The San Joaquin Valley is the agricultural powerhouse of the United States and California. California accounts for an eighth of U.S. farm sales, largely because it produces high value fruit and nut, vegetable and melon, and horticultural specialty (FVH) crops such as nursery products and flowers. Over three-fourths of the state's $37 billion in farm sales in 2010 were crop commodities, and almost 90 percent of the $28 billion in California crop sales represented labor-intensive FVH commodities.

About half of California's farm sales and farm employment are produced in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley with four million residents that stretches from Stockton in the north to Bakersfield in the south. The leading U.S. farm county is Fresno, which had farm sales of almost $6 billion in 2010.

Rural Americans feel uneasy about the country's changing demographics and California's farmworkers are aging and settling

  • Font size: Larger Smaller
  • Subscribe to this entry
  • Print

Changing Demographics

A Spring 2017 Washington Post survey found that rural Americans are uneasy about the changing demographics of the U.S. and believe their Christianity is under attack as the federal government caters to urban residents. For example, 42 percent of rural residents agree that immigrants are mostly a drain on the U.S., compared with 16 percent of urban residents. Two-thirds of rural residents say cracking down on illegal migrants would improve job prospects in their areas.

Rural was defined as non-metro counties and counties near population centers with up to 250,000 people, so that a quarter of Americans were considered rural in the poll. Pollsters say that the underlying issue is fairness, with rural residents skeptical of whom the federal government favors and helps.

Rural areas have had a weaker recovery from the 2008-09 recession than urban areas, and job growth has not returned to 2007 levels, prompting rural youth to leave for education and jobs and not return. A third of rural residents said that jobs and drug abuse were the biggest problems confronting their community, compared with 10 percent of urban residents.

The Wall Street Journal reported on May 26, 2017 that the total rural population declined in each of the past five years. Births in rural counties are declining, deaths are rising, and the median age of 41 is higher than the median 35 in large metro areas. Male labor force participation in rural counties is declining, and there are 60 disabled workers per 1,000 working age residents in rural counties, double the 30 per 1,000 rate in large metro areas.

California's Farmworkers

The National Agricultural Workers Survey found that California has the highest share of foreign-born crop workers: 90 percent. Since most foreign-born workers are unauthorized, this means that a higher share of California crop workers are unauthorized, 56 percent in 2013-14, than in the U.S., 47 percent. Another 27 percent of California crop workers were legal immigrants and 16 percent were U.S. citizens by birth or naturalization.

Almost all California crop workers, 84 percent, did farm jobs from one location in 2013-14. Seven percent, usually legal immigrants, shuttled between jobs in California and homes in Mexico. Only five percent were follow-the-crop migrants, with two or more U.S. farm jobs at least 75 miles apart.

California crop workers are aging and settling: their average age is 39, and a third were 44 or older in 2013-14. Average educational levels are rising slightly and are now eight years; 27 percent of California crop workers had graduated from high school in 2013-14. Almost half of California farmworkers are married parents and 10 percent are unmarried parents, while 30 percent are single without children.

Recent data suggest more youth under 24 and more workers brought to farms by Farm Labor Contractors (FLCs), who employed 38 percent of California crop workers in 2015-16. A quarter of workers were with their current employer less than a year, and hourly earnings were $10.83, compared $12.44 in the Farm Labor Survey for California field workers in 2016. Some 46 percent of California crop workers in 2015-16 reported working more than eight hours a day.

Average days worked on a farm in 2015-16 was 213. With median earnings of about $18,500, this suggests $88 a day (8.1 hours at $10.83). The share of workers interviewed while harvesting was one-sixth in 2015-16, compared to a third who were in semi-skilled jobs such as equipment operator. Some 80 percent of California crop workers in 2015-16 said they planned to continue working in agriculture at least five years, and 35 percent said they could find a nonfarm job within a month.

Over 30 percent of California crop workers had family incomes below the poverty line, and 61 percent reported that someone in the family received means-tested public assistance benefits in 2015-16. The poverty rate has been stable, but the share of families receiving some public assistance is rising, suggesting the presence of U.S.-born children who are eligible for benefits in families with unauthorized parents.

This post was published in the most recent Rural Migration News from June 2017.

Rural Migration News summarizes the most important migration-related issues affecting agriculture and rural America. Topics are grouped by category: Rural America, Farm Workers, Immigration, Other and Resources.


There are two editions of Rural Migration News. The paper edition has about 10,000 words and the email version about 20,000 words.


Distribution is by email. If you wish to subscribe, send your email address to ruralmigrationnews-subscribe [at} Current and back issues may be accessed at


The paper edition is available by mail for $30 domestic and $50 foreign for one year and $55 and $95 for a two-year subscription. Make checks payable to Migration Dialogue and send to: Philip Martin, Department of Ag and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis, California 95616 USA.

in Rural California Hits: 525 0 Comments
Philip Martin is Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California- Davis, chair of the University of California's Comparative Immigration and Integration Program, and editor of the monthly Migration News and the quarterly Rural Migration News.


Sign Up for our E-newsletter