Volume 44, Number 175,
October-December 2013
The Emerging Phenomenon
of Unemployed Agricultural Day Laborers
Antonieta Barrón
Rural Unemployment ( ...continuation )

Although average unemployment rates are relatively similar at both the national and rural levels, when the data is broken down by age group, key differences emerge. The highest unemployment rates are found among males below age 19 in rural areas. However, besides this sector, unemployment affects rural areas less for middle-aged people and has a lower impact on females than on males. This may be due to under-recording of responses among females, because when they lack a paid job, they may be considered housewives rather than unemployed.

Given past trends in unemployment, it could be expected that unemployment will be concentrated among young people. Although it does affect those aged 15 to 19 years, the highest rates are found among middle-aged populations, from 20 to 39 years of age on the national level and in rural areas, and with a stronger effect on men. High male unemployment at the national level can be explained by the fact that the sector most affected by the crisis was manufacturing, where the male employed population is highly concentrated. In rural areas, this statistic is likely due to an increase in supply over demand for the work force.

The fact that national male unemployment is greater than it is for females can be explained by the idea that men tend to work in more technical sectors that suffered more from the crisis, while women work more in traditional sectors (not highly technical) that were less affected by the crisis. In addition, although women are often in more precarious conditions, they have more options for self-employment.

As indicated at the beginning, if migrant agricultural day laborers do not have work, they do not look for it and are therefore not defined as unemployed, while women frequently believe that their role in salary relations is secondary with respect to unpaid household work.


This text will now describe some specific labor markets involved in vegetable cultivation to strengthen the arguments set forth here: the Valle de San Quintín, Baja California, Culiacán, Sinaloa and lemon picking in Armería, Colima, where the number of days worked, including those that do not work, were recorded and the unemployment rate was very high.

A question regarding how many days laborers had worked the week prior revealed that 8% of men and 10% of women, despite having gone to the sites where day laborers gather or looking for work at the camp, did not receive work.

As can be observed, case studies allow researchers to identify phenomena that may be overlooked by censuses and surveys, especially with regards to migrant day laborers. If those that report zero days worked the week prior are considered as unemployed, then unemployment in specific labor markets – such as the agricultural-intensive market – is significantly higher than national averages for rural zones and further complicate the economic situation of day laborers.

In the past, day laborers did not work due to personal reasons, such as an ill child, rain leading to suspension of harvesting, not waking up early enough, not obtaining a container in which to harvest fruit, etc. By contrast, nowadays, laborers do not work because they cannot find someone to hire them. According to the Paja, in 1997 in San Quintín, Baja California, 4% of men and 0% of women did not work the week prior and 37.5% of men and 30.4% of women worked all of the days of the week. Comparing this data to the case studies, it becomes clear that the day laborer market has deteriorated.

23 Three case studies were conducted between June 2009 and June 2010: Armería, Colima, Culiacán, Sinaloa and the Valle de San Quintín, Baja California, including 1,010 families. The survey is cited in the chapter: “Intermittent Employment and Unemployment in Agriculture for Exportation: From a Macro to Micro Perspective with a Gender Approach” (Domínguez and Brown, 2013).

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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