Mon
Jan 23 2006
09:26 am

Study Gives Snapshot of Day Laborers:

Based on their interviews and counts at each hiring site, the researchers estimate there are about 117,600 day laborers nationwide, but say that number is probably low. They said it would be impossible to count the number of hiring sites nationwide, since some spring up spontaneously.

Among the other findings based on the interviews conducted in July and August 2004:

  • Three-fourths were illegal immigrants and most were Hispanic: 59 percent were from Mexico and 28 percent from other Central American countries.
  • Just over half said they attended church regularly, 22 percent reported being involved in sports clubs and 26 percent said they participated in community centers.
  • Nearly two-thirds had children, 36 percent were married and seven percent lived with a partner.
  • More than 80 percent rely on day labor as their sole source of income, earning close to the 2005 federal poverty guideline of $12,830 for a family of two.
  • Of the 20 percent who reported on-the-job injuries, more than half said they received no medical care because they couldn't afford it or their employer refused to cover them.
  • The New York Times has more. One of the study's authors is quoted as saying "This is a labor market that thrives on cheap wages and the fact that most of these workers are undocumented. They're in a situation where they're extremely vulnerable, and employers know that and take advantage of them."

    Rich Hailey's picture

    Yep, it's a damn shame how

    Yep, it's a damn shame how those farmers drive across the border and kidnap all those workers, forcing them to come to a foreign country and work for 100 times the amount they could earn back home.

    The greedy bastards! (sarcasm off)

    Illegal immigrants (no, not "undocumented laborers"; that's a euphamism designed to hide the truth) come to America and work jobs that most Americans won't do for wages that most Americans refuse to accept because the illegals can make far more here than back home doing the same work. They come here at great personal risk, and often at a high financial cost, of their own choice, because, as horrific as some view their working conditions, it's far better than anything they could hope to achieve in their home countries.

    So what is the answer? Do we force employers to give better benefits to people who by definition are criminals? Or do we step up enforcement of the borders, preventing them from coming in the first place, causing a severe labor shortage in agriculture?

    Or do we eliminate the problem at its source by granting amnesty to those already here, along with starting a robust resident worker program that allows more legal workers across the border?

    It's a lot like prostitution, actually. Pimps and the attendant drug, disease, and violence problems would not exist if prostitution were legal. By the same token, if there were legal ways for these workers to enter the US and find jobs, then they wouldn't be as vulnerable to exploitation. Any laws that criminalize a basic drive (sex, earning a living) will create a huge criminal class of people who are doing no harm, and a smaller criminal class that preys on the former.

    And for those who are ready to scream that we have to tighten control of our borders because of terrorism, consider first that our borders are laughable right now. Second, by increasing legal immigration through a guest or resident worker program, you remove the rpimary driver for illegal immigration. And that means less cover for the terrorists who can no longer hide in a sea of people swimming the rivers and crossing the desert. Obviously, in order to work, the guest worker program would have to be based on a reliable form of identification; consular cards don't cut it.

    Equally obviously, such a program would have a marked inflationary effect on our economy, as food would become more expensive? I couldn't begin to crunch the numbers, but it seems to me that somebody should, and see where we stand. And that increase, whatever it was would be offset by decreases in spending for law enforcement and health care, (emergency room treatment is far more expensive than primary care) not to mention a small increase in tax revenue.

    The bottom line is that we have jobs that most of us wouldn't do that these illegals want to do. It makes sense to find a way to let them do it legally, rather than try to stop them, which hurts them and us.

    So, is that progressive enough, Mr. Neal?

    Chris Wage's picture

    Woo boy, where to

    Woo boy, where to start.

    Illegal immigrants (no, not "undocumented laborers"; that's a euphamism designed to hide the truth) come to America and work jobs that most Americans won't do for wages that most Americans refuse to accept because the illegals can make far more here than back home doing the same work.

    It's true that they come here because they can make more, but that doesn't mean the situation isn't exploitive, and there's a fallacy in that paragraphy. Illegal immigrants don't do work jobs "that most Americans won't do". That's the wrong way to look at it. The jobs that "Americans won't do" are shitty jobs because they are dont by illegal immigrants -- people who have no protection under any labor law whatsoever. Many of the "bad jobs" in the early 20th century quickly became "good jobs" once labor unionization had a chance to raise the standards for these jobs (think steel mills or coal mining).

    Why is the job of washing dishes, picking produce, or doing day labor so shitty? Is it because those tasks are inherently demeaning, demanding and utterly without meaningful compensation? No, it's because they have no ability to protest unlawful treatment by employers because of their illegal status.

    So what is the answer? Do we force employers to give better benefits to people who by definition are criminals? Or do we step up enforcement of the borders, preventing them from coming in the first place, causing a severe labor shortage in agriculture?

    Neither -- we give them status as legal laborers at the least, if not eliminating or scaling back barriers to citizenship entirely. With this one simple motion, illegal immigrants are able to exercise their rights to organize and their rights to protest illegal behaviour.

    You may be interested to read this report by the Drum Major institute, and my commentary on it from this weekend.

    R. Neal's picture

    With this one simple motion,

    With this one simple motion, illegal immigrants are able to exercise their rights to organize and their rights to protest illegal behaviour.

    Not to mention pay taxes, contribute to SSI and Medicare, be covered by workers comp and unemployment insurance, and maybe qualify for some other benefits depending on the employer.

    Rich Hailey's picture

    These are the reasons I

    These are the reasons I suggested a limited form of worker program. But as I mentioned above, we do need to address the fact that they entered the country illegally, and that is something that cannot be tolerated.

    A solution to this problem must address both factors. First, we have to secure our borders. Illegal entry into the US carries too great a risk. Second, we have to address the labor imbalance. As long as there are jobs here and people there, they will come here. If you can't stop it, the best you can do is control it. Right now, we're doing neither.

    R. Neal's picture

    P.S. And by the way, wasn't

    P.S. And by the way, wasn't NAFTA supposed to be the rising tide that floated all boats, including Mexico's, so people there would not live in desperation until giving up and abandoning their families and coming here to work for jobs at substandard wages and no workplace safety standards and no protection from abuse by their employers?

    P.P.S. I wonder if this "jobs Americans won't do" talking point isn't just a made up myth. I did those kinds of jobs, all of them, when I first started out. When minimum wage was $1.65 per hour.

    Rich Hailey's picture

    No myths here. The key is

    No myths here.

    The key is "When you first started out." Times have chnaged. Unskilled labor is in very short supply these days. Most kids will work a menial job in high school, but after that, they're either in college, or trade school. If you don't believe me, try hiring somebody to mow your grass.

    The lowest bid to mow my yard (just over an acre) was $150. The guy offered me a discount because he's a friend of my brother. He keeps two men on his crew, both paid well over minimum wage, but he goes through 10-15 guys per season.

    A buddy of mine is a contractor who works framing houses. If he keeps a guy on his crew longer than three weeks, he counts it as a win.

    By the way, I mow my grass myself.

    Rich Hailey's picture

    Where to start

    Where to start indeed.

    Illegal immigrants don't do work jobs "that most Americans won't do". That's the wrong way to look at it. The jobs that "Americans won't do" are shitty jobs because they are dont by illegal immigrants -- people who have no protection under any labor law whatsoever.

    No, they're shitty jobs because they require extensive manual labor under harsh conditions, requiring minimal skills, which results in minimal compensation. I worked fast food as a kid, and even though it was entirely legal, and I had every right that US labor law allows, it was still a shitty job. And as Randy points out below, many Americans worked those jobs when they had no other options. But with unemployment hovering in the 5% range, most folks have a better option, hence the need for illegal immigrants to fill these day labor positions.

    Many of the "bad jobs" in the early 20th century quickly became "good jobs" once labor unionization had a chance to raise the standards for these jobs (think steel mills or coal mining).

    Wow. Steel is an example of the successful unionization of an industry? Maybe that's why the American steel industry is a fraction of the size it used to be, unable to compete globally, due in no small part to inflated wages forced on them by unions. I don't know if the American economy can stand many instances of that kind of success. Maybe you want to pick another example. How about textiles?

    Neither -- we give them status as legal laborers at the least, if not eliminating or scaling back barriers to citizenship entirely.

    I suggested something very similar, albeit more limited in scope than flinging open the gates ("...scaling back barriers to citizenshipentirely.") Are you suggesting that the US should open all its borders, or would this blanket amnesty coupled with instant citizenship be limited to only those who've already made it through the fence? Assuming that citizenship and our borders are to retain some integrity, how would you handle future illegal immigrants? Are they also citizens upon arrival on our soil, or will they get sent back home? If we are opening our borders, then how will a union survive when there's a constant stream of new arrivals willing to do the job for less than union wages? Will the federal government have to step in and fix wages in order to protect the fledgling unions? If so, please point to an example of wage/price controls working for an extended period of time without causing problems worse than the ones they were supposed to solve. Or will new arrivals be forced to join the union in order to get a job? That's a bit exploitive, don't you think? Almost worthy of a 1920's robber baron.

    And we haven't even addressed a core truth; these folks are in the country in violation of the law. Do we simply overlook that inconvenient fact?

    rikki's picture

    Rich makes a lot of good

    Rich makes a lot of good points and seems headed toward reasonable solutions. Inflation in food costs would certainly be a consequence of amnesty or legalization, but I'm not sure the decreases in law enforcement or health care would materialize. There would still be people trying to cross the border or smuggle goods across, and undocumented workers avoid medical attention, so it is hard to guess whether the shift to primary care would offset the general rise in demand.

    The critical piece missing from Rich's analysis is who the "pimps" are. They are not small farmers, but agribusiness. That means changing laws will involve overpowering their huge lobbying efforts. It means enforcement is currently compromised by payoffs, reduced fines and other forms of corruption. It also means that legalizing the work done by illegal immigrants should help level the playing field in agriculture, giving smaller, regional farm economies better footing against the giants. That's something we should be working toward anyway as a hedge against rising transportation costs, but it's not something that will happen while lobbyists run the government.

    Rich Hailey's picture

    It also means that

    It also means that legalizing the work done by illegal immigrants should help level the playing field in agriculture, giving smaller, regional farm economies better footing against the giants.

    And is this a good thing? While I'm willing to accept higher food prices as a cost for insuring a stable labor pool, I'm not willing to accept higher costs to subsidize an outmoded agricultural model.

    In a very real way, the development of agribusiness has enabled the existence of our entire way of life. While there are some who decry the modern life, I kinda like it myself, and I'm unwilling to return to the days of subsistance farming. Heck, I don't even keep a garden!

    The large corporate farms do two things, both vital. First, they produce food efficiently and cheaply, allwing us to feed ourselves and much of the world for less money than at any other point in history. (I wonder if anybody has done a study of the cost of a calorie? It would be interesting to track over time, and compare it to the relative wealth of a society. Any grad students out there looking for a thesis topic?) Second, they free up a tremendous amount of labor. Where before most labor was devoted to survival, now we have millions of man hours devoted to innovation and recreation.

    Now, you could argue that there is a diminishing returns effect at work, and that we're currently past the optimum point, and we need to scale back production. If you look at it as an energy system, and food production really is an energy production system, excess energy production, as long as it is harnessed, is always a good thing. The question becomes "Are we harnessing this excess energy, or just wasting it?"

    My opinion, we're still in good shape. What do you think?

    rikki's picture

    You can't play both sides of

    You can't play both sides of the fence, Rich. Large corporate farms produce cheap goods because they use undocumented workers. They are the pimps; they pay the "coyotes" who smuggle workers across the border. When you talk about legalizing immigration, you are attacking their business model. Attack it or praise it, not both.

    And if you haven't noticed, you subsidize agribusiness. They don't spend millions lobbying the federal government out of civic goodwill. They have perverted bills intended to help small farmers, created all sorts of tax breaks and legal indemnifications, get help marketing products overseas, benefit from lax enforcement. This is how they've gained the "competitive" advantage you are praising them for.

    Further, you misunderstood my argument. I'm not advocating subsidies for small farms. I'm advocating elimination of subsidies for agribusiness, of which illegal workers is but one. Small farms gain an advantage simply because the corporate farms lose one of their cheats.

    Equating regional farms with subsistence farming is disingenuous. Think dairy farms. Milk is too perishable for long-distance travel, so metro areas typically have their own local milk brand. In Knoxville, Mayfield is the big one and several smaller dairies compete. Does this mean we're all drinking milk that was hand-pulled into a bucket? They are still modern dairies, but the economies are regional instead of national. Eliminating agribusiness cheats would allow regional economies to flourish around more than just milk, and that's a good thing in terms of food quality and stability against oil price shocks and trade disputes.

    R. Neal's picture

    Speaking of agribusiness,

    Speaking of agribusiness, here's an interesting look at some of their biggest cheerleaders and supporters:

    (link...)

    I like your point about making agriculture part of the regional economy again.

    Rich Hailey's picture

    You can't play both sides of

    You can't play both sides of the fence, Rich.

    It's not a fence, it's more like a road with unrestrained business at one end and government controlled markets at the other. You walk further down that road than I find necessary. I can support both ending illegal immigration and corporate farms because while the issues are linked, the linkage is not causal. Corporate farming does not cause illegal immigration. At most, they can be accused of taking advantage of a pre-existing situation. And as I said, I support the large commercial farm system because it ultimately frees up millions of manhours of labor for other, more productive purposes.

    Further, you misunderstood my argument. I'm not advocating subsidies for small farms.

    I didn't say you did. But, if you take actions to penalize the big boys, the result is the same as if you did subsidize the little guys, and more to the point, the effect on my wallet is the same. Whether you make it more expensive for the big guys, or increase taxes to subsidize the little guys, in either case, the money is coming from me. My point is that while I'm willing to pay more for food in order to ensure stability of that food supply, I am not willing to pay more for the purpose of leveling the playing field.

    Equating regional farms with subsistence farming is disingenuous.

    It would have been if that were my intent. Instead, I was showing a range of possibilities, from subsistance level farming up to large corporate farms. That's why I acknowledged that there may be an optimum point somewhere along that spectrum.

    rikki's picture

    At most, they can be accused

    At most, they can be accused of taking advantage of a pre-existing situation.

        This is the core of our difference. While you're right that illegal immigration is a pre-existing situation, taking advantage of it is not as innocent as you seem to wish. Taking advantage of the situation worsens the problem by both expanding the temptation and by suppressing enforcement. I'm not sure you want to acknowledge how much influence "the big boys" have over enforcement of immigration laws.
        A small-time lettuce grower can not afford to get busted for using undocumented workers.  He can get more for his crop on the open market, but if he contracts with a major distributor at a lower, fixed price, he can reduce the risk of getting inspected or fined. That's how it works. You admit as much when you say, "penalize the big boys, the result is the same as if you did subsidize the little guys." The big boys don't get penalized, even when they break the law. They pay for that privilege. It's risk management, and it is part of the business model.

       penalize the big boys, the result is the same as if you did subsidize the little guys

     Agribusiness does not play by the same rules as small farmers. It's lobbying influence and campaign spending make sure that's the case. Penalizing cheaters is not a subsidy for honest players. If wanting everyone to play by the same rules is some sort of perverse form of "leveling the playing field," I'm a pervert.
        The optimum point between subsistence farming and some genetically engineered ubercrop should be determined by the marketplace, not by who can pay off inspectors and get their fines reduced by donating enough money to the governor that he appoints the head of your growers association to the department of agriculture. Free markets are defined by competition and informed buyers. Regulation is how we assure that both forces are in play. Regulations prevent monopolies and they prevent practices no informed consumer condones, like slavery. If I wander further toward regulated markets than you, it is because I believe regulation can serve to inform consumers and promote competition.
        I like your road metaphor and your ability to recognize optima in some middle ground rather than reflexively clinging to an ideological extreme. It's refreshing to have room to work with and enough expanse to see the landmarks we each think are important. I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    Comment viewing options

    Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

    style="display:block"
    data-ad-format="autorelaxed"
    data-ad-client="ca-pub-3296520478850753"
    data-ad-slot="5999968558">

    TN Progressive

    TN Politics

    Knox TN Today

    Local TV News

    News Sentinel

    State News

    Local .GOV

    Wire Reports

    Lost Medicaid Funding

    To date, the failure to expand Medicaid/TennCare has cost the State of Tennessee ? in lost federal funding. (Source)

    Search and Archives