Farm Worker Health Concerns

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“It is clearly evident that our path travels through a valley of tears well known to all farm workers, because in all valleys the way of the farm workers has been one of sacrifice for generations. Our sweat and our blood have fallen on this land to make other men rich. This pilgrimage is a witness to the suffering we have seen for generations.” -Cesar Chavez

Farm Worker Health Concerns

  • A 2000 report on the health of California farmworkers, sponsored by the California Endowment, found that “no group of workers in America faces greater barriers in accessing basic health services. (Washington Post, October 12, 2007) Full story
  • Physicians treating farm workers generally compare their health to that of residents of the developing world. Farm workers suffer from chronic infections, advanced untreated diseases, and numerous problems resulting from limited access to medical care. (Daniel Rothenberg, With These Hands: The Hidden World of Migrant Farmworkers Today.)
  • Infant mortality rates among farm worker children are double the national average. (Ibid.)
  • The average life expectancy of a farm worker in the United States is forty-nine years. (Bugarin and Lopez, “Farm workers in California.” California State Library. California Research Bureau. 1998.)
  • Farm workers suffer higher incidences of heat stress, dermatitis, influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and pesticide-related illnesses than other occupational groups. Few, if any, farm workers have health insurance; and very few are covered through Medicaid. (“United States Farm worker Fact Sheet.” Student Action With Farmworkers.)
  • Depression is common among farmworker adults, where it is often related to isolation, economic hardship, and weather conditions. In addition, poverty, stress, mobility, and lack of recreational opportunities make farmworkers especially vulnerable to substance abuse. (www.ncfh.org)
  • Migrant workers don’t generally earn enough to pay for health care, and they almost never have health insurance. They may also lack transportation to the clinic or, since they don’t receive sick leave, be afraid of losing wages or even losing their jobs if they take time off to seek health care. The U.S. Public Health Service funds some migrant health centers to help provide care to farmworkers, but not nearly enough to meet the need. (www.ncfh.org)
  • Although farmworkers fit the eligibility profile for assistance programs such as Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, and Social Security Insurance, few can actually obtain benefits. This is because of enrollment and eligibility standards that are not designed to accommodate people who must move frequently to find work, or whose income may fluctuate dramatically during the agricultural season even though their annual wages are below the poverty level. Also, many farmworkers do not understand that they are eligible for benefits and so do not apply.
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