Down and Out in Weslaco, Texas and Washington, D.C.: Race-Based Discrimination Against Farm Workers Under Federal Unemployment Insurance

This Article explains how federal law excludes half of the nation’s farm workers from the unemployment insurance (UI) system. It describes how even those fortunate enough to work in covered employment often lose their benefits when employers use crew leaders who fail to report wages and pay unemployemnt insurance taxes. This discriminatory treatment of farm workers is then shown to be racially motivated and to have a disproportionate impact on the non-White majority of agricultural workers. Today’s partial exclusion of these workers from UI isa legacy of Congress’s complete exclusion of farm workers from all New Deal legislation intended to preserve the racist plantation society of the Jim Crow South. Finally, to correct the racial and social injustice of this discrimination, two simple changes in the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) are proposed.