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Rebecca Galemba

Research Findings

Longer duration in the U.S. may exacerbate precarity for immigrant day laborers

October 20, 2022

Day laborers are among the most vulnerable workers in the United States. Nationally, about three-quarters are unauthorized immigrants from Latin America. Day laborers may wait on a street corner, outside home improvement stores, or at a growing network of non-profit worker centers throughout the country, hoping that an employer will hire them for the day. Some jobs may turn into longer-term arrangements or even contracts, but day labor is usually defined by daily jobs for hourly cash pay.

Wage theft—or the denial of legally owed wages and benefits—is particularly acute for day laborers. Wage theft can take many forms, but day laborers tend to suffer one its most egregious manifestations: outright non-payment.

In our mixed-methods study in the Denver, Colorado metropolitan area, we explored what factors made day laborers vulnerable to wage theft. Did higher levels of education, more time and experience in the U.S., legal authorization, housing security, and English abilities improve the economic prospects of some workers? Or did the nature of contingent work more evenly distribute its associated work hazards like wage theft? Finally, we wondered if more legal knowledge would motivate workers to demand higher wages, improve their work prospects, and prevent wage theft?

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