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Halt of Migrant Survey Viewed as Loss of Data About Working Youths

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 15, 2005 3 min read
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The Department of Labor has temporarily halted the collection of data for a national survey of migrant and seasonal farmworkers that’s yielded information for the Education Department about working youths who do not attend U.S. schools.

The comprehensive survey, called the National Agricultural Workers Survey, has been conducted since 1988 and collects data from farmworkers age 14 and older. It provides information on past schooling, working conditions, wages, health, language ability, and other aspects of the lives of school-age youths as well as of adults.

Findings from the most recent study, published in 2000, showed that the farmworkers surveyed had typically completed six years of education. One in five had taken at least one adult education class, ranging from job training to English. Six percent of farmworkers surveyed were 14 to 17 years old.

The Labor Department is about to release a report using data collected in 2001 and 2002.

The Education Department’s office of migrant of education has used data from the survey to better understand school-age migrant workers known as “out of school” or “here to work” youths.

“It’s a loss because there’s no other [national] source for these workers,” Nancy Pindus, a senior research associate for the Urban Institute in Washington, said of the suspension of data collection.

She used information from the survey when conducting research on migrant workers’ health insurance and whether states would accept Medicaid when migrant workers had moved from one state to another, she said.

Veronica Vargas Stidvent, the assistant secretary of policy for the Labor Department, said she has called for a “temporary pause” in the data collection for the survey so her office can review the labor agency’s contract with Aguirre International, a Burlingame, Calif.-based firm that has conducted the survey.

“I wanted to make sure we are getting the data in the most efficient way,” she said. She emphasized that the Labor Department has not ended the survey, although she declined to estimate when data collection might resume.

Ms. Stidvent, formerly a White House aide to President Bush, was confirmed in her new position on Dec. 8.

She said she has been trying to rein in spending and is reviewing a number of Labor Department contracts. The National Agricultural Workers Survey costs between $1.5 million and $2 million each year, she added.

Lag Time?

Ms. Stidvent said she is concerned about the three-year lag time between when data are collected and when the statistics are reported to the public. She noted that the survey information is used by a number of federal agencies besides the Labor Department, and said that she is talking with other agencies “to determine the best home” for the survey.

In addition to using the survey to provide insight on out-of-school youths, the Education Department’s migrant education office has incorporated survey data into a report it expects to release this summer called “The Conditions of Migrant Children Report,” said Elaine Quesinberry, an Education Department spokeswoman.

The agricultural-workers survey isn’t the only source of information about migrant youths. The Education Department collects information on the number of out-of-school youths who are eligible for federal migrant education funds through the consolidated state performance report required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Ms. Quesinberry said in an e-mail message.

For the Labor Department survey, researchers make contact with farmworkers at their work sites and arrange to interview them in their homes or at another convenient location, according to the department’s Web site. The researchers interview a sample of crop workers in three different cycles during the year. The survey has collected information from more than 25,000 workers since its inception.

A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 2005 edition of Education Week as Halt of Migrant Survey Viewed as Loss of Data About Working Youths

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