Legalization and Immigrants in U.S. Agriculture

SCID Working Paper 348



Latin America


The article hypothesizes how a new program granting amnesty to undocumented immigrant farm workers already present in the U.S. would affect agricultural labor market characteristics. Earnings differentials between undocumented and documented agricultural workers, decomposed by hourly-equivalent wages and hours worked per week, as well as public aid program participation decisions, are studied both nationally and restricting to the California labor market. Undocumented immigrants are shown to make three to five percent less in terms of wages, to work one to two fewer hours per week, and to have a five to six percent lower probability of aid program participation than their documented immigrant counterparts. These differentials are partially attributable to selection into legal status, and differentials are generally smaller for Californian workers than they are for agricultural workers nationally. Thus, the analysis suggests that a legalization program, reminiscent of the SAW program under IRCA, would likely have minimal effects on earnings and program participation propensities of currently undocumented agricultural immigrants. An extension argues that if employers pass-through any labor cost increases to consumers via food prices, the implicit tax rate on agricultural products would be similarly minimal.