Aging Hispanic Farmworkers Face Uncertain Future in Washington State

Aging Hispanic Farmworkers Face Uncertain Future in Washington State

CHELAN COUNTY, Wash. – Isabel Vega stands on an aluminum ladder and works with an economy of movement that betrays her 65 years. Each snip with her pruning sheers and every swipe of her hand is exact, a precision forged from decades of repetition.

As she reaches for an apple, the ladder she stands on suddenly shifts its weight. She counters, forcing her legs against the ladder’s inertia. It complies, settling into the soft soil.

Vega, Hispanic, is part of a population that the U.S. Census Bureau anticipates to more than quadruple by 2050, to 13.8 million from 2.9 million in 2010.

A 2009 AARP study says Hispanics could account for nearly a quarter of the population ages 50-64 by the year 2050. The 2.7 million immigrants, mostly farmworkers, who gained amnesty when President Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, are rapidly aging out of the workforce; their median age is 49.

As a Hispanic farmworker, Vega is also part of a demographic at the forefront of recent political discourse and complicated cultural and medical concerns.

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Frederick Blalock
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