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Protecting Youth at Work: Health, Safety, and Development of Working Children and Adolescents in the United States
children living with them and 13 percent of those children are reported to be working in the fields (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1998).
Reasons for Children's Work in Agriculture
From the perspective of the parents whose children work in agriculture, there are numerous reasons for the practice. Hired farm laborers, including migrant and seasonal workers, often include children and adolescents in family work teams. Economic need, the availability of jobs for people with limited command of the English language, and the fact that little training is necessary may make working in agriculture an attractive choice for many people.
On family farms, the reasons for children's participation in hazardous work was recently reported in a study of Wisconsin farm fathers (Lee et al., 1997). Fathers were asked about selected factors that influenced their decision to allow young children to drive tractors, ride on tractors, and be near the hind (kicking) legs of dairy cows. These high-risk activities were very common practices, and the fathers believed strongly that they were justified because they would help children gain farm experience, develop a strong work ethic, spend time with other family members (during farm work), build self-confidence, and save work time and money for their fathers.
Economic necessity is the main reason migrant children work in the fields. Most migrant farmworkers do not earn enough to raise their families out of poverty (Davis, 1997). A national survey conducted between 1989 and 1991 estimated that about 57 percent of migrant farmworkers and 73 percent of migrant children under the age of 14 live in poverty (Gabbard et al., 1994). Added hands in the field mean more productivity for migrant families when they are paid on a piece-work basis.
Common payroll practices work to the detriment of children, among others, in farmworkers' families. Frequently, the earnings of whole families are listed in payroll records under the name of the male head of household. This practice keeps children and other family members from earning the minimum wage or receiving credit toward Social Security, unemployment compensation, or workers' compensation benefits. By appearing to have fewer workers on their payrolls, some employers are able to completely avoid coverage un-