J Agromedicine. 2024 Apr 23:1-19. doi: 10.1080/1059924X.2024.2341803. Online ahead of print.

ABSTRACT

OBJECTIVES: Farmworkers in Michigan face precarious and exploitative labor conditions that affect their access to affordable, fair, and quality housing, which are key social determinants of health. We sought to assess the health, working conditions, and housing access, affordability, and quality of farmworkers living in and outside of employer-provided housing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

METHODS: We conducted a mixed methods cross-sectional study in collaboration with community partners from the Michigan Farmworker Project and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. We assessed housing, labor conditions, and general health through in-depth phone interviews with seasonal, migrant, and H-2A farmworkers (n = 63) during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-2021) in Michigan. Descriptive analyses of these data included comparisons by type of farmworker and type of housing (employer-provided or other).

RESULTS: The majority of farmworkers interviewed were women and seasonal farmworkers and spoke primarily Spanish. A significant share of farmworker participants reported living in poverty (38.3%) and had low or very low food security (27.0%). Nearly half of farmworkers (47.6%) rated their health as “fair” or “poor” during the year prior to the interview, and more than a third reported 3 or more chronic conditions (39.6%) and lack of health insurance coverage (38.7%). Among the 43 workers tested, 25.6% reported testing positive for COVID-19. Farmworkers reported experiences of objectification and dehumanization. Three-quarters of workers reported feeling that they were treated as less than human by supervisors and one-third reported verbal abuse. Farmworkers also experienced challenges exacerbated by their social vulnerability that impeded them from finding affordable, quality housing. Regarding housing quality, the majority of workers (80.6%) reported one or more environmental hazards around their residence, and about a third reported not having air conditioning (33.%) and lacking a functioning washing machine (33.9%). Concerns about the quality of drinking water accessible to workers and exposure to chemicals were shared by participants.

CONCLUSION: This study adds valuable knowledge to the understanding of the systemic barriers to housing and work conditions for female and male seasonal, migrant, and H-2A farmworkers in Michigan. Shortcomings in the regulatory and policy environment result in precarious housing and work conditions, including exploitative labor practices. These conditions negate equality, fairness, and health equity, important tenants for public health.

PMID:38651537 | DOI:10.1080/1059924X.2024.2341803