Hill, Alexandra E.; Martin, Philip
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the US economy and labor market, sending the US unemployment rate to almost 15 percent in April 2020. Almost all agricultural industries were deemed critical infrastructure industries, meaning that farm, food processing, transport, and supermarket workers were expected to continue working during lockdowns. We document three major effects of the pandemic on farm labor. First, there is, as of yet, no evidence of significant farm labor shortages due to COVID-19, as had been feared early in the pandemic. Second, the H-2A guest worker program expanded despite high unemployment rates, highlighting the difficulties of moving jobless nonfarm workers into seasonal farm jobs. Third, we postulate that COVID-19 and fears of future pandemics will accelerate three ongoing trends: investments and improvements in labor-saving mechanization, increasing utilization of H-2A guest workers, and rising imports.