Experts say that one of the most effective ways to keep young people from having to do dangerous work on farms would be to pay adult farmworkers higher wages. That way, families would be able to survive without their kids having to take such jobs. Young people could focus on school instead.
Critics of raising wages say that would mean higher prices at the grocery store. But prices likely would not be as high as people might expect, say experts. According to research from the University of California, Davis, Americans would each need to pay just $21 more a year for their fruits and vegetables to increase farmworkers’ wages by 40 percent.
“Companies keep trying to scare people: [They are saying] if we pay people a fair living wage, it’s going to skyrocket prices,” says Norma Flores López . She is from the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, a group that helps migrant farmworkers and their families. “In reality, it’s not.”
Many people also say that federal laws are needed to protect young farmworkers. This past summer, U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard of California reintroduced a bill that would raise the minimum age for kids to be allowed to work on most farms to 14. The bill would also prevent them from working more than three hours on a school day, the same as for other industries.
In addition, experts say, it is important to raise awareness about how food is produced in the U.S. They point out that Americans have become increasingly concerned about animal welfare in the food industry. As a result, they have begun to eat less meat. Yet many people do not think twice about where their fruits and vegetables come from. That needs to change, say experts.
“You go and have your salad, but don’t realize someone’s breaking their back to harvest that,” says Juan Anciso. He is a professor at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.