As we enter Women’s History Month, it is almost certain that much of the focus will be on how far women have come in securing equal status. While great strides have been made, there is still a long way to go. A 2011 report by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) notes that out of 43 million Americans who are poor, more than half are women. WOW’s report also indicated that 60% of low-wage earners are women.
Migrant and seasonal farmworkers are some of the lowest wage earners overall. The National Agricultural Workers Survey found the average annual income for a farmworker falls right around $10,000. For farmworker women, those numbers are likely even more appalling. AFOP members are doing their part to help break that mold. For example, one of our members in New Mexico, HELP-NM, is training farmworker women for jobs in innovative employment sectors such as solar energy. They are also training women for better-paying positions traditionally held by men within agriculture, such as tractor operators.
Rita Garcia-McManus, HELP-NM’s Workforce Development Division Director and AFOP Board Member, says in regard to their efforts to train women clients for non-traditional occupations, “We are very committed to helping farmworker women enter high-demand, high-paying jobs.”
We at AFOP are very proud our members are working to address not only poverty among the farmworker population, but addressing the need for non-traditional job training for farmworker women. The Department of Labor reports that women who work in non-traditional occupations earn approximately 20 to 30 percent more than women in more gender traditional jobs. This focus on encouraging and training women to enter non-traditional occupations will hopefully result in these women attaining greater economic security for themselves and their families.
This is certainly a great step, but the fact remains that these farmworker women, the majority of whom are Latina, will continue to face barriers their male counterparts will not have to endure. Nationally, women only earn 77 cents of every dollar paid to men. For African-American and Latina women, that number is significantly lower. Fortunately, many policymakers and organizations are keenly aware of the inequality in economic security for women in the workforce.
In 2009, the 111th Congress introduced the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first bill signed by President Barack Obama into law. In 2011, Congress tried to once again ensure women are being fairly compensated with the introduction of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aimed to update the Equal Pay Act. Unfortunately, the bill never made it to the Senate floor.
As we reflect this month on how many victories there have been in the fight for equal treatment of women, we must not lose sight of our goal. Close to equal is not enough. For farmworker women, laboring in what are often dangerous conditions in order to put food on their families’ and America’s tables, there is a considerable distance left to go.
Please “like” AFOP’s Facebook page to stay up-to-date on what is happening in the farmworker community and learn about ways you can get involved.