smaller
towns and villages of St. Landry and Evangeline Parishes, in Louisiana; and Roswell
and Artesia in New Mexico. Details of sampling methods are contained in the section
on methodology. A brief description of each area follows:


Pine Bluff. Arkansas
Pine Bluff, with about 40,000 inhabitants, is the largest city in Jefferson County,
Arkansas. Slightly more than half of the county's 75,000 people are nonwhite.
Cotton, corn, lespedeza, and rice are all grown in Jefferson County, but cotton is
by far the most important crop, particularly in terms of seasonal labor requirements.
At the height of the cotton picking season, about 3,500 workers are needed in addition
to family and year-round labor. About half of this number come from outside the
State, most of them Mexican Nationals, brought in under an international agreement
for work under contract to individual growers.

Nonfarm employment opportunities in Pine Bluff have increased in recent years.
Pay scales in industry and construction have attracted many people from the farms.

Cordele. Georgia

Cordele, a city of 10,000 people, is in Crisp County in the southern part of Georgia.
The county's population is about equally divided between whites and nonwhites. The
pool of farm labor living in Cordele and working in agriculture on a day-haul basis is
composed almost exclusively of Negroes.

In terms of acreage, corn, peanuts, cotton, and vegetables are the principal crops
in this area. Labor demand for these crops is highly seasonal, especially for cotton,
and to a lesser extent, for peanuts. Until recently, local and nearby sources were
sufficient to meet these needs. The movement of on-farm laborers to towns and, in
marly cases, entirely out of the area, has increased the demand for off-farm seasonal
workers. In 1951, Mexican Nationals were employed for the first time in the Cordele
area for cotton picking.

Labor is largely interchangeable between farm and certain types of nonfarm work,
and there are employment opportunities in both types of work. At the time of the sur-
vey, general economic conditions were good and nonfarm employment was compara-
tively high.

Opelousas and Nearby Towns. Louisiana

The area studied in Louisiana is in the south central part of the State, centering
aroung Opelousas. All of the urban places and selected villages in St. Landry and
Evangeline Parishes were included in the survey. These two parishes have a total
population of about 110,000.

Cotton, corn, rice, soybeans, and sweetpotatoes are the principal crops in this
area in terms of acreage. Cotton and sweetpotatoes have the highest seasonal labor

All the seasonal farm laborers in the area are from the local nonwhite population.
The Opelousas area serves as a labor supply source for other points in the State.

There are several seasonal food processing activities in the area which provide
temporary employment to some farm workers. There also are other nonfarm in-
dustries such as lumber mills, a meat packing plant, and transportation and construction,
which provide some seasonal employment. In spite of this, at the time of the survey,
unemployment was prevalent in the area.

Roswell Artesia. New Mexico

The New Mexico survey area is located in the southeastern part of the State.
Roswell, with 30,000 people, is the county seat of Chaves County, and Artesia, with a
population of 9,000, is about 30 miles south of Roswell, in Eddy County.


Agriculture is a major source of employment in this area, and cotton is the fore-
most crop. Alfalfa, small grains, row crops, truck farming, and cattle raising are
also important.
Most of the farm workers in the area are of Latin-American descent. There is
also a small group of Negroes and an even smaller group of Anglo-Americans. In
peak labor seasons, such as cotton picking time, more than half of the farm labor in
the area is supplied by Mexican Nationals.
In slack labor seasons, some New Mexico workers migrate to other areas. Others
find odd jobs in the area in custodial work, service establishments, or dairies. The
Major nonfarm activities in the area are oil, lumbering, and potash production.

In the cities and towns in the survey areas, a random selection was made of about
one-third of the households in sections where farm workers were known to live. Since
the focus of the study was on farm wage workers who live in cities, towns or villages
but work on farms for varying lengths of time during the active seasons of the year,
worker families living on farms or in the open county, where most regular farm workers
live, were not interviewed. Workers included in the survey, therefore, were not repre-
sentative of all farm wage workers in the survey areas. Since the characteristics of
workers have an effect on their participation in the working force, it is important in
understanding the patterns of employment of these workers to know something of
their sex, age, education, and experience in nonfarm work.
There were 3,204 persons living in the survey households, and about half of them
had done some work for wages in the past year. This proportion differed among the
individual areas, ranging from a low of 38 percent in the New Mexico area to a high of
58 percent in the Georgia area. On the average, there were 4.6 persons of all ages in
each survey household as compared with an average of 3.2 persons in all households
in the United States. The number of persons who participated in the labor force at
some time during the year was high, averaging 2.3 persons per household.

Farm -Nonfarm Experience
Of the 1,589 workers surveyed, about 4 in every 5 had done some farm wage work
during the preceding 12 months while 1 in 5 had done only nonfarm work (table 1).
These farm wage workers form the group described in this report. About 66 per-
cent of them did only farm work; the remainder were engaged in both farm and non-
farm work. Twelve percent did mostly farm work and 22 percent did more nonfarm
than farm work. In the Georgia and Louisiana areas, a comparatively high proportion
of the workers did nonfarm work, while more of the workers in Arkansas and New
Mexico were identified mainly or altogether with farm work.

Table 1I-Percentage distribution of farm workers in farm labor households surveyed
in selected localities, by type of work done in preceding 12 months, May 1952
Workers Farm workers
Aaity who did Farm Farm and nonfarm
Locality workers nonfarm Total work Mostly Mostly
work only only Mostly [ Mostly
work only only farm work nonfarm work

Number Number Number Percent Percent Percent
All workers 1,589 330 1,259 66 12 22
Survey area of:
Arkansas 435 86 349 75 11 14
Georgia 480 126 354 63 13 24
Louisiana 493 102 391 61 8 31
New Mexico 181 16 165 63 21 16


Age and Sex
Twenty-seven percent of the farm workers in this study were 14-19 years of age
(table 2). Thirty-eight percent of them were under 20 years of age. Many of these
young people attended school for most of the year, but joined the farm labor force in
peak seasons. School-age youth were particularly numerous in the Georgia and
Louisiana sample areas where 43 and 42 percent, respectively, of the farm workers
surveyed were under 20 years of age.
The study revealed that most of the total group of workers were housewives, fe-
male family heads, or sons and daughters of workers. Seven hundred and fifty-three,
or 60 percent of the 1,259 farm workers, were females. In Arkansas, the households
surveyed had the highest proportion of female farm workers with 70 percent; those in
Georgia and Louisiana were next with 66 and 56 percent respectively. The New Mexico
area was the exception with females representing only 35 percent of the 165 farm
workers in the survey.

Table 2.-Distribution of farm workers in farm laborer households surveyed in
selected localities, by age and sex, May 1952
Farm workers
Sex and age Total Survey area of:
Arkansas Georgia Louisiana New Mexico
Number Number Number Number Number

Both sexes 1,259 349 354 391 165
Male 506 105 122 171 108
Female 753 244 232 220 57

Percentage Distribution

Percent Percent Percent Percent Percent
Both sexes 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Under 14 10.4 5.7 18.9 10.2 2.4
14 19 27.1 23.2 24.0 32.2 29.7
20 34 21.2 22.1 19.2 18.9 29.1
35 54 29.4 35.0 26.9 27.9 26.7
55 64 6.5 6.6 4.8 6.9 9.1
65 and over 5.4 7.4 6.2 3.9 3.0
Male 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Under 14 15.6 8.6 33.6 17.0 --
14 19 33.2 40.0 27.1 36.8 27.8
20 34 17.6 12.4 13.9 15.8 29.6
35 54 20.2 23.8 13.1 17.5 28.7
55 64 7.1 4.7 4.9 8.8 9.3
65 and over 6.3 10.5 7.4 4.1 4.6
Female 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Under 14 6.9 4.5 11.2 5.0 7.0
14 19 23.0 16.0 22.4 28.6 33.3
20 34 23.6 26.2 22.0 21.4 28.1
35 54 35.6 39.8 34.1 35.9 22.8
55 64 6.1 7.4 4.7 5.5 8.8
65 and over 4.8 6.1 5.6 3.6 --


Education and Experience

Educational levels of these workers were markedly lower than those of all persons
beyond school age in their respective states. 1/ The median years of school com-
pleted by farm workers 18 years of age and over was 3.5 in the Louisiana area, 4.2 in
New Mexico, 5.6 in Georgia, and 7.3 in Arkansas (table 3). In all four areas male
workers on the average had completed fewer years of school than had females.

Table 3.-Median years of school completed by farm workers 18 years of age and over
in farm laborer households surveyed in selected localities, by type of work
and sex of worker, May 1952
Sex of worker Survey area of:
SArkansas J Georgia Louisiana New Mexico
Median Median Median Median

Both sexes 7.3 5.6 3.5 4.2
Males 6.2 5.3 3.4 4.1
Females 7.7 5.6 3.6 4.5

Of the entire group of farm workers, only 7 percent reported having some experience
or training other than that of their usual work (table 4). Most of these workers reported
their experience as domestic household and service workers, or as operatives in non-
agricultural processing industries. The amount of nonfarm experience was related to
work opportunities outside of agriculture as shown by the fact that in Cordele, Georgia,
the proportion of farm wage workers with nonfarm work experience was significantly
higher than in other areas.

Table 4.-Distribution of farm wage workers in farm laborer households surveyed in
selected localities, by training or experience other than that of usual work,
May 1952
[ Farm workers
Training or experience Total Survey area of:
Triigo eine T ta Arkansas | Georgia I Louisiana New Mexico
Percent Percent Percent Percent Percent
All farm workers 100 100 100 100 100
No experience other
than usual work 90 96 87 93 81
With some experience 7 3 12 6 5
Experience not reported 3 1 1/ 1 14
1/ Less than 0.5 percent.

Of the 1,259 farm workers studied, one in five may be classified as a regularly
employed person aggregating more than 10 months of employment in the year at both
farm and nonfarm jobs. At the other extreme, six percent were casual workers who
engaged in work for pay only a few weeks during the year. Nearly three-fourths of the
group, therefore, were seasonal workers whose total employment during the year
ranged between 1 and 10 months. Although workers selected for study were farm
workers by definition, one-third combined nonfarm and farm work. Workers with both
farm and nonfarm work experience during the year preceding May 1952 generally re-
ported longer periods of employment than those engaged in farm work only (table 5).

1/ Data from the Bureau of the Census are not strictly comparable with these data; however, for persons 25 years
of age and over thdie median years of school completed were as follows: Arkansas, 8.3; Georgia 7.8; Louisiana, 7.6;
New Mexico, 9.3 (Source: Bureau of the Census, 1950 Census Population Report, Reprint of Vol. II, Chapter B.)


Table 5.-Distribution of farm wage workers in farm laborer households surveyed in
selected localities by major type of work and by number of weeks of employ-
ment in year preceding May 1952
Number weeks of Farm workers
Number weeks of ------------a'^rm n nonfa*,rmr. work
employment Total Farm work only Farm and nonfarm work
I I Mostly farm | Mostly nonfarm
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
All farm workers 1,259 100 825 100 154 100 280 100
1 4 weeks 72 6 69 8 2 1 1 1/
5- 16 weeks 457 36 423 51 17 11 17 6
17 40 weeks 449 36 303 37 72 47 74 26
Over 40 weeks 281 22 30 4 63 41 188 67
I1/ Less than 0.5 percent.
Because the survey included only workers living in towns and cities, very few of
the workers only two percent- were regularly employed at farm work only. Most
of the workers studied were short-time farm workers with one to four months of agri-
cultural employment in the year preceding the time of interview (table 6). In the sur-
vey areas of New Mexico and Arkansas, workers reported longer periods of farm em-
ployment than in the other two locations. Male heads of families who were also farm
workers tended to have longer periods of crop work than other household members
during the period studied.
Table 6.-Distribution of farm wage workers in farm-laborer households surveyed in
selected localities, by duration 1/ of farm work done in past year, and by
relationship to head of household, year preceding May 1952

Locality and relation- --- Farm workers -
ship to head Total Casual Short-term Long-term regular
seasonal seasonal
Number Number Number Number Number
All farm workers 1,259 124 658 445 32
Survey area of:
Arkansas 349 14 120 213 2
Male heads 46 4 15 26 1
Female heads and
wives of heads 161 8 51 101 1
Others 142 2 54 86 0
Georgia 354 45 206 95 8
Male heads 41 4 15 17 5
Female heads and
wives of heads 132 15 75 41 1
Others 181 26 116 37 2
Louisiana 391 53 296 39 3
Male heads 61 10 38 12 1
Female heads and
wives of heads 130 18 99 13 0
Others 200 25 159 14 2
New Mexico 165 12 38 98 19
Male heads 63 4 7 40 12
Female heads and
wives of heads 30 4 8 18 0
Others 72 4 21 40 7

5-16 weeks;

1/ Casual work, 1-4 weeks of farm work; short-term seasonal work,
long-term seasonal work, 17-40 weeks; regular work, over 40 weeks.


When not engaged in farm work, what did these workers do? The answer to this
question depends on the characteristics of the worker. Male heads of families usually
divided their time between farm work and nonfarm work. Female heads of families
and wives of male heads reported that they devoted themselves to housework for the
most part when not employed at farm work. Young children of farm worker families
usually spent the greater part of their nonworking time at school (table 7).

Table 7.-Average time distribution of farm workers in farm-laborer households, by
relationship to head of household, year preceding May 1952
S Average man-weeks spent in:
relationship to F arm Farme Nonfarm Unemploy- Keeping Attending Other
head of household 2/wrkers work work ment house school
Number Number Number Number Number Number Number

Arkansas 349 19 6 3 13 6 1
Male heads 46 18 17 5 1 2 5
Female heads and
wives of heads 161 19 4 1 23 1/ 1
Sons, 16 and over 27 19 5 4-- 2U I/
Daughters, 16 and
over 45 20 6 4 3 14 1
Children under 16 38 20 1/ 2 4 22 1/
Others 32 22 B 3 11 3 1

Georgia 354 14 9 1 10 12 2
Male heads 41 22 20 2 1 3
Female heads and
wives of heads 132 14 12 1 20 1/ 1
Sons, 16 and over 17 12 24 1 -- 11 1/
Daughters, 16 and
over 31 17 6 2 8 13 2
Children under 16 87 10 1/ 1 1 32 4
Others 46 12 1 9 15 2

Louisiana 391 10 10 5 9 12 2
Male heads 61 13 19 10 1 2 3
Female heads and
wives of heads 130 11 13 3 20 1
Sons, 16 and over 49 14 9 10 1/ 14 1
Daughters, 16 and
over 45 10 10 4 10 14 1/
Children under 16 89 8 1/ 4 2 34 T/
Others 17 9 7 1 7 227

New Mexico 165 26 7 5 6 3 1
Male heads 63 30 11 6 -- 1/ 1
Female heads and
wives of heads 30 18 5 1 23 0 1
Sons, 16 and over 29 27 8 8 --3 2
Daughters, 16 and
over 17 28 1/ 4 12 2 2
Children under 16 16 20 7 3 3 20 0
Others 10 25 6 9 0 7 1

I/ Less than 0.5 weeks.
7/ Includes sons-in-law and



The employment patterns of farm workers studied in all four areas are molded
by the seasonal character of the crops, particularly cotton. This is illustrated by
the charts on the following pages. 1/ .These show how employment in nonfarm work
complements farm activities to someextent in all four areas, but most of the seasonal
farm workers studied withdrew from the labor force to resume nonwork activities
during off-seasons. In viewing these charts, it is important to keep in mind that the
workers in the survey do not represent a cross-section of all hired farm employment
in any of the four areas studied. For example, the chart shows that there was more
employment of these seasonal wage workers in the late spring than in the fall among
the group studied in Arkansas. Other information about the area shows a higher total
employment of hired farm workers in the fall. The reason is that many nonlocal
workers come into the area during the cotton picking season and add to the total number
of persons working on farms during the cotton harvest. Since the study was made
among local workers only, the chart for Pine Bluff does not reflect this large non-
local increase in the farm labor force.

At no time during the year were all workers in the survey group fully employed in
the Pine Bluff area. During the cotton chopping season in May and June as many as 92
percent were in the labor force, and 86 percent were engaged in farm work (chart 1).
A second peak occurred in the cotton harvest period between September and November.
Nonagricultural industries in the area, although affording regular employment in
laboring occupations to large numbers of people, fail to provide temporary work to
fill in the year for seasonal agricultural work. Thus, unemployment is high between
the peak seasons in cotton.

Corn, peanuts, cotton, and vegetables are all grown in the area around Cordele,
Georgia. Labor demands for these crops are highly seasonal. Cotton, in particular,
requires substantial numbers of seasonal workers in the early summer for chopping
and hoeing activities and many more in August and September for picking (chart 2).
Because of the relative diversity of crops and employment opportunities in nonfarm
work, unemployment between seasons is not as severe in Cordele as in Pine Bluff. As
in other areas surveyed, relatively large numbers of the farm wage workers here are
housewives and school-age youth who drop out of the labor force during seasonal lulls.

Largest requirements for seasonal hands in the parishes of Evangeline and St.
Landry, Louisiana, are for cotton and sweetpotatoes with employment reaching its
peak in August, September, and part of October. During these months some shifting
of workers from nonfarm jobs to farm work is evident. During other months of the
year some of these seasonal workers are employed in food processing, domestic
service work, and other farm and nonfarm activities, but unemployment is widely
prevalent for six months of the year (chart 3).

The size of the labor force surveyed in Artesia and Roswell, New Mexico, varied
less throughout the year than those in the other areas surveyed. This is because
many workers left the area for seasonal employment elsewhere between cultiva-
tion and harvesting of cotton in the months of July and August (chart 4). Unlike
the other three areas where wives and children made up the greater part of the
workers studied, most of the workers surveyed in this area were adult males.
Consequently, the proportion who remained in the labor force all year round was
higher than in the other three areas and unemployment affected a higher percentage
during the winter lull.

1/ The percentage figures shown in these charts relate to the total nuniber of persons who worked for wages on
farms at any time during the year and not to the current labor force during any specific week.




Chart I

Chart 2

In Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Distribution by Labor Force Slatus, May 1951 -May 1952

80 ".."....................


40 464
20 .. ..... ..'~i

1951 1952

In Cordele, Georgia
Distribution by Labor Force Stalus, May 1951-May 1952

8o -E:; : : :.:: :': ^wW : W: ~IN LABOR FORCE"::
...OF. W.R.R... .........



1951 1952


Chart 3

Chart 4

In Opelousas and Nearby Towns, Louisiana
Distribution by Labor Force Stalus, May 1951-May 1952
% F W'" ":" ::::"". ................ ......... .

) ":ji~i[::!!:i!::!UNEMPLOYE D


1951 1952

in Roswell and Artesia,- New Mexico
Distribution by Labor Force Slatus, May 1951-May 1952
%OF WORKERS* ...:.:
~~~ ~ "'' '!iiiiii!:NOT I N LA BO0R FO0R C E :::
'.'.".... ...



20 AMW R

1951 1952



To measure the degree of unemployment among the survey group, each worker
interviewed was asked to recall what he did during each week in the year preceding
the time of the interview. Persons were described as being in the labor force in any
given week if they reported: (a) that they had worked during a given week, or (b) that
they were actively seeking work or, (c) that they wanted to work but believed no work
was available. Of those who were in the labor force, those who were either seeking
work or who believed no work available were classified as unemployed. 1/ The rate
of unemployment is the percentage of persons unemployed to the total number in the
labor force for a given week. Thus, in referring to unemployed persons, those who
were in school, keeping house, voluntarily idle or sick are not included.

Unemployment rates were markedly different among the individual workers as
well as among the areas in which they resided (table 8). Unemployment was least
prevalent in the Georgia area; Cordele has a variety of non-agricultural industries and
employment opportunities there for adult laborers were good. Accordingly, only 11
percent of the farm workers interviewed there were unemployed at some time during
the preceding year.

The other extreme in unemployment was found in New Mexico, where almost half
of the farm workers interviewed were unemployed at some time during the preceding
year, most of them for 9 weeks or more. The New Mexico area has very high seasonal
peaks in agriculture, and between seasons few nonfarm employment opportunities
were available for farm workers.

Table 8.-Percent distribution of farm wage workers in farm-laborer households sur-
veyed in selected localities, by sex, and by weeks of unemployment in past
year, May 1952
Farm workers who were unemployed:
Locality and Farm 9--i--i --- i-- i -;
sex workers At any 1-4 5-8 9-16 17-24 25 weeks
time weeks weeks weeks weeks or more
Number Percent Percent Percent Percent Percent Percent
Survey area of:
Arkansas 349 27 11 7 4 4 1
Male 105 48 20 13 9 5 1
Female 244 18 7 4 3 3 1
Geor&ia 354 11 2 6 1 1 1
Male 122 15 3 9 1 2 0
Female 232 10. 1 5 1 1 2
Louisiana 391 36 7 9 7 4 9
Male 171 55 12 13 10 7 13
Female 220 21 3 4 6 2 6
New Mexico 165 46 10 7 19 8 2
Male 108 59 13 9 24 10 3
Female 57 21 5 2 10 4 0

In the Louisiana area slightly more than one-third of the farm workers were un-
employed at some time during the year, most of these also for a total of two months or
more. In Arkansas, about one-fourth were unemployed at some time, but their aggre-
gate periods of unemployment were usually short.
1 This concept of unemployment follows that used by the Bureau of thdie Census for measurement of national
unemployment. Its use among the survey group presented certain problems because of the fluid nature of employment
in seasonal agriculture. Many of the persons interviewed were women with household responsibilities. Although
they normally work in agriculture to supplement family incomes during peak seasons, some were not always able to
say precisely whether they were or were not seeking employment during other seasons. Some of the persons about
whom information was gathered were school age boys or girls, who may have worked a few hours a week after school
or on Saturdays during peak seasons.


Sex and Age
In all four areas, unemployment was more widespread among male farm workers
than among female farm workers. Altogether about half or more of the male farm
workers in all areas except Georgia were unemployed at some time during the year,
but in no area were more than 21 percent of the women unemployed. If the women
interviewed had been in the labor market as continuously throughout the year as the
men, the unemployment rate for all women would be much higher than it was.

The data do not show any significant variation in unemployment among the different
age groups, except for women workers in all four areas. Unemployment was heaviest
among women under 24 years of age. These women in the younger age groups generally
are in the labor force more regularly than older women; the latter frequently have
family responsibilities that tend to keep them from seeking outside employment.

Seasonalitv of Unemployment

Although the national average unemployment rate for farm laborers and foremen,
as reported by the Census Bureau, averaged only 2.1 percent for the year 1951, this
survey shows unemployment rates ranging as high as 41.7 percent in some seasons of
the year (table 9). Generally, rates of unemployment followed closely the seasonal
patterns of the crops in the four areas studied.

In the Arkansas area, unemployment was very low in May, June, and early July,
when cotton chopping was in full swing, but rose in August, during the period when
cotton is laid by, between chopping and picking times. After the beginning of picking
in September, unemployment was almost non-existent until the last half of December,
at completion of harvest. Beginning in December, however, unemployment rates rose
steadily and amounted to approximately one-fourth of the labor force from February
through April. The percentage of unemployed did not fall significantly until the second
week in May, when a new 'cotton-chopping season opened.

Table 9.-Distribution of unemployment rates of farm workers in farm-laborer house-
holds surveyed in selected localities, as a percentage of the number of
workers in the labor force, by months (average of four weeks), for the year
preceding May 1952 I/
Month Survey area of:
Arkansas Georgia I Louisiana New Mexico
Percent Percent Percent Percent
June 1951 1.3 12.4 36.5 2.9
July 4.3 13.2 36.2 6.9
August 29.5 0.7 4.8 9.7
September 2.4 -- 1.2 3.0
October 0.4 0.5 8.6 2.3
November 0.4 4.5 20.9 0.7
December 4.9 7.4 35.8 6.0
January 1952 17.6 8.3 35.7 17.3
February 26.3 7.7 34.6 31.7
March 26.2 8.1 31.1 41.7
April 24.7 3.2 20.9 39.8
May 15.4 1.6 13.3 26.0
1/ These unemployment rates differ from those shown in charts 1 to 4 where the
unemployed were shown as a percentage of persons in the labor force at any time
during the 12-month period. In this table the unemployed for each month are shown
as a percentage of persons in the labor force in the specified month (average of four


In the Georgia area, where cotton accounts for heaviest volume of seasonal work,
the pattern of unemployment was similar to that in Arkansas; however, Cordele is
farther south than Pine Bluff, and the seasonal peaks in chopping and picking come
earlier. Unemployment was heaviest for the Georgia workers in June and July;
probably because this is not only the period between chopping and picking times, but
also a time when large numbers of teen-age and younger school children on summer
vacation are looking for work. The proportion of young people among the farm
workers in Georgia was especially high. Even during this period of peak unemploy-
ment, however, only 12 to 14 percent of the Cordele farm labor force was unemployed.
With the beginning of the cotton harvest in August, unemployment dropped to 1 per-
cent and remained close to zero for three months. As harvest activity tapered off in
November, unemployment rose and through the winter months remained at a level
ranging from 4 to 8 percent.

The proportion of workers without jobs in Louisiana was heavy throughout the year
except during the cotton harvest in August, September, and part of October. All during
December, January, February, and March, approximately one-third of the labor force
was unemployed. Again in July, about one-fourth of the workers were without work.

Seasonal patterns of unemployment in New Mexico differed greatly from those in
the other areas. Some unemployment was reported throughout the year, but from
January through May, it was very heavy and accounted for about 40 percent of the
labor force during March and April. In June and the first half of July, this area's
cotton-chopping season, unemployment was not more than 5 percent, but between
chopping and the beginning of cotton harvest in September, up to 10 percent of the
workers were unemployed.


It is evident from the extent of unemployment among the farm wage workers sur-
veyed in each of the four areas that organized efforts are needed to extend the
continuity of employment among those willing to accept off-season jobs. In order to
determine what can be done in planning for this group, all workers 16 to 60 years of
age were asked how long they expected to work during the following year. Those who
expected to work 10 to 12 months and those from whom no response was obtained were
not questioned about their availability for employment during the coming year. Those
workers who were uncertain about their plans and those who expected to work for less
than 10 months were asked whether they would accept local farm or nonfarm jobs
during the next year. They were then questioned about their willingness to accept non-
local farm jobs. Finally, these workers were asked to indicate the seasons of the year
during which they expected to be available for employment.

Of the 974 farm workers, aged 16 to 60, in the four survey areas, more than a
third expected to be working for at least 10 months during the year to come (table 10).
This proportion varied from a low of 26 percent in Arkansas to 41 percent in Louisiana.
In each of the areas, relatively more men than women expected to be employed for this
length of time. An additional 8 percent of the workers, ranging from 6 to 10 percent
in individual areas, failed to respond to the question of employment expectation. These
two groups were then eliminated from further questioning about availability during the
coming year.

For the remaining 553 workers, who expected to work for 0 to 9 months or for an
unknown number of months, information on willingness to accept off-season jobs was
collected. Two hundred and seventy of these workers said they would take off-season
jobs during the coming year.


Table 10.-Farm workers aged 16-60 in survey households by employment expectations
and availability for off-season farm and nonfarm work during the coming
year, by sex of worker, May 1952
Work expectations I Farm workers aged 16-60
and availabilityI All workers I Male I Female


*r Number


Work expectations. 1952-53
Total farm workers. 16-60
Expect to work 10-12 months
Expect to work 0-9 months 1/
No response
Off-season availability
Total workers questioned
Workers available for: 2/
Local farm work
Local nonfarm work
Nonlocal farm work







i/ Includes 116 workers who were uncertain of their work plans for the
2/ Duplicated figures as some workers are available for more than one



coming year.
category of

Table 11.-Farm workers, 1/ aged 16-60, in survey household who do not expect to
work regularly during the coming year, and who were questioned about their
availability, by reported availability for off-season farm and nonfarm work,
by calendar quarter, by type of work and survey areas, May 1952
Farm workers, 16-60 2/
Pine Bluff, Cordele, Opelousas, Roswell-Artesia,
Arkansas Georgia Louisiana New Mexico
Number Number Number Number

Farm workers 1/ 16-60
Some time during year
Local farm
Local nonfarm
Nonlocal farm
Local farm
Local nonfarm
Nonlocal farm
Local farm
Local nonfarm
Nonlocal farm
Local farm
Local nonfarm
Nonlocal farm
October -December
Local farm
Local nonfarm
Nonlocal farm








26 11
48 13
6 3

S/This table is confined to the 553 workers who were specifically questioned re-
garding their availability.
2/ Duplicated figures as some workers are available for more than one category of
work and more than one quarter of the year.


In the Arkansas and New Mexico areas, about one-half of the workers questioned
on availability indicated that they would accept a local farm or nonfarm job during off-
seasons (table 11). The workers of the Georgia sample were least interested in farm
jobs, with only 45 of the 119 workers questioned reporting availability for such work.
In all of the areas except Arkansas, more workers were willing to accept local
nonfarm work than local farm work, indicating that nonfarm work has a greater attrac-
tion than farm work even among persons with a background of experience in farm work.
Survey findings point to the fact that the size of the seasonal farm labor supply will
vary significantly according to general economic conditions; if nonfarm job openings
exist, most local workers will take these in preference to farm jobs.
Workers available for off-season local jobs were more likely to be secondary
workers in households rather than heads of families, as family heads generally had
more stable employment through the year. In each of the sample areas, male workers
reported a definite preference for local nonfarm work as compared with farm work,
but the proportion of women workers available for the two types of work varied ac-
cording to area. In two of the four areas surveyed, Georgia and New Mexico, women
questioned about availability preferred nonfarm jobs. In Opelousas, preferences for
farm and nonfarm work were equal, while in Pine Bluff there were more women who
said they would be willing to take farm jobs during their off-season periods than non-
farm jobs. That there was no stronger preference shown by women for nonfarm em-
ployment may have been due to the type of nonfarm jobs open to them in the survey
areas. These consisted mainly of service work in homes, laundries and restaurants-
usually at comparatively low wages.
Non-local Work

The overwhelming majority of workers preferred not to accept farm jobs which
would involve moving away from home (table 11). The extremely low proportion of
workers willing to take nonlocal farm work, however, may understate the actual situa-
tion regarding availability for out-of-area farm employment, since the question on this
subject had to be framed very generally, and specific details on nonlocal employment
could not be presented to the respondents. It is probable that more workers would con-
sider jobs in other counties or States if they had further details regarding conditions
of nonlocal farm employment. Favorable wages and working conditions might induce
some workers to move who stated in this survey that they would not move.
A fairly large group among the farm workers interviewed, as pointed out earlier,
were housewives or other women with family responsibilities who were not free to
leave, but probably there were many others who, even though they might be free to
move, preferred not to do so for other reasons.

Except in New Mexico, the areas surveyed do not use much migratory labor and
have not traditionally. supplied migratory labor for other areas. The workers in each
of the towns studied hal comparatively strong ties in the community which limited
their mobility. Therefore, it could not be expected that large numbers of them would
readily accept farm work of -an unknown nature away from their home areas.
Seasonal Patterns of Availability in Each Area

About one-half of the workers questioned in Pine Bluff were reported to be avail-
able for local farm or nonfarm work at some time during the year following the date
of the interview. Most of these were women. The number available for nonlocal farm
jobs during off-seasons was almost negligible. The highest number who were willing
to accept jobs was reported for the July-September quarter. This is the quarter in
which unemployment was also reportedly high, as crops are laid by in August. Ap-
proximately one-fourth to one-third of all the workers questioned expected to be avail-
able for local jobs at some time during the January-June period. This also coincides


closely with the relatively severe unemployment rates experienced in February, March
and April (see table 9).
Because of the relative prosperity of Cordele, Georgia, as compared with the other
areas studied, the number of workers who reported themselves willing to take off-
season jobs at some time during the year was comparatively low. Forty-five were
available for local farm work and 61 for local nonfarm work. Only 7 were willing to
migrate elsewhere for a farm job. Most of those who said they wanted work at some
time during the year were women, since most men in this area were employed year-
round. Not one male in the 16-60 age group responded that he would be willing to take
a nonlocal farm job at any time during the year. More workers of both sexes were
available for jobs during the second and third calendar quarters than during other
periods. These quarters include the months of June and July when unemployment was
highest in Cordele.
Almost one-half of the Louisiana workers who were questioned about availability
were reported to be willing to take a local job when not otherwise employed at some
time during the following year. Unlike the other areas surveyed, many males as well
as females said they would accept supplementary seasonal employment. Only 9 of the
152 workers questioned were interested in nonlocal employment.
The group of workers surveyed in Artesia and Roswell, New Mexico, differed
markedly from those of the other three areas in willingness to accept employment.
Because of the high percentage of male heads of families in the New Mexico sample,
males comprised the majority of workers aged 16-60 who would accept off-season
work. Furthermore, 16 of the 81 workers questioned were willing to work in areas
other than their local one; this reflects a more mobile type of workers than in the
other survey areas. Employment histories of the farm workers interviewed showed
that between seasonal peaks in cotton chopping and harvesting, many migrated to other
areas in search of work. A considerable number of the workers available for work at
some time during the year were interested in obtaining employment during the first
half of the year. This is the period in which unemployment is highest.

Availability of Nonfarm Workers
In the farm-laborer households visited, there were 330 workers who had worked at
nonfarm jobs only during the year preceding May 1952. These workers were asked
whether they had had periods of unemployment during the past year and if they would
i have taken a farm job while idle. The majority of the nonfarm workers had had steady
S employment throughout the year. Among those with periods of unemployment who
S replied to the question, only one-fourth would have taken a farm job. There was a
definite tendency to prefer to work in their own county, though some were willing to
work in another county of the same State. Almost none was willing to go outside the

The four areas covered in this survey were selected by the Department of Labor
as appropriate for this type of survey. Only urban places and villages within these
S areas were chosen for actual interviewing, since the study's focus was to be on the
S off-farm supply of seasonal labor for farm work rather than on the labor supply
S resident on farms or in the open country. The local offices of the State Employment
S Services assisted in indicating the particular towns and sections of towns where there
were concentrations of worker residences. An attempt was made to reflect the situa-
S tion of different types of workers in proportion to their numerical importance in the
S area. For example, in the three Southeastern areas, the seasonal farm workers were
almost exclusively Negro, and they usually lived in specific sections of the towns. In
S such cases, a random sample of blocks was drawn within these particular sections,
i: and all the households in each sample block were contacted.

- 18-

A household identification sheet was completed for each household visited; this
contained screening questions to determine whether or not a schedule was to be taken
for the household. Households without farm wage workers and those of farm operators
were eliminated at this stage of the survey. The remaining non-operator households
having at least one farm wage worker were then interviewed. Two schedules were
used, one for household heads and one for otner persons in the household who did farm
wage work in the past 12 months.

Sampling rates were designed to yield approximately 200 households containing one
or more seasonal farm workers in each of the four survey areas. As can be seen
from table 12, the New Mexico area yielded a smaller number of scheduled house-
holds than the other three areas in spite of its much larger number of total house-
holds visited. The worker population of Roswell-Artesia was more heterogeneous and
their dwellings more widely dispersed than those of the other areas. This increased
the difficulty of finding farm worker households.

In the four areas surveyed, 3,164 households were visited. These were located in
the sections of towns and villages where there were relatively large numbers of hired
farm workers. As the focus of the study was to be on hired workers rather than on
farm operators, a few households of farm operators living in these urban places were
eliminated from the survey. Most of the other households excluded were those having
no farm wage workers, although there were also a few which could not be interviewed.
The remaining 695 households, forming the nucleus of this study, were surveyed in
detail. These were non-operator households containing one or more persons who had
done some farm work for wages in the preceding 12 months.

Table 12.-Worker composition of farm-laborer households surveyed in specified local-
ities, May 1952_________________
of house-
Hoshod Population Wr sin hold mem- Workers
Locality Husehlds in these households bers who per
interviewed households worked in household
_____________________ ______________12 months _____
Number Number Number Percent Number
Total workers 695 3,204 1,589 50 2.3
Survey area of:
Pine Bluff
(Jefferson County) 204 821 435 53 2.1
(Crisp County) 189 826 480 58 2.5
Opelousas, Ville
Platte, Eunice,
Washington and
several villages
(St. Landry and
Parishes) 210 1,081 493 46 2.3
New Mexico
(Chaves County)
(Eddy County) 92 476 181 38 2.0

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3 1262 08918 7248

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