America's Aging Farmworkers Have No Safety Net

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At least 40 percent of farm workers in the United States do not have legal immigration status. Americans are generally unwilling to do backbreaking work in the fields, farmers say.

But many of the undocumented farmworkers who power the country's agricultural industry can't stop working, even as they approach age 70, my colleague Miriam Jordan recently reported.

“Congress's failure to reach consensus on how to fix our broken immigration system has left low-wage, aging farmworkers in an especially precarious situation,” Miriam said. “Many told me they expected to work until they died, because they have no safety net.”

You can read Miriam's full article on the plight of older farmworkers in the United States here.

Miriam, who covers immigration, began researching older farm workers after noticing that many people who work in the fields are 60 or older. She learned that the average age of foreign-born farm workers in the United States is now 41, a figure that has increased in recent years.

Their report revealed that these older farmworkers are largely Mexican immigrants who used to engage in circular migration: crossing the border to work in the harvest and then returning to their home country. The following season, they would do it again.

But as successive federal administrations, starting with President Bill Clinton's, began erecting barriers along the border, going back and forth became more expensive and more dangerous. It was necessary to pay a smuggler or attempt to cross the line alone, traveling on foot through remote deserts and mountains. Many farm workers abandoned coming and going and settled in the United States. They sent money to families in the old country or started families here.

But their lack of legal status means many have no retirement plans and no idea how they would live if they stopped working. They are not eligible for Social Security benefits, Medicare and other forms of retirement relief.

Miriam interviewed farmworkers in California, Oregon, Georgia and Florida, and in almost all cases, she said, they file tax returns and pay income taxes.

“Many of these undocumented workers have paid into Social Security their entire working lives and will never receive retirement benefits,” he told me. “Contributions from these immigrants flow into the system, helping keep Social Security solvent and contributing to the well-being of millions of Americans.”

A California law allows undocumented farmworkers to receive health care through Medi-Cal, but that is not the case in most other states. Many farmworkers worry about their ability to pay for health care as they age, and decades of exposure to pesticides, extreme heat and strenuous physical labor take their toll.

“I feel tired,” one worker, Esperanza Sánchez, told Miriam. Sanchez, who at 72 is the oldest worker on her team in the Coachella Valley, spends eight hours a day, six days a week, crouching on the ground picking leafy greens. “I feel like stopping, but how can I do it?”

Today's advice comes from Carol Ann Meme, who lives in Fresno:

“This year, us lucky people who live in Fresno were able to start our Christmas celebrations with a walk down Christmas Tree Lane. The lane, which celebrates 100 years this year, was started by a family who had lost a young child to illness. They decorated the tree in their front yard to celebrate their son. Others joined in and now this street that is beautiful on a normal day (big beautiful trees, charming houses and friendly people walking all year round) attracts thousands of people who can walk or drive along Van Ness Boulevard from December 2 to 25 . This year I went with my Frenchie (in a stroller so he wouldn't get trampled or tired), my son, my daughter-in-law, my granddaughter, my daughter-in-law's parents, and my boyfriend. It was wonderful!!!”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.


As 2023 comes to a close, tell us what the best part of your year was. Did you have a big birthday, start a new job, or adopt a pet? Email us at CAtoday@nytimes.com. Please include your name and the city you live in.


Tulare County resident Peter Park became the youngest person in California history to pass the state bar exam, at the age of 17, Fox26 News reports.

Park completed the law exam this summer, but her rapid academic journey began much earlier. At age 13, at the suggestion of her father, Park began studying for a series of standardized college-level exams that would allow him to apply to law school without a college degree, The Washington Post reported.

In high school, Park attended classes with his classmates during the day and enrolled in a four-year online law program at night. She graduated high school two years later and received her law degree earlier this year.

Park, now 18, was sworn in as a prosecutor in the Tulare County district attorney's office during a ceremony last week, making him one of the youngest practicing attorneys in the country.


Thank you for reading. Come back tomorrow. — Soumya

PS Here it is Today's mini crossword.

Maia Coleman and Halina Bennet contributed to California Today. You can contact the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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