Child Labor in the Fields of California, 1958, 1962

Child Labor of All Races

Child Labor Picking Carrots, El Centro, CA, 1958

Child Labor Picking Carrots, El Centro, CA, 1958

Child labor in the fields of California from 1958 to 1966 prevailed in crops where hand labor was dominant, which included crops like potatoes and carrots which were soon to be taken over by mechanized harvesting.  Child labor was employed in grapes, plums, peaches, citrus, cotton, onions, garlic, and other crops.  The families that worked in California agriculture in this period faced substandard wages maintained by growers who used bracero labor for more than half the state’s agricultural jobs. Coming to California from depressed agricultural areas in the U.S and Mexico, farm worker families were often compelled to bring their children to the fields in order to make enough money to eat.

These harsh economic forces worked on families of all races and backgrounds as the photos show.  African American and European American families from the southern United States were still working in the fields of California as they had been since the 1930’s when the dust bowl and depression forced them to flee to the west in search of work.  Child labor on share cropping farms in the south moved with these families into California where growers were happy to continue the practices of child labor in a large scale industrial farming economy.  The majority of workers in California farming by the end of the 1950’s were of Mexican ancestry, including the bracero workers who often deserted the camps to join other immigrant workers around them and go to work without papers, another practice embraced by California growers then and now.  The children of small farmers in Mexico went to work in the industrialized crops of California along side their parents as they had in Mexico.  The photo gallery below documents the multi-racial nature of the labor force including the child labor component.

As unions and their allies around the country fought to end the bracero program during these years, growers turned their attention to mechanizing harvests and packing as a way to avoid increased labor costs when the bracero program finally came to an end.  This multi-billion dollar industry turned from child labor to massive and costly mechanization programs while claiming throughout that it could not afford to pay farm workers a living wage not include unemployment and disability benefits like workers in other industries. The photos in this gallery document the widespread existence of child labor in industrial farming of California’s central valley during these transitional years.

Buy or license these photos.  All images are copyrighted © Paul Richards 2001-2013.

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