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How Farm Pay Compares to Industrial Pay in America

This is Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

A listener in China asks about the earnings of farmers in the United States. Kevin Wan from Sichuan would also like to know how pay for farmers compares with that of industrial workers.

The farm economy of the United States has changed a lot in the last seventy years. In the nineteen thirties, twenty-five percent of the nation’s population lived on farms. Today less than one percent of Americans do.

Farm incomes have changed over the years too. For example, in nineteen thirty-three, people living and working on farms had much less money to spend than other Americans. At that time, farm families had about one-third the income of non-farmers after all necessary expenses had been paid. By the late nineteen seventies, however, that difference had almost disappeared.

In two thousand four, farmers had their best year ever. The United States Department of Agriculture says the average farm family earned about eighty-one thousand dollars. That is more than the average American family, which earned about sixty thousand dollars.

Yet these numbers do not completely explain the situation for all farmers. Those who have small farms often take other jobs to earn extra income. And farm earnings for large farms grew faster than for small ones.

The Department of Labor measures the pay of industrial workers differently. It measures the average hourly and weekly pay for industrial workers. This is because factory workers are generally paid by the hour unlike farmers who earn income from their farm businesses.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average hourly pay for all private industrial workers is about sixteen dollars.

The B.L.S. says average weekly pay for all industrial workers is about five hundred fifty dollars. But that is an average. Workers can earn as much as twice the average or as little as half of it depending on the industry in which they work.

Industrial workers are about twenty-three percent of the labor force. But that number has been decreasing. Most Americans have jobs that provide services. Professional, technical and other services employ about seventy-six percent of the labor force.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. Our reports are online at This is Shep O'Neal.