You may imagine that the farm worker who picked the blueberries you ate with yogurt this morning was Latino. If you think of the laborer as a man, someone well into their twenties if not approaching middle age, you’re envisioning some of the itinerate workforce that harvests American crops—but on some farms, the reality of who does the picking can be very, very different.
The person harvesting your berries might be a young child of just 7 or 8 who was brought along to the field by the man you imagined picking the fruit, his or her father. Because when you live in a labor camp and a paid a per piece rate rather than an hourly wage, how is anyone going to pay for daycare?
Al Jazeera America’s “Fault Lines” tackled the issue of child labor in agriculture Friday, and ran a story, “For children of migrant workers, choice can be the field or the car,” that looked at the realities of a family working on Washington berry farm with no good options for childcare.
“Lack of child care and dangerous conditions in migrant labor camps lead many farmworkers to take their children along with them to the fields,” writes E. Tammy Kim. “The younger ones may play or wait in the car; the older ones often end up picking crops themselves. A 2010 report by Human Rights Watch found that “hundreds of thousands of children are working as hired laborers in agriculture.”
Along with the fluctuating income that comes along with picking different crops throughout the year (and sometimes no crops at all), the wages of farmworkers can vary wildly—and thus the benefits they qualify for. “Sometimes we qualify for child care, but not every time,” says Cornelio Ramires, who has four kids ranging from 6 months to 8 years old with his wife Maria, who works picking crops too. They’re able to pay for childcare when a subsidy isn’t available, but other families aren’t so lucky.
Attorney Andrea Schmitt says that families who do bring their young children to work aren’t to blame.
This is completely a social problem, not a problem of individual parenting, but there are a lot of parents who are bringing their kids into the fields when they’re 8. It’s because any extra hands are needed to make a living and because they don’t have childcare.