The best quality jobs data (QCEW) was released yesterday through the end of 2020, and gives a first reliable look at the state of agricultural employment during the 2020 pandemic year. The graphs below show employment and wages data over time for all of California in NAICS 11 (Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting). Agriculture accounts for 99% of jobs in this industry category in California.
As shown above, 2020 resulted in the biggest decline in agriculture employment since the drought year of 2009 (the graph also shows how ag jobs did not decline during the last drought). While an essential sector, agriculture jobs did not expand like employment in grocery stores and e-commerce fulfillment. One cause of the decline may have been worker health - Covid hit ag workers and communities hard. Reductions in immigration and crop shifts may have also played a role (for example demand for labor intensive speciality crops and fresh produce may have declined as much of the restaurant sector shut down).
We are now well into a drought year and there will inevitably be questions about the impact on farm jobs. It will be even harder to discern the impacts this year as Covid has distorted what had become a pretty level baseline and is also continuing to impact labor markets into 2021.
Even more important than the number of jobs, the new data release provides solid data on agricultural wages. Ag worker wages continued strong gains in 2020, both in the aggregate and as an average. The average wage gain is particularly impressive - increasing $60 per week on average in 2020 compared to 2019, and up $200 per week since 2014. Overall, this is a very positive trend for the Valley economy. Total wages paid in this industry was $16.1 billion in 2020, up from $15.3 billion in 2019 and $10 billion in 2011. In general, Covid effects on agricultural labor look similar to the economy in general - jobs down but average wages up.