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Many Faces of Migrant Workers

Migrant workers in the United States include a diverse population. Learn more about migrant workers.

Since there is no one type of migrant, it is helpful to emphasize that migrants are often misrepresented by words that generalize and conflate their experience with others. For example, in Hannah Weyer's first film about the Luis family, La Boda, Elizabeth and her family share with us an experience that is different from the typical mainstream media portrayal of the migrant worker who is "illegal," "victim," and "other." Without diminishing the everyday hardships of the diverse migrant communities throughout the country, Elizabeth's story compels viewers to see her family's struggles and celebrations with a human face.

Facts and Figures

* Recent estimates by the U.S. Department of Labor suggest that approximately 13 million U.S. citizens migrate between states earning their living working in the agricultural industry harvesting crops, working in poultry plants and fisheries.

* A nomadic way of life can have particularly far-reaching repercussions for the children of migrant families — some change schools five times in one school year.

* According to Youth and Careers, an electronic newsletter published by North Carolina State University, the annual earnings of a high school dropout is on average $12,800 versus $18,740 earned by those who graduate from high school. The annual average earnings for a person with a Bachelor's degree is $32,630. Migrant students have some of the highest dropout rates in the country with severe consequences (over $200,00 in lost earnings over a lifetime); an incomplete education can translate into lesser chances for moving beyond the cycle of migration and low-wage labor. (See Ricardo Sanchez's op-ed.)

* According to Troubling Label for Hispanics: 'Girls Most Likely to Drop Out,' a recent article in the New York Times (Front Page, March 25, 2001), 26% of Hispanic girls leave school without a diploma as compared to 13% of African American girls and 6.9% of white girls. The only group with a higher dropout rate is that of Hispanic boys at a staggering 31%. Factors that contribute to the higher drop out rate for Hispanic girls can include obligations such as contributing to the family income, domestic duties, and conflicting values. This is especially true for migrant girls. These pressures result in education ranking as a lower priority.

* According to a 1996 USA Today special report on migrant workers, 46% of all migrants live below the poverty line. However, 77% of illegal migrants live below the poverty line. The average annual earnings for a migrant worker is $5,000 for 29 weeks of work as compared to the typical United States median household income of $40,800 pre year as of 1999 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1999).

* According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, agricultural workers accounted for only 3% of the workforce in 1993. However, they accounted for 14% of work-related deaths. Additionally, 24,000 children are injured and 300 die as a result of work-related accidents annually (Rothenberg, 1998). Young Children magazine (March, 2001) also reports that pesticides are an ever-present danger for migrant workers.





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