Position Statement No. 1
Sarasota/Manatee Farmworker Supporters
Needs Assessment: Farmworkers of Manatee County, Florida
February 7, 2005
(This position evolved from the Public Forum of 2/5/05 devoted to the topic)
The Needs Assessment Survey was prepared under the direction of Christine Alcott-Roberts for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Though still evolving it is clearly a significant contribution to the data needed to accurately understand and develop programs to improve the situation of the farmeworkers in Manatee County. To extrapolate from this data beyond the county to generalize about the nation entails some risk but can still be very useful.
The picture that evolves from the Survey is one of a degree of low level social and economic conditions which places the farmworker in an extremely unfortunate position in the community. Unlike other classes, ethnic groups, genders and racial minorities, the special features are such that one can only view the farmworker as a caste in the United States beyond the pale of the country’s usual norms and safeguards.
Pertinent data that is included in the survey are:
Only 5.4% have completed high school.
Only 4% of children have access to sports
A high ranking request by parents is that there be parks for the children to play in.
82% of the farmworkers complain of overcrowding. They feel unsafe to walk around their neighborhoods.
Only 39% regard their housing as good.
They earn less than $10,000 per year income. The median in Manatee is $38,000.
9.8% are unemployed as compared to 3.7% in the county.
Only 1% have a pension plan.
10% have health insurance.
Only 6% have a bank account.
91% pay their health bills in cash.
The distribution of farmworkers by occupation: 31% in packing houses; 30% in nurseries; 20% in fieldwork; 10% in citrus; 8% as truck drivers.
(Tirso Moreno of the Farmworker Association of Florida reminds us that at 40 years of age the growers generally judge the fieldworkers to be unproductive and seek to replace them.)
These statistics coupled with what we know about the denial of voting and union organizing opportunities, especially in Florida, presents a very special assessment of farmworkers.
To advance their position in society is a must if some degree of “level playing field” is to be achieved for all people in the U.S. The “drive to the bottom” of wages and working conditions will exacerbate as long as these extreme farmworker conditions prevail. The Survey is a good beginning to gather critically needed information on farmworkers.
There is a Department of Labor National Agricultural Workers Study (NAWS) in progress which is limited in scope and is in danger of being cancelled. SMFS has signed on with a group of organizations led by the National Farmworker Alliance to protest its discontinuation.
Therefore, the SMFS wholeheartedly endorses the Needs Assessment Study and urges its dissemination and backing by all groups desirous of improving the situation of the farmworkers and the improvement of the norms of their employment and living conditions.
(I suggest that all Position Statements be entered on our Web site when approved and that they be re-evaluated and adjusted every 6 months; that our position br disseminated to other organizations in need of direction in their farmworker policy).