Volume 44, Number 175,
October-December 2013
The Emerging Phenomenon
of Unemployed Agricultural Day Laborers
Antonieta Barrón*
Date received: February 28, 2012. Date accepted: May 21, 2013

The objective of this work is to introduce a phenomenon that has not been proposed in the study of agricultural labor markets and rural employment. This text questions the traditional definition of unemployment and discusses how this definition, which is in use by the National Statistics Institute (inegi), is applied in formal labor markets, but not in the informal realm. Finally, this work compares the national and rural levels and uses case studies to conclude and reinforce the initial thesis of increased unemployment in rural labor markets. This work highlights gender differences and concludes that rural unemployment affects women more than men, contrary to the phenomenon at the national level.
This work highlights gender differences and concludes that rural unemployment affects women more than men, contrary to the phenomenon at national level.

Keywords: agricultural day laborers, migration, unemployment.

The economic crisis that began in the United States at the end of 2007 and soon spread to the rest of the globe led to a problem that has become rather serious in some countries: unemployment. According to the International Labor Organization (ilo): "The world enters the year 2012 facing a stark reality: one in three workers in the labour force is currently unemployed or poor. That is, out of a global labour force of 3.3 billion, 200 million are unemployed and a further 900 million are living with their families below the US$2 a day poverty line" (ilo, 2012: 33).

One of the most apparent effects of the crisis in Mexico is open unemployment, which in the recent past was considered insignificant, largely because of the way it was defined. To be considered unemployed, a person had to meet three conditions: looking for a job during the time period at hand, not having performed any activity to obtain income and being available to work.

Given the economic features of Mexico, the economically active population cannot be considered unemployed because they lack unemployment insurance and will seek out any option to generate income, even if it is precarious. However, despite the limits of this definition, unemployment is currently at unprecedented levels and affects all sectors of the population, both urban and rural and people of all ages. In this way, unemployment, vulnerable employment and poverty are intimately entwined.

According to the ilo, some indicators of vulnerable employment and unemployment are symptoms of widespread poverty. The first relates to the amount of people working as freelancers or family members without salaries, with respect to total employment. Although the ilo does not include it, the definition of precarious employment should be added to the working population that lacks benefits. Among freelancers, precarious income is rather common. They tend to lack contractual relations, benefits and social protection. Non-salaried family members are even more vulnerable as this indicator is more gender sensitive and prevalent among rural populations.

An analysis of unemployment must be done by separating the urban population from rural groups, because their behavior is quite different, and the chance of obtaining a job in urban areas is much greater than in rural. For this reason, so-called open unemployment is much greater in urban than rural areas. For rural populations, unemployment is not a problem that has been widely recorded. If a person has work, the person works. If not, the person does not look for a job, because he or she is already familiar with the channels and time periods when jobs are available. In this way, the concepts of employed and unemployed are more relevant to the formal job market and urban zones. However, recent changes in the national and rural economies have led to the emergence of rural and agricultural unemployment.

In light of the above, the purpose of this work is to analyze the behavior of employment among the day laborer population involved in labor-intensive agricultural work. Three regions are key for this sector: the Valle de Culiacán, Sinaloa, the Valle de San Quintín, Baja California and Armería, Colima. The latter two are the most important agricultural labor markets. This text sets forth the hypothesis that a crisis affecting the population will bring about change in the survival strategies of rural and migrant populations, a phenomenon that pressures the agricultural labor markets by increasing the supply of labor despite minimal changes in demand, with the outcome of an increase in rural unemployment.1

This analysis references three sources: the population census, surveys conducted by the National Agricultural Day Laborer Program (Paja) and case studies in Sinaloa, Baja California and Colima, which surveyed 935 day laborers (501 men and 434 women).

The population census provides a macro vision of the issue. The Paja surveys do as well, but also contribute a more specific perspective, while the case studies corroborate the hypotheses proposed here. In the end, micro-level analysis provides certainty for macro-level trends.

* Professor of the Faculty of Economics at the unam, Mexico. E-mail: antonietabarron@yahoo.com.mx

1 Macro analysis of census data from the National Occupation and Employment Survey (enoe) and the National Household Income and Spending Survey (enigh), as well as data from three surveys conducted by the Service Program for Agricultural Day Laborers (1998-1999, 2004 and 2009) will be used. Although these are not strictly comparable, because the 1998 survey was directed towards push and pull zones, the 2004 survey targeted only pull zones and the 2009 version focused on laborers from 13 plants, the records associated with populations working in pull zones and on export crops, which happen to be in pull zones, were used. The methodology of the surveys is not presented here, but it can be found in the Day Laborer Program portal. This information is important as an alternative because both the enoe and the enigh apply to households and do not identify temporary and migrant day laborers. For purposes of comparison, this work will reference three case studies supported by dgapa-papiit, conducted by the author between 2009 and 2010, and will indicate when this information is being used.

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 194 July-September 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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