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Stevenson comments on farmworkers exclusion in labor statistics on Marketplace

May 3, 2019

Farm work was the heart of the American economy at one point, but the growth of cities and booming industrial revolution sent many flocking to cities, and farmworkers have been dwindling ever since. One stark illustration of this fall can be seen through their exclusion in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) monthly jobs report, which doesn’t include farmworkers. Explored in a May 1, 2019, piece titled “Why it’s the ‘nonfarm’ payrolls report,” Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman explores the history and ramifications of this intentional oversight, calling on Professor Betsey Stevenson for context. 

The BLS, founded in 1884, began tracking wages of industrial workers, but expanded to include unemployment numbers and other factors deemed relevant. Stevenson noted that in the 1920s and '30s, “BLS ramped up its data collection as economic upheaval and industrialization spread.” As farmworker numbers dwindled, their inclusion in the report became less and less statistically significant. “The sample frame for agriculture is insufficient for calculating statistically sound estimates,” clarified Stevenson, continuing “In other words, it’s such a small share now, it’s almost rounding error whether we put farm workers in or not."

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