Managing on the farm and off the farm
For several years farm household income has been higher than the average household income in the United States. While commodity income has been high, it is not commodity sales that are keeping farm household income at lofty levels. The reason is the non-farm income which is contributing to the higher levels of household income. While many families would count all of their stock, bond, and other investment income, the higher farm income is directly related to additional salary income for farm operators and spouses. It is the second and third jobs in the farm household that are funding their quality of life. But what are those jobs? Driving a truck? Welding at a factory? Carpentry? Plumbing? While farmers can perform nearly every job asked of them, they have some particular talents, and those are being compensated at levels higher than many co-workers.
U. S. Department of Agriculture economists Jason Brown and Jeremy Weber found that 91% of farm households have at least one family member working at an off-farm job. Those include both the farm operator and spouse. About 36% held professional or management positions, which is a higher rate than general metropolitan workers. “Operators and spouses on larger farms reported the highest shares of management and professional occupations in their off-farm jobs, suggesting they have a high capacity to apply their knowledge and skills from managing a sizeable farm operation to other areas of employment,” say Brown and Weber. They conducted the study based on data collected annually by USDA’s Economics Research Service.
1) They were more likely than other workers to have management and professional off-farm occupations.
2) Those positions paid higher wages on average than other occupations.
3) Professional and management occupations were most commonly held by operators and spouses with a college education.
4) Part of the explanation is for the growing gap in salaries for skilled and unskilled labor, and higher skills held by those among farm households, especially with larger farming operations.
The economists concluded, “Arguably, management and professional jobs are more common in metro areas. Therefore, it is noteworthy that the share of farm operators and spouses working at management and professional occupations was 4.3 percentage points higher than for nonfarm workers in metro areas.”
Is the reason for that the fact that more farm folks had more college education? Not really. Farm households had more college education than rural residents as a whole, but slightly less than the urban residents.