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Farmworkers & Wages

Agriculture serves as the economic backbone for North Carolina, and farmworkers’ hand labor is needed to produce crops that bring in billions of dollars to the state’s economy each year. Despite this fact, farmworkers remain one of the state’s most economically disadvantaged and unprotected group of laborers. 

Agriculture is North Carolina’s leading industry, including food, fiber, and forestry, bringing in $59 billion and constituting 22% of the state’s income.

Eighty-five percent of fruits and vegetables produced in the United States, including those in North Carolina, are harvested by hand.

Each farmworker’s labor contributes over $12,000 in profits to North Carolina’s economy annually.

Farmworkers’ average annual income is $11,000 making them the second lowest paid workforce in the nation.  Farmworkers living in East Coast states such as North Carolina earn about 35% less than this national average.

In North Carolina, a farmworker needs to pick and haul 125 buckets of sweet potatoes (two tons) to make $50.Decreased Wages
Though farmworker wages have increased slightly over the last decade, after adjustment for inflation they have actually decreased by 5%.

Food Insecurity
According to a recent study, nearly five out of ten farmworker households in North Carolina cannot afford enough food for their families.

Child Labor
Labor laws allow children as young as twelve years old to work in agriculture in North Carolina with their parent’s consent.  However, children of all ages can be found working in the fields. 

Limited Workers’ Compensation
In North Carolina most agribusinesses are exempt from laws requiring Workers’ Compensation for farmworkers who are injured on the job.

Few Workers’ Rights
There is no protection under North Carolina or federal law for farmworkers to organize a union, work overtime, take sick leave, or for those who are laid off from their jobs.

North Carolina has a diverse agricultural economy, with 56,000 farmers growing over 80 different crops.

Over 150,000 farmworkers and their dependents labor each year in North Carolina in crops including tobacco, greenhouse and nursery, Christmas trees, vegetables and fruits.  Together these crops bring in more than $1.8 billion in sales to North Carolina’s economy.

With each agricultural season, farmworkers’ presence increases the overall economy in the regions in which they work and boosts the number of jobs available to local residents.

These facts come from research compiled by the NC Farmworker Institute.

Download the factsheet.