More American workers turning to day labor during recession

Undocumented workers standing on a street corner have been joined by Americans clothed in superhero garb.

As so-called "jobs Americans won't do" are important to the U.S. economy, there are actually Americans willing to do the work. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Hillary Hartley/Flickr)

The recession continues to leave many Americans grasping for cash, wherever they may find it. They’re even reaching for those so-called “jobs Americans won’t do,” reports the Wall Street Journal. Day labor, once considered to be the almost-exclusive domain of undocumented workers, is now on the rise among  former white-collar employees, male and female. Reports indicate crowds of aspiring day laborers waiting on street corners for jobs are increasingly non-Latino.

From auto, skilled construction and finance to day labor

When survival is at stake for oneself and one’s family, per diem day labor work becomes necessary. Certain towns in California where undocumented workers customarily come north looking for day labor jobs are witnessing the odd appearance of illegal immigrants protesting that Americans are taking away their jobs — and thus their cash now. Considering that construction jobs have mostly gone stagnant, day laborers are scrambling for jobs such as moving and landscaping, which pay less because fewer hours are required. The competition has become fierce, as skilled, educated American workers are vying for the low-paying jobs undocumented workers previously owned.

Center for Immigration Studies: Dispelling the illusion

A recent study by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) indicates that the concept of “jobs Americans won’t do” is a popular illusion. Available data points to the falsehood of this idea; Census Bureau data collected from 2005 to 2007 indicate that even before the recession, “there were only a tiny number of majority-immigrant occupations.” And for jobs thought to be predominantly performed by undocumented workers – such as housekeeping, maintenance, construction site labor and janitorial – Census data shows that the majority of employees are American-born. The CIS study sampled 4.4 million individuals, approximately 560,000 of which were immigrants. Even taking into account undocumented workers who fly under the radar, the sample size remains significant.

Depressed wages, meet the depressed economy

Jon Dougherty, author of the book “Illegals: The Imminent Threat Posed by Our Unsecured U.S.-Mexico Border,” points to what may very well be the economic shift that helped create the “jobs Americans won’t do” illusion. The exodus of “poor, uneducated laborers from south of the border has already worked to depress American wages,” particularly in areas with high rates of illegal immigration. As undocumented workers are often willing to accept less money to do the same work as American laborers, contractors choose to pay less. Americans – particularly those with families – can’t afford to work for $8 per hour if they were previously making just enough to cover expenses at $15 per hour. The cost of living in America makes the pay cut nearly impossible to swallow. Many undocumented day laborers can retreat back across the border at the end of a day’s work and survive – if not comfortably – on wages they typically cannot earn in their native country.


Center for Immigration Studies
Wall Street Journal

Undocumented workers protesting Americans taking their day labor jobs

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