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Farm Labor: The Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR)

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Abstract:

American agricultural employers have long utilized foreign workers on a temporary basis, regarding them as an important labor resource. At the same time, the relatively low wages and adverse working conditions of such workers have caused them to be viewed as a threat to domestic American workers.

Some have argued that foreign guest workers compete unfairly with U.S. workers in at least two respects. First, they are alleged to compete unfairly in terms of the compensation that they are willing to accept. Second, their presence is alleged to render it more difficult for domestic workers to organize and to bargain collectively with management.

To mitigate any "adverse effect"for the domestic workforce, a system of wage floors was developed that applies, variously, both to alien and citizen workers -- i.e., the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR).

This report deals with one element of the immigration issue: the question of the use of H-2A workers. It introduces the adverse effect wage rate, it examines the concerns out of which it grew, and it explains at least some of the problems that have been encountered in giving it effect.

The report is based, statistically, upon the AEWR issued each spring by the Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor. It will be updated periodically as new information becomes available.

The report is written from the perspective of labor policy, not of immigration policy. For discussion of immigration policy, see the Current Legislative Issues (CLIs) on the Congressional Research Service webpage.