El Paso ranks above average in pay for agricultural workers, study reports

El Paso News

FILE – In this May 12, 2020, file photo, farmworkers harvest beans during the coronavirus outbreak in Homestead, Fla. Many U.S. health centers that serve agricultural workers across the nation are receiving COVID-19 vaccine directly from the federal government in a program created by the Biden administration. But in some states, farmworkers are not yet in the priority groups authorized to receive the shots. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Agricultural workers across the country face grueling conditions and low wages, but a new report suggests above average pay for those in the Borderland.

A new report examined the best-paying places for agricultural workers and finds El Paso is one of them.

Agriculture has (and continues to be) one of the most important industries for the United States’ economy but continues to face many challenges.

Climate change, for example, has caused warmer temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events like droughts and fires; these events threaten crops, livestock, and forests. 

Additionally, agricultural exports have been negatively-impacted by trade disputes with other countries, while agricultural equipment has become more expensive to import. 

On top of these challenges, the agriculture industry has faced a long-term decline as a share of the economy. 

Farms alone represented more than three percent of the GDP in the early 1960s but now only make up less than one percent of the U.S. GDP.

Employment figures also serve as indicators of agriculture’s evolving role in the economy. The total number of workers in agriculture and related industries has been steadily declining since the end of World War II.

The U.S. economy boasted more than 8 million workers supporting agriculture in the late 1950s, and that figure was reduced by half over the next twenty years. 

Today, agriculture-related employment lingers around 2.3 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

One factor for the decline is that mechanical innovations have reduced the need for manual labor, as other sectors of the economy have grown and offered new opportunities.

Working conditions for agricultural workers remain some of the most difficult and dangerous of any profession, while workers continue to face some of the lowest wages out of any profession in the U.S. 

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for farming, fishing, and forestry occupations is less than $30,000 per year, or roughly 30 percent below the median across all occupations, which is $41,950.

Below is a data summary that compares El Paso’s statistics for agricultural workers to national rates:

El Paso averageNational average
Median annual earnings for agricultural workers (adjusted): $30,616Median annual earnings for agricultural workers (adjusted): $29,670
Median annual earnings for agricultural workers (unadjusted): $26,850Median annual earnings for agricultural workers (unadjusted): $29,670
Number of agricultural workers: 150Number of agricultural workers: 478,770
Cost of living (compared to national average): -12.3%Cost of living (compared to national average): N/A
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics

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