- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 22, 2006


The immigrant day laborers who wait for work on street corners across the United States have families and attend church regularly, and the people who hire them are more likely to be homeowners than construction contractors.

The first nationwide study of day laborers also found that one in five has been injured on the job and that nearly half have been cheated out of pay.

The study, the most detailed snapshot to date of the mostly Hispanic and often undocumented workers who’ve become a focal point in the immigration debate, was based on interviews of 2,660 workers at 264 hiring sites in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

The authors said they were surprised by the level of community involvement among men often thought of as transients.

“The day-labor corner is not as disconnected from society as people think. It’s seen as a shadow economy, but that’s really not the case,” said professor Nik Theodore of the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of three study authors. The others were from the University of California at Los Angeles and New York’s New School University.

Standing outside a Home Depot store in suburban Burbank, Calif., yesterday, 33-year-old Raul Sanchez said that when he’s not working or waiting for work, he’s involved in a church and is trying to start a soccer league for fellow day laborers. The native of Mexico has been in the United States seven years and lives with his wife and two children, ages 13 and 14.

Sometimes he worries about small work sites with little safety equipment.

“We know nobody is going to help us out if we get hurt,” Mr. Sanchez said. “There are risks, but what are we going to do — not work?”

As often as not, a day laborer’s employer will be a homeowner rather than a labor contractor.

Forty-nine percent of respondents said they were regularly hired by homeowners for everything from carpentry to gardening, with 43 percent getting jobs from construction contractors. Two-thirds said they are hired repeatedly by the same employer.

Based on their interviews and counts at each hiring site, the researchers estimate that 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, because some spring up spontaneously.

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

• Three-fourths were illegal aliens, and most were Hispanic: 59 percent were from Mexico and 28 percent were from other Central American countries.

• A little more than 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 7 percent lived with a partner.

• More than 80 percent rely on day percent were married and 7 percent lived with a partner.

cMore 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.

cOf 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 declined to cover them.

Cesar Martinez, 45, another man waiting for work at the Home Depot in Burbank, is a Guatemala native who has lived illegally in the United States for 15 years.

He said that he sends $300 to $500 home every month to support his six children, ages 2 to 14, but that sometimes an employer rips him off.

“I couldn’t complain because I’m not here legally, but I was so angry because I need every cent,” he said.

“I’m always thinking, ‘Are they going to pay me? Am I going to get to work 8 hours on this job? Will I get hurt doing it?’ ”

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