Farm labor: Children in the fields

Byron Pitts reports on the legal but controversial practice of employing children to work on America's fields

More than 13 million Americans are out of work. If you factor in those considered underemployed, that's almost 25 million men and women in this country - somewhere on the road to either getting by financially or suffering.

We spent time with people who are finding a way to support their families by asking their children to work beside them.

Farming is the one job in America where kids as young as 12 are welcomed and, for their parents, children in the fields are needed.

On the Texas Plains, at 5:30 a.m., Carlos Casares gets his two sons ready for the long day ahead. They've come 350 miles from their home in Eagle Pass, Texas, to weed the cotton fields south of Lubbock. Cody is 13, Carlos Jr. 17.

Asked what happens if it rains, Casares told correspondent Byron Pitts, "We don't work. It's a day lost 'cause we don't get paid unless we're out here. If it rains, no pay. No work, no pay."

Over the summer, the boys work alongside their father - work he did when he was their age. All three earn the minimum wage, $7.25 an hour.

"How many years have you been doin' this?" Pitts asked Carlos Jr.

"This is my fourth year," the teen replied.

"It's hard for the kids," his father told Pitts.

Asked how it's "hard," Casares explained, "Hard, you know, bein' it's long, you know, ten hours for them, work, you know, out in the sun. It's hot. And getting up every day, every morning at 5:30 in the morning just to go to work."

Asked what his dreams were when he was 13 and 17, his sons' age, Casares told Pitts, "Be a truck driver. My dad was a truck driver. I mean, he had his own truck. And that's what I wanted to do, have my own trucks."

It's a dream that came true for Casares: Born and raised in Texas, he supported his family for 15 years as an independent truck driver. He bought his own home. But when the economy went bad, and trucking became less profitable, he went back to the fields.

Extra: Living in the migrant camp
Extra: Farm work is dangerous for children
Extra: Farm work is suitable for children

"I gotta do somethin' and that's the only thing I'm qualified for. 'Cause that's what I done all my life," he explained.

"Pick fruit?" Pitts asked. "Pick vegetables?"

"Yeah," Casares said.

The recession put the Casares family back in what's called "The Migrant Stream" - the yearly flow of farm workers from Texas, Florida and California - moving north with the harvest. It's the life his parents and grandparents had before him. Now, Casares is with his siblings and their kids.

Sunday is the one day of the week when these children can be children.

Pitts talked to some boys about the days they work.

Victor, 15, told Pitts he works 10 hours every day; another boy, age 13, also told Pitts he puts in 10 hours per day.

"Do you like this work?" Pitts asked 12-year-old Armando.

"No," Armando said.

When asked why not, he told Pitts, "'Cause it's always hot."

Asked why he does this kind of work, the boy replied, "To help my parents, to buy us clothes and school supplies."

Produced by David Schneider

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More from 60 Minutes

Comments