[Letter from Davis McEntire to John H. Provinse, April 13, 1942]


222 Mercantile Building
Berkeley, California

April 14, 1942

Dr. John H. Provinse, Acting Head
Division of Farm Population and Rural Welfare
Bureau of Agricultural Economics
Washington, D. C.

Dear John:

Subject: Importation of Mexican Labor

In my letter and memorandum of yesterday on the above subject, I neglected to mention one fact of considerable interest in relation to proposals for importing Mexican labor for sugar beet labor operations in California. That is the schedule of minimum wages established under the Sugar Act.

The minimum wage for blocking and thinning in southern California is $8 per acre. This is the lowest in the country. Minimum rates for the same operation in other sections are:

  • $ 9.50
  •     for Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and Southern Wyoming;
  • 10.50
  •     for South Dakota;
  • 11.00
  •     for Southern and Eastern Montana, Northern Wyoming, and Western North Dakota;
  • 10.00
  •     in Western and Northern Montana;
  • 9.50
  •     in Utah, Idaho, and Oregon.

The relatively low wage set for southern California does not reflect lesser ability of the growers to pay. On the contrary it is well known and publicized by the sugar companies that California sugar beet yields are the highest in the country. Fields are larger, there is more use of large-scale equipment, and, in general, there is more scope for realizing economies of scale in sugar beet culture in this State than anywhere else where sugar beets are grown.

What the relatively low California wage does reflect is the existence of a large pool of cheap Mexican labor. Higher wages paid in other states reflect the fact that local labor supplies are insufficient for sugar beet demands and labor must be attracted from outside the producing areas, often from a considerable distance. The southern California beet areas, however, have access to concentrations of Mexican labor in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The northern California minimum wage is $1 above the southern rate, again because of the necessity for inducing labor to move from southern California into the northern part of the State.


Mr. Metzler will be in southern California all of this week making a survey of the sugar beet labor situation. Mr. Goldschmidt has a similar assignment in Monterey County. We will send you copies of their reports.

Sincerely yours,
Davis McEntire, Leader
Div. of Farm Population and Rural Welfare
Western Region