Enumeration and health-related characteristics of hired farm workers in Cherokee County, Texas
Cooper, Cheryl Maureen
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Hired farm workers are among the most vulnerable persons living in the United States. Because they are often recent, undocumented immigrants, who do not speak English, it is difficult to obtain accurate counts of their numbers, and to understand their health risks. After the publication of a 1997–98 enumeration of migrant/seasonal farm workers, in Cherokee County, East Texas, several community professionals expressed doubt that the study reflected the “real” numbers, and expressed a need for an enumeration of all hired farm workers in the county. The apparent undercount of the migrant/seasonal group, and lack of information about total numbers of hired farm workers, and their health risks, was seen as an obstacle to health care planning and to obtaining outside funding. This broad exploratory study was conducted to address the apparent undercount and to address the knowledge gap related to farm worker health. During 2003–04, 78 interviews were conducted with employers of farm workers and with others knowledgeable about this population, in an attempt to obtain an accurate estimate of their current numbers, and to obtain perspectives about their health. Other resources, which involved direct counting of greenhouses and workers, examining school and county records, and data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, were used to validate the findings. A second component of this study, drawn from a larger study—the East Farm Worker Health and Safety Survey (ETFHSS), involved the analysis of selected health characteristics of farm workers in East Texas, including Cherokee County. The enumeration study indicated that more seasonal and fewer migrant workers were employed in the county, than indicated in the 1997–98 study, and that employers generally perceived the workers as “young healthy people,” without any particular health problems. Selected data from the ETFHS study indicated that a majority of the study participants perceived themselves to be in good health, lacked health insurance, experienced obesity at levels similar to the U.S. population, and that several had a strong family history of diabetes. Overall, this study affirms the difficulty in counting farm workers, emphasizes some of the problems related to current definitions used in farm worker research, and provides some information on the health status of this population in East Texas.