Migration and US agricultural competitiveness

Philip L. Martin


Agriculture has one of the highest shares of foreign-born and unauthorized workers among US industries; over three-fourths of hired farm workers were born abroad, usually in Mexico, and over half of all farm workers are unauthorized. Farm employers are among the few to openly acknowledge their dependence on migrant and unauthorized workers, and they oppose efforts to reduce unauthorized migration unless the government legalizes currently illegal farm workers or provides easy access to legal guest workers. The effects of migrants on agricultural competitiveness are mixed. On the one hand, wages held down by migrants keep labour-intensive commodities competitive in the short run, but the fact that most labour-intensive commodities are shipped long distances means that long-run US competitiveness may be eroded as US farmers have fewer incentives to develop labour-saving and productivity-improving methods of farming and production in lower-wage countries expands.


Agriculture; farm labour; labour markets; competitiveness; meatpacking

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