The End of Farm Labor Abundance

by J. Edward Taylor, Diane Charlton, and Antonio Yúnez-Naude
in Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy (2012)

An analysis of nationally representative panel data from rural Mexico, with observations in years 2002, 2007, and 2010, suggests that the same shift out of farm work that characterized U.S. labor history is well underway in Mexico. Meanwhile, the demand for agricultural labor in Mexico is rising. In the future, U.S. agriculture will compete with Mexican farms for a dwindling supply of farm labor. Since U.S. domestic workers are unwilling to do farm work and the United States can feasibly import farm workers from only a few countries in close geographic proximity, the agricultural industry will eventually need to adjust production to use less labor. The decline in foreign labor supply to farms in the United States ultimately will need to be accompanied by farm labor conservation, switching to less labor intensive crops and technologies, and labor management practices that match fewer workers with more farm jobs.

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