Editor’s Note: There are an estimated 600,000 crop workers, and an additional 20,000 livestock workers, in California at any given time. Theirs are physically demanding jobs that carry a high risk of occupational injury – yet the vast majority of these workers lack health insurance. That could change in 2014 when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, although significant barriers will need to be overcome between now and then, if most farmworkers are to benefit. Don Villarejo has worked for more than three decades as a researcher and advocate on behalf of California farmworkers, and has authored major studies on farmworker health in the state. He recently spoke to New America Media editor Jacob Simas.
New America Media: What can you say, generally, about the health status of farmworkers in California today?
Don Villarejo: In general, the health status of California farm workers is poor — that is, less healthy than the population in general in the state, even compared to unemployed persons. The measures that we use for making that statement have to do with physical health — the normal things that you think about — as well as dental health, mental health and access to care. In regards to the latter, the most reliable data we have indicates that only about one-quarter of all hired farm workers in California have any form of medical insurance, whether it’s government provided or private insurance.
With respect to dental care, about a quarter of farm workers have not been to a dentist since coming to the United States, and most do not go to a dentist for regular care.
So you have all of these conditions combined, as well as an increasing problem of obesity in this population, which was kind of a surprise. We did not expect to see a lot of obesity because for many workers this is heavy manual labor; it’s outdoors and is active work. This is something that has now been picked up in the public health arena with an increased focus.
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