Oregon farmworkers lack access to childcare, housing and study findings

A big engine of Oregon’s economy lacks access to basic resources like childcare, housing and transportation, according to a new survey of farmworkers in the state.

The Farmworker Needs Assessment surveyed nearly 1,000 farm workers and held in-person forums in 11 Oregon counties. Oregon Human Development Corporation (OHDC) has partnered with Hummingbird Consulting in August to conduct the assessment, said OHDC executive director Martin Campos-Davis. It was funded by a community service block grant from Oregon Housing and Community Services.

What are the needs ?

The assessment combines state and federal data on farmworker communities with responses from farmworker surveys, conducted in person in 11 counties across the state.

The overall conclusion is this: Oregon farmworkers are overworked and often exploited, but many lack access to resources that could give them some stability and mobility in their life/work.

“The people who work the hardest get the least,” said Jody O’Connor, assessment author and director of research and assessment at Colibri Consulting.

According to survey responses and group forums, the needs of agricultural workers are vast. They need help learning English; they need help accessing legal assistance; they need access to transport, food and health care.

And those needs are “significant,” according to the assessment. At least 50% of survey respondents said they needed “a lot” of help with 13 of the 16 identified needs, and more than 25% needed at least some help with all 16.

Farmworkers who participated in the Colibri study reported wages too low to cover living expenses, poor treatment from employers, and health issues including pesticide exposure and poor hygiene. base.

“You work out of necessity,” said a participant in the agricultural workers’ forum. “Workers put up with poor treatment and housing because they need work.”

O’Connor said one of the most startling findings was the number of farm workers concerned about clean toilets and water near their job sites.

During the discussions, the farm workers said that they did not have access to a bathroom or that the ones they used were “dirty”. It came up in almost every forum, O’Connor said.

The assessment quantified the number of Aboriginal languages ​​spoken. There are at least 15 indigenous languages ​​spoken in Marion County, according to aggregated data from interpretation requests from the Department of Justice, migrant education programs and the COVID-19 Farmworker Study. The COVID-19 Farmworker Study reported 26 native languages ​​spoken statewide.

This matters because language is already a barrier to accessing basic resources, Campos-Davis said.

Without a reliable way to communicate with native language speakers, even organizations that work directly with agricultural workers cannot truly understand their needs.

Just scratching the surface

The biggest discovery, O’Connor said, was how much there was left to learn about Oregon farmworkers.

“We kinda know; but the big thing we know is that we don’t know much,” she said.

The assessment relied on incomplete and inconsistent data, she said.

Agencies use data on Latin American communities as a “proxy” for farmworkers, even though it is not representative. The Migration Policy Institute, for example, reported that 14% of agricultural workers were undocumented in 2019. But the National Agriculture Worker Society puts that figure at 46%.

O’Connor said this assessment “just scratches the surface of understanding who agricultural workers are and what they need.”

O’Connor said she hopes the assessment can serve as a basis for future research. This research should collect more precise data on the number of agricultural workers living in each county, details of their incomes and the languages ​​they speak.

Campos-Davis said the OHDC is seeking funding to complete a study on native languages ​​that the University of Oregon has started. The cost is between $200,000 and $450,000.

Graphics were generated by Colibri Consulting and R for the Rest of Us for the OHDC Farmworker Needs Assessment Report

Funding and continuing research will take time. In the immediate future, Campos-Davis said he hopes the OHDC and partner organizations can use the farmworker needs assessment to guide their strategy.

There are “far more needs” than the OHDC can possibly meet, he said, but the assessment can serve as a benchmark for organizations to direct energy and resources.

The assessment offers several recommendations for the OHDC and other agricultural worker organizations. Recommendations include ongoing communication with farmworkers, collaboration between organizations that support farmworkers, and leadership development and education for farmworkers.

It also recommends more direct farmworker involvement in policy advocacy Farmworkers were key voices at rallies and legislative hearings last year when the Oregon legislature considered and passed a measurement require farmers to pay overtime workers from 2023.

The final critical element is farmer investment, O’Connor said. The “whole system” is in trouble, including the farmers.

“But the foundation is the workers,” O’Connor said. “Without them, there is nothing.”

Shannon Sollitt Covers Farm Workers in the Mid-Willamette Valley as a Corps Member for Report for America, a program that aims to support local journalism and democracy by reporting on under-reported issues and communities. You can reach her at [email protected].

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