Committee on Economic Security (CES)

Volume VI. Social Insurance

I. Security for Agricultural Workers


Dr. Louis H. Bean

December 1934

Unemployment Insurance

Employees in agricultural undertakings should be included in the general system of unemployment insurance on the same basis as that applied to industry, namely, such as are employed on farms which had six or more employees during any thirteen weeks of the previous calendar year. It is recognized that on this basis a much smaller proportion of agricultural than of industrial employees will be covered because of the relatively small number of farms having as many as six persons in an employment status. Little of the labor on the average farm is hired labor. No data is available as to the number of agricultural workers that will be affected by this arrangement. Large-scale farms, i.e., those producing commodities to the value of $30,000 or more yearly, were in 1929 only 0.1 percent of all farms in the United States. Expressed in the most generous terms possible, this type of operation represents less than five percent of American agriculture and employs about 11 percent of the total man-days of agricultural labor. Nevertheless, since these large establishments are concentrated in certain areas, notably in the southwest and far west, their inclusion in the system of insurance will be of real economic significance for the areas concerned. The question as to whether or not the employment insurance system can in time be extended to farms having fewer than six employees, likewise the problem of making adequate provision for laborers in seasonal agricultural employments, should be investigated by the federal administrative agency. A special commission to devise methods of improving the status of these groups as regards economic security would be advisable.

Old Age Security

A three-fold system of provision for aged persons in agricultural occupations should be considered.

  • State systems of non-contributory old-age pensions, paid to persons sixty-five years of age or more, regardless of occupation, on the basis of need. A Federal subsidy amounting to, perhaps, one-half of state and local expenditures, should be available to bring about a broadening of such of the twenty-nine state old-age pension systems, or rudiments of such systems, as do not include persons in agriculture, and to secure passage of legislation in the other states. Payment of the subsidy should be made contingent on the observance of standards laid down by federal administrative body. The source of funds for this subsidy should be left to the study of the federal administrative organization.
  • A federal system of compulsory contributory old-age insurance, designed to cover practically the same body of employees as the system of unemployment insurance. All such agricultural wage earners as it is administratively practicable to bring under the plan should be included. Farm operators should be excluded.
  • A federal system of voluntary old-age annuities, open to all persons, whether farm operators or laborers., who have an annual income of less than $2,000 and who are not included under the compulsory scheme. The federal government should make a contribution to this system proportionately as large as the subsidy paid into the compulsory system of old-age insurance. This is desirable as an inducement to the large numbers of scattered low-paid migratory workers, the farm croppers, tenants, and even small proprietors, whom it is administratively impracticable to include under the compulsory plan. Many of these persons recognize the need of providing for their old-age, or can, by educational means be brought to recognize it and should not be denied the opportunity on terms as favorable as those extended to persons under the compulsory system. Foreign experience appears to indicate that a substantial proportion of workers can be induced to avail themselves of insurance on a voluntary basis.

Workmen's Compensation

Workmen's Compensation laws should, as far as is practicable, include agricultural employments, and the federal government through the Department of Labor or otherwise should cooperate in securing greater uniformity of state laws and more satisfactory standards. At the present time the situation is far from satisfactory, with twelve states specifically excluding agricultural laborers from the benefits of their workmen's compensation systems, others including only certain extra-hazardous occupations on farms, four with no workmen's compensation laws at all, and only one with a comprehensive system of compensation covering agriculture.

The question as to whether or not farmers should be required to insure themselves in order to meet the possible expenditures under Workmen's Compensation should be given further study.

Health Provision and the Child Security Program

There should be further study of the means of improving public health work in rural areas, possibly by means of federal grants and aid. Investigation should be made also as to the possibility of extension of the schemes for collective provision against the effects of ill health on the part of farm operators and employees. There is no doubt that at the present time in many rural regions there is a lack of proper medical and hospital care, and need for educational effort as to preventive measures. Physicians in country districts are notoriously ill-paid, and yet their services are not effectively utilized. The conclusion of the committee on the Cost of Medical Care indicate that whether it be the agricultural population of Vermont or of the San Joaquin Valley in California, the present system, of local health administration stands unqualifiedly condemned, both as regards economy and efficiency. This despite the fact that, collectively, the rural families in most areas have sufficient funds to maintain a satisfactory system.

Federal assistance should be extended to states cooperating in the development of health, educational and welfare work designed to meet the needs of children in rural areas. Special attention should be devoted to the needs of children of migratory agricultural workers. Standards for this work merit the consideration of the Children's Bureau. The Department of Agriculture, further, approves the extension of federal aid to states cooperation in the expansion of mothers's pension and maternal health programs. It is particularly in rural areas that there is need for educational and service work, for demonstration and special research along these lines.

Special Measures for the Security of Agricultural Workers

Stabilization of Agricultural Labor Markets.

Employment exchanges, quite aside from their relation to the system of employment insurance, offer great possibilities of benefit to agricultural workers. Further extension of the exchanges in agricultural regions and development of a well trained personnel is to be desired. By this means, it might be found possible to avoid the seasonal concentration of the labor supply which takes place in such districts as the Imperial Valley, California, thus reducing to nil the laborers' prospect of securing satisfactory payment for his work. In this connection, it might be found practicable to place under regulation the private fee-charging employment agencies which send agricultural laborers into the truck and fruit-producing regions as the Imperial Valley in unduly large number.

Extension of Benefits of Adjustment Program to Laborers.

At the present time, the only agricultural laborers in whose behalf it is possible for the Secretary of Agriculture to take action in connection with production adjustment contracts is the group of laborers in the sugar beet fields. It is desirable that legislation should be enacted by the Congress authorizing the insertion of labor provisions in the benefit contracts drawn up under the adjustment programs for the various basic commodities. It is also desirable that authorization should be given the Secretary of Agriculture, in view of benefits conferred upon producers and shippers through marketing agreements, to take action with a view to establishing satisfactory standards of employment in the case of laborers working in agricultural employments under such marketing schemes. It is intolerable, and contrary to all conceptions of equity, that while industrial laborers receive consideration under the National Industrial Recovery Administration, some four million farm laborers should be left entirely without assistance in the struggle to regain standards prevalent prior to 1929.

Interests of Farmers in the Economic Security Program

(To be supplied later). [Editor's Note: Not included in CES Reports]

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