Three essays on immigration reform, worker self -selectivity and earnings in the U.S. farm labor market
The purpose of this study is to examine contemporary issues in US farm labor markets and immigration policy via three stated objectives. Specifically, the study evaluates how farm labor market outcomes have changed with the increasing presence of foreign workers and in the wake of past immigration policies, it assesses the implications of legal status for unauthorized workers’ wages and employment, and it evaluates the potential impact of immigration policy reform for farm workers’ earnings.
The first essay evaluates the historical linkages between U.S. immigration policy and U.S. farm labor markets, and specifically how market outcomes have evolved following previous legislation such as the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). This is accomplished with a review of previous research on immigration policies from 1917 through 1986, and with an evaluation of detailed descriptive statistics on farm worker and labor market characteristics from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS). The descriptive statistics are used to characterize the US and Florida farm labor markets in the post IRCA period.
The implications of legal status for unauthorized workers’ wages and employment are assessed in the second essay. Foreign farm workers are found to jointly select into U.S. farm employment in an authorized or unauthorized status and into skilled or unskilled jobs, and these choices are found to have certain earnings implications. The essay makes a contribution to the literature by analyzing workers’ joint selections into authorized and unauthorized status and skilled and unskilled employment in the context of a double selectivity framework. Previous studies have dealt with both of these issues but separately.
The issue of legalization for unauthorized workers is addressed in the final essay. The analytical approach uses a treatment effects approach which casts legalization as a treatment (or policy intervention) under the assumption of heterogeneity. The results show an overall positive impact of legalization on farm worker wage outcomes, and with the expected positive sorting on the gains from legal status. The evaluation of immigration policy implications for the farm labor market via the treatment effects framework is a valuable contribution to the literature since this approach has not been used in the context of farm labor before.
Given the current strong national and political interest in immigration reform and attendant issues for the agricultural sector, the study is a timely contribution. It should also be of considerable interest to agricultural economists, particularly those working in areas of labor intensive agriculture where labor issues are prime concerns for growers.